are approximately 325 species of aloe.
Nearly half of these are native to South
Africa, most the rest to the tropical
regions of Madagascar and Africa, around
a dozen come from Arabia and the famous
Aloe barbadensis grows in the Caribbean
islands. Not all of them are useful healing/cosmetic
sources and three are of primary medical
significance: Aloe ferox, Aloe perryi
and the Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis).
These same medicinal aloes are also known
as Aloe chinensis, Curacao Aloe, Cape
Aloe, Aloe variegata, and Aloe saponaria.
The most medicinally important is the
Aloe Vera. It took its name "true
aloe" from the Arabic "alloeh,"
and the Latin Vera which means true. It
is also called Aloe Barbadensis after
its supposed origin in the Barbados. Historically,
the most esteemed aloes, called "Socotrine,"
or "Zanzibar" aloes, come from
Socotra, an island in the Arabian sea
200 miles from the eastern most coast
A mature Aloe barbadensis plant stands
as high as three feet. Its multiple lance-shaped
leaves grow from a rosette shape (meaning,
"in the shape of a rose") at
the foundation and narrow to a sharp pointed
tip. Their surface is flat, fleshy, green
and almost waxy with serrated edges protruding
at half-inch intervals. The leaves are
thick and filled with a gelatinous- like
clear pulp that weigh as much as two pounds
each. It is this gel that contains the
plant's nutrients and healing properties.
Throughout the year, trumpet shaped flowers
intermittently rise out of the aloe plant
on stems that stretch far above the leaves.
The Aloe barbadensis is the only variety
of the aloe species with yellow rather
than red flowers. The flowers produce
seeds that can be cultivated, but the
usual manner of propagating this plant
is through sucker plants that grow as
offshoots at the base of the parent plant.
It takes an aloe plant four to five years
to reach maturity. It remains productive
for 20 to 25 years.
Recent research on the organic structure
of the Aloe Vera gel has uncovered a number
of medicinally significant properties
in addition to its high percentage of
aloin, once thought to be its most beneficial
Aloe In History
Aloe Vera has been praised for its recuperative
capabilities for over three thousand years.
A diversity of cultures throughout the
centuries -- Chaldeans, Hebrews, Greeks,
Egyptians, Romans, Algerians, Mayans,
Africans, Chinese, Moroccans, Arabians,
Indians and Pakistanis -- have kept records
of their medicinal applications of aloe
gel. While aloe is best known today for
its ability to treat burns, it has been
used for treating stomach disorders, headache,
constipation, influenza and fevers, colic,
kidney ailments, ringworm, skin, hemorrhoids,
wounds, dystrophy, blistering, toothache,
sunburn, menstrual problems, insomnia,
snakebite, hair loss, meningitis and other
Ancient Egyptians used aloe for protection
from the sun, for embalming procedures
as well as in numerous medicinal preparations.
Aloe in ancient Egypt was cultivated primarily
in cemeteries. Aloe leaves were presented
as gifts of respect to procure admittance
to the rites that followed the death of
a Pharaoh. Carvings of aloe leaves from
as early as 4,000 BC have been discovered
on vases and the walls of ancient Egyptian
temples as well as on the sides of Pharaohs
coffins. Legend has it that the road to
the Pharaohs burial temple was lined with
One of the first written records of the
plant was found in the ancient Egyptian
scrolls, the Papyrus Ebers written in
1500 BC (and translated in 1875 by the
German Egyptologist, George Moritz Ebers)
that documented the medical practices
of their day.
The Legend Lives On . .
The two best known queens of Egypt, Cleopatra
and Nefertiti, are legendary for their
knowledge of natural and herbal beauty
secrets. Both bathed in sour milk to beautify
their skin; we now know that the glycolic
acid in the milk has a beneficial effect
on wrinkles. They also credited aloe as
one of their most important beauty aids.
Clay tablets dating from 2100 BC to 1700
BC have been found in the ancient city
of Nippur, south of Baghdad in Iraq, that
record the Sumerian healers' use of aloes
in their pharmacological preparations.
Aristotle was drawn to the city of Alexandria
because it was considered the cultural
center of his time. Aristotle was considered
to be the foremost botanist of his time,
and accordingly, he understood the properties
and values of the aloe Vera plant. Many
royal medicinal formulations in Greek
and Roman pharmaceutical preparations
contained aloe as an absolutely essential
ingredient. The King of Alexandria assigned
Aristotle to become the tutor of his 13-year-old
son, Alexander III. It was from this time
forward that Aristotle had as his pupil
an individual who would grow up to become
one of the greatest known world conquerors.
Used to heal wounds...
Aristotle was aware that the healing properties
of aloe would be invaluable to soldiers
wounded in battle and advised his student
Alexander III ("the Great")
to conquer all lands that grew it, especially
the island of Socotra off the coast of
eastern Africa. Socotra is mentioned many
times in historical writings as a principal
manufacturing hub for medicinal aloes
in the Old World. Alexander took his teacher's
advice. After a successful campaign against
the island in 333 BBC, he exiled all its
Phoenician residents and replaced them
with his own Ionians (Greeks) to tend
to his aloe production.
Pedanius Dioscorides, a physician in the
Roman army, mentioned medicinal aloes
in his encyclopedic Greek herbal De Materia
Medica. (Approximately around 75 BC).
Gaius Plinius (Pliny) Secundus wrote about
aloe about the same time in his treatise
Natural History. Both borrowed information
from Quintus Sextius Niger who produced
a history of aloes from India to Asia
and Arabia in which he also mentioned
the importance of aloe production on Socotra.
Mentioned in the Bible...
There are three bible references from
the Old Testament that make mention of
aloe. There is also a New Testament reference
to the body of Jesus being embalmed in
aloes (notably Aloe Barbadensis or Aloe
Nomadic tribes in Africa dug up and replanted
their aloe plants as they moved from place
to place to be assure their continued
access to this marvelous plant. In the
republic of South Africa, the national
floral emblem is Aloe ferox.
Spanish Jesuits are believed to be responsible
for the introduction of Aloe barbadensis
to North and South America in the mid
1500's, leaving a footprint of aloe plants
as they moved about performing their missionary
work. Following explorers and conquistadors,
they carried the plant to Texas as they
crossed the Rio Grande, and carried it
west to California.
The qualities attributed to this remarkable
plant throughout the ages are fascinating
and hold up well under modern research.