There are many plants that have medicinal properties. One of the most well-known plants is aloe, which has risen to notoriety in recent years after various cosmetic companies have touted its use in their products. Aloe is a common ingredient in skin creams, moisturisers, shampoo and even yoghurt. It is reported to help with various gut and skin conditions.
The stomach and intestines constitute the gut. They are vital to sustaining life as they extract nutrients, vitamins and minerals from the food we consume. This is what keeps our cells alive and allows our bodies to function properly. A balanced diet, digestion and gut health are also linked to the skin and its health. Acne and skin complexion can be affected by what we eat and how our bodies process it.
Aloe is a natural ingredient that can help with all of these conditions. There are many types of aloe, but the most commonly used species are Aloe vera and Aloe ferox. These plants have long been used in traditional remedies and herbal medicines to promote gut health and digestion, as well as to treat eczema, conjunctivitis, skin dryness and arthritis. It is believed to promote bowel movement and, in relation, improve unwanted skin conditions.
Medicinal uses of aloe
Aloe has been the focus of many studies on herbal remedies and the use of plants to cure ailments. “Aloe has long been used as a remedy in many cultures. Aloe products, which include the latex, gel and whole leaf, are used, among other reasons, as laxatives, in creams for skin ailments and as a treatment for a wide range of diseases,” write Steenkamp and Stewart in their academic study on the medicinal applications and toxicological activities of aloe products.
This plant is unique in that most of its parts can be used in various ways to treat a number of illnesses, ailments and symptoms. The leaves contain a sticky juice that can be extracted and boiled to create an aloe concentrate. This can be applied to the skin as a gel to treat sunburn, heal wounds and provide intense moisturisation to the skin. “Aloe gel has a prophylactic and curative effect on gastric lesions and irritable bowel disease. The anti-inflammatory action of Aloe gel supports the proposal that it may have a therapeutic effect in inflammatory bowel disease,” explain Steenkamp and Stewart.
Further studies reveal that the plant can be used to treat a range of other ailments. “[A] literature survey revealed that the pharmacological effects of Aloe ferox range from anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegeneration to anti-cancer properties,” writes Bhaludra et al. in their study of the uses of Aloe ferox. The leaves and roots are commonly boiled in water and swallowed as a laxative. This irritates the mucous membranes of the colon, resulting in an increase in the movement of food through the final stages of the gut.
“Although the use of Aloe was recorded by the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Mediterranean peoples as far back as 1500 BC, the Greek physician Dioscorides was the first to describe the use of Aloe to treat mouth infections, sores, and wounds and as a purgative,” explain Steenkamp and Stewart.
More information about aloe
Aloe is a common plant species and is cultivated in tropical regions around the world, although it is indigenous to much of Africa and southern Europe. It thrives in a wide range of habitats, from open grasslands to rocky hill slopes. This plant is a succulent, which means that it needs lots of sunlight and minimal water.
Authorities in many countries where aloe is grown have established regulations to ensure the sustainable utilisation of this species. In the wild, aloe is often heavily harvested in order to extract the healing compounds from the plant. This leads to over-cultivation and the endangerment of wild populations of aloe.
Aloes will often reach two to three metres in height. The thick, spiny leaves are unmistakable and the flowers are arranged in long candle-like flower-heads. Between five and eight branches, each carrying a spiked head of many flowers, form on aloes. The colours of the flowers vary from yellow-orange to bright red, making them beautiful plants for gardens and suburban landscapes too.
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