I grew up in the low desert areas of Arizona: Douglas, Wilcox, and Mesa. Later, living near Flagstaff, I began keeping Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) in my kitchen. In the low desert, Aloe grows in medians and desert yards; almost weed – like. It is a succulent so it does not need much water. Most of its moisture comes from any available humidity. It has a cactus look without thorns, and is a welcome green in a harsh country. A bonus is the beautiful tiny orange-yellow lily flower that fits with the easy lifestyle of a desert landscape. Pictures and further descriptions on the internet will help you identify this plant. If you live in a warm climate you may even have it growing close by.
I do not remember when I first knew about the positive benefits of this plant. It seems my family used it forever. I know this is not true, but that is how I think of it. Treating burns and wounds using aloe has been known for centuries. Those who are concerned about future preparedness and ”what if “ scenarios may gain some peace of mind if they have at least one of the Aloe vera plants growing in a pot in their kitchens. An offshoot makes an attractive Christmas gift for friends.
Aloe has a long positive history, also some controversy, some skeptics, and many true believers in its effectiveness. A couple of my personal experiences put me into the true believer category:
1. When my daughter was three and her big brothers were making model airplanes, the laws against using glue that contained oil of mustard had not been passed. If a kid built model airplanes, that is what hobby shops sold at the time. The boys knew to be careful with it, but baby sister Mary, didn’t want to be left out of the fun. Unknown to her brothers, she grabbed the tube of glue and started playing. Shortly after, she was screaming. She had a bright red burn from the glue on her leg. I grabbed a leaf of my Aloe plant, split it to get at the gel, and swabbed it on the burn area. Next, I put her in the car and headed for the local hospital emergency room. Mary screamed all the way.
I entered the emergency room with the crying child and she was rushed right in for treatment. I was standing next to the doctor in charge and stated that I had just treated her leg with an Aloe vera plant. He turned to me in anger and said, “You did what?” I was made to feel that I had hurt my baby girl and must be a witch of some kind. Then, still angry, the doctor asked me to spell it so his nurse could look up the plant. I assumed this was to see what kind of poison, if any, I had put on my child. I spelled it and then just stood by in silence.
The nurse was busy going through her book and the doctor still had a stern look on his face as he waited. No one noticed (except me) that Mary was no longer crying, and she was busy looking around and playing under the table. I breathed a sigh of relief. The Aloe vera worked!
Finally the doctor and nurse noticed the same thing…the silence of a once screaming child. The doctor checked the leg and gave her some minor care. His countenance changed now, he casually stepped toward me to say, “Where can I get one of those plants?” By this time I was the angry person. He never apologized and he was rude and arrogant to me earlier. Normally I give a person one of the aloe offshoots I generally have growing attached to the base of my Aloe vera plants, but in my anger I simply answered, “In a nursery.” Aloe plants are easily obtainable in plant nurseries across the country so I forgave myself for my own just anger. Mary healed with no scaring.
2. I use a pressure cooker. One time I was impatient and wanted to open the cooker before it was completely free of steam. When I opened the lid, the hot steam hit me and I felt it burn my entire inner arm. I grabbed some aloe leaves, put a few in the refrigerator, and used the gel of another to spread over my arm. I knew the effects would not be immediate, but also knew that the gel in the leaves in the refrigerator would be icy cold in seconds. After the application of the first leaf, I took another leaf from the refrigerator, sliced it, and applied more gel. Now the icy Aloe vera gel had burn stopping power, and the comfort of ice. After several applications of the icy gel, the pain subsided. With continued icy cold aloe treatment, my burn healed with no scaring.
Over the years I found that although not an instant cure for burns, it does work, but it usually takes about twenty minutes for pain to cease or at least become bearable. Getting to an emergency room and obtaining “instant” treatment probably takes longer than that even if you live near a hospital. I think the time saving application of aloe, plus a trip to the hospital is the best way to handle a burn.
Typing the words “Aloe vera plant” into web browsers will supply all sorts of information. One article I saw gave some details of its characteristics. According to an article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Aloe vera gel is comprised of 99 percent water, and 1 per cent glycoproteins and polysaccharides” Aloe’s glycoproteins reduce pain and inflammation, while its polysaccharides stimulate skin growth and repair. The article also mentions that for these reasons, “aloe can be effectively used to treat pain, itching and swelling caused by burns, insect bites or allergic skin reactions. It can also help small wounds and burns heal faster, and it can soothe and moisturize dry, irritated skin”.
I use aloe on chapped hands and lips, rough soles of my feet, sunburn and any minor burn, scratch, or rash. A friend of mine uses aloe as her only face moisturizer. Her face is beautiful and youthful looking. Modern day beauty product manufacturers create all types of beauty products using Aloe vera as the prime ingredient. Even Cleopatra knew about using it as a beauty treatment.
Aloe is spoken of as a medicine perhaps as early as 4000 BC, when drawings of it were found on temple walls in the tombs of the Pharaohs. The Egyptians called it the “Plant of Immortality” suggesting that it might have been used in the embalming process.
Greeks carried aloe plants into battle for wound treatment. Alexander the Great knew about the power of aloe in healing wounds and sent an army to gather plants that were growing on an island so his enemies could not get them. Aloe is one of the most frequently prescribed medicines in old herbal books which mention aloe’s use for a variety of ailments.
I like to have a small bottle of straight Aloe vera gel in my travel bag to use on insect bites or scratches. Having the “traveling aloe bottle” is like having a bottle of inexpensive soap along. The gel has a soapy substance called saponin in it that is capable of cleansing, and, saponins have antiseptic and antibacterial properties as well. I cannot imagine a better product for a first aid kit.
Aloe is mentioned in the Bible including the following:
John 19: 39-40 Nicodemus (the man who had first come to Jesus at night) likewise came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes which weighed about a hundred pounds. They took Jesus’ body, and in accordance with Jewish burial custom bound it up in wrappings of cloth with perfumed oils.
Psalms 45:8-9: You love justice and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellow kings. With myrrh and aloes and cassia your robes are fragrant; from ivory palaces string music brings you joy.
Proverbs 7:17: I have sprinkled my bed with myrrh, with aloes, and with cinnamon.
One of the best things about Aloe vera is the ease in which it grows and the fact that it thrives in benign neglect. In warm places it will grow outside. Even then it is still a good idea to have a pot full inside. Direct sunlight fades the plant but it is still good to use.
Inside, the plant thrives in a coarse potting mix similar to one for cactus. Aloe is not a cactus, it is a member of the lily family but the cactus mix drains readily. About the only thing that kills an Aloe plant is over-watering. Add some Perlite or something to lighten up the mix if using a regular potting mix. Use a shallow but wide container because the plant is not deep rooted and it also produces offsets at the base which can be easily removed and repotted.
I have only touched on some of the benefits of Aloe. As with all survival skills, the plant can be researched, and knowledge can be gained about its use. I have an Aloe vera plant growing in my kitchen and I always will. I am in my “golden years” now, and think people concerned about the future will do the same once they know about the benefits of this plant. Do your homework, and then get an Aloe vera plant for your kitchen.