Firstly, apologies for the lack of love on Earth by Anna of late. I was fortunate enough to have my delightful better half take me to New York for my birthday, so I am still coming down with the holiday blues and trying to get back on top of my study. My bad. BUT, a post on vegan eating in NY is in the works , so hopefully you will enjoy reading that.
Now, to Aloe.
The Aloe is one of my favourite superpowered medicinal plants. It is a succulent and part of the Liliaceae family, which also includes onions, turnips and garlic. There are over 300 species of Aloe grown around the world in warm climates and it is cultivated anywhere from Africa to North America, South America, China, Australia and New Zealand. However, the Aloe Barbadensis Miller contains the largest amount of active healing properties and is the most commonly found. It is also often referred to as ‘Cleopatra’s Beauty Secret’ or ‘Nature’s Medicine Chest’ due to its ability to fix/heal/mend a number of problems both internally and externally.
I have never had much to do with taking the Aloe goodness internally (I am slowly getting there), but I learnt about the benefits of the Aloe plant in a topical sense many years ago when I was living with a chef in London. She was often burning herself when cooking and would always use her Aloe plant to heal her wounds. It was simply a case of her cutting off a leaf at the base and spreading the jelly-like substance that oozed out of it over her wound. She was adamant that doing things this way, whether she had a cut or a burn, would ensure her skin healed faster.
However, Aloe is not just for burns and cuts. It has a fantastic reputation for its ability to heal, soothe and rejuvenate various body ailments and it is also great for rashes, sunburns, insect bites, dry skin, blemishes and eczema, just to name a few. It is one of the most natural and effective beauty products and it comes straight from mother nature, not some factory in China pouring toxic chemicals into the tearless eyes of rabbits. I even use it in my hair as a mask and on my face as a moisturiser sometimes.
Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance that is extracted from the inside of the Aloe leaf and Aloe latex is the yellow flesh that comes from just underneath the skin or at the base near the centre of the plant. The gel on the inner leaf of the plant is what contains all the goodness you want for ingesting and topical use. The gel will generally ooze out a little bit, but it is best removed as a whole by scraping a spoon along the inside of the skin. It will come off in almost a strip. Aloe contains enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and polysaccharides and is also another known plant that filters the indoor air of your home (see my previous post on plants that clean the air here). I always say fresh is best so if you can have pure and fresh Aloe straight from the source (in your own home, hell yeah!) then fantastic. Fresh is ALWAYS best.
Further, when ingesting Aloe or using it topically, it is always much more effective when taken straight from the plant. Topical Aloe products bought from a store sometimes contain as little as 1% Aloe and are often watered down with fillers such as glycerin, polysorbate 2 and SD Alcohol 40, which heavily reduce the effectiveness of the Aloe gel itself. Aloe gel is also clear where as most of the products you are buying off the shelf have a green look to them – hello festy dyes, I see you in there! Do you really want to be putting that crap on the biggest organ your body has? Ideally not. Get it straight from the source.
I am still learning about the advantages of adding fresh Aloe gel to my smoothies but from what I can understand it is great for alkalising and dehydration and obviously adds enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals to your diet as I mentioned before. The Aloe latex part of the plant is a well known laxative, so make sure you stick with the gel. Do your own research on whether or not ingesting Aloe is for you and if it is, ensure you start off with a very small amount added at the end of your smoothie or eaten fresh off a clean spoon. At the same time, if you are harvesting a leaf to ingest rather than use topically, make sure you choose one that is convex as concave can sometimes taste a bit bitter (I learnt the hard way).
Keeping an Aloe Plant
Growing an Aloe plant within your home is easy. I think it is best to keep an Aloe plant outdoors during summer and bring it inside during the winter to protect it from frost damage (especially in Melbourne). Make sure it is always positioned somewhere that gets lots of natural light but be sure to avoid direct sunlight in the afternoon as the strong Aussie sun can burn the leaves giving them an orange or brown spotty appearance. Not good and a pain in the arse if you have to get a new one because yours has been barbecued.
Only mature Aloe plants can provide us with all the healing compounds and it takes approximately three years for an Aloe plant to reach this mature stage, so speak to someone in the know and choose wisely when picking out your first Aloe plant. Just beeline it for the Big Bertha I say! As long as she is in good nick. Keep in mind too, that like many plants, the Aloe should be kept out of reach of cats and dogs. Unfortunately it is toxic to household pets if ingested in large amounts and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, depression and the shakes.
At the same time, make sure you plant your Aloe in an adequate sized pot. Aloe plants can grow quite fast and require well-drained soil, so choose the appropriate pot for its needs. Aloe plants love their soil to be loose, dry and almost sandy, so do not over water it or panic if you feel the soil is looking as crusty as burnt toast. Your Aloe likes it like that, trust me. You will only need to water it once or twice a month depending on how dry the soil is. You don’t want it feeling like a cracked and dried slab in the desert, but you don’t want it feeling moist or damp either. Find a happy medium. If these little babies are given the right treatment, they grow like mad.
Skinny Sunburn Ultra-Nourishing Summer Soother
In summer, I often turn to my spiky friend to heal my skin if the Aussie sun has torched me and I am looking more roast capsicum than tanned Brazilian goddess. I ALWAYS keep my face out of the sun, but sometimes other parts of my body strike out and I get a bit of colour that is often more fire engine red than golden glow (I try and avoid it, believe me). To heal it, I have a really simple remedy that is completely natural and quenches my skin. I cut one of the outermost leaves at the base of my Aloe and as close to the stem as I can. The outermost leaves are the oldest, largest and more often than not contain the thickest, nutrient-dense gel layer (they should feel nice and firm). I then wash the leaves I have harvested and place them on my chopping board concave side down. Run a sharp knife around the edge of both sides of the leaf to remove the spikes and enable you to open the leaf. Make sure you always have clean hands and utensils when you are fiddling with your aloe to avoid any contamination of the gel.
Then, grab a couple of tablespoons of organic raw virgin coconut oil, throw it in the blender with the Aloe and whip them up to make a thick paste/lotion. Shower, and then while your pores are still open from the steam of the shower, apply the aloe vera and coconut mixture to your skin and watch it soak up the healing goodness of your homemade concoction. You can also use the skin of the leaf you harvested to rub over yourself as this will still contain some gel. Not only will this mixture heal and soothe your sunburn, the coconut oil will add some serious moisture to your skin. Any mixture you have left over can be stored in an air-tight container or jar in the fridge but be sure to use within a few days.
A good idea is to also add a few drops of your favourite essential oil. I am a sucker for lavender, so will sometimes mix a little bit in as well. Heavenly.