Many years ago as a very young teenager I read a book called The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. It was about a stone age orphan girl who was taken in and adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals. This adoption led to her being taught the healing arts of the medicine woman. This was my first introduction to the world of herbs. It has led to a life-long passion. Herbs can be used to flavour foods and teas, but can also be used as medicine. Some herbs are very mild and can be experimented with, whereas other herbs are quite dangerous and should only be used under the strict guidance of a qualified herbal practitioner. But their danger need not call away from the fact that the world of herbs can be a most intriguing one. With this information let me introduce you to Aloe Vera.
Aloe vera (Aloe vera syn. A. barbadensis)
(Also know as: burn plant, medicine plant, Bardados aloe, Curacao aloe)
Cultivation – This plant doesn’t like wet feet and needs to be placed in a position in the garden that has very well drained soil. Full sun is also preferable, but it will tolerate a little shade.
Propagation – Aloe vera rarely sets seeds so you will need to buy this plant as a seedling or obtain an immature offset from a friend or neighbour’s plant.
Harvest – Leaves are cut as they are required from plants, but it is best to let the plant first establish itself for 2-3 years before leaves are taken from it. Sap is then drained from the cut leaves
Dimensions – 60-90cm high. Infinite width
Internal – This plant can be used internally, but it is advised to do so only after consultation from a qualified herbal practitioner. Having said that, Aloe vera has been used throughout history for the following: chronic constipation (especially following iron medication), poor appetite, digestive problems, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome
External – This plant is more commonly used to soothe burns due to its properties that both accelerate healing of the skin’s tissues and numb the pain, but it has also been used to treat other conditions: burns, scalds, sunburn, wounds, eczema, psoriasis, acne, dermatitis and ulcers. Some people have also used it in colonic irrigation and to deter nail biting.
This plant is contraindicated during pregnancy and when haemorrhoids are present. The leaves are a strong purgative and require great care over dosage. So if you are planning to use this plant internally, then it is advised to see a qualified practitioner. Aloe vera may also cause miscarriage and serious stomach upsets if used excessively. Aloe vera comes out via the breast milk – so it is to be avoided while breastfeeding, if taken internally.
Many herbs have been used over the years in spells and rituals. Aloe vera has been known to be used for the following: protection, prevention of household accidents and for good luck in the home.
Folklore and history
This is the fun section. Throughout time herbs have popped up in both folklore and history. It is usually hard to work out why these associations happened, but it is no doubt interesting reading. Aloe vera has been used throughout the ages for many different reasons. It has been hung on houses in Africa to get rid of evil and to encourage good luck. Aloe has also been used as far back as the fourth century BC, in folklore at least. Apparently Aristotle advised Alexander the Great to conquer Socotra in order to secure supplies of Aloe vera. The Hindus believed that this herb came from the Garden of Paradise. Tribes as varied as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Jews also revered this herb and it has come to be known through the ages as the ‘holy herb’. This reverence is perhaps unfounded though as Aloe vera has been mistakenly confused with lignin aloes or aloes wood (Aquilaria malaccensis). This is the plant mentioned in the Bible – not Aloe vera.
Cunningham’s Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham (ISBN 0875421229) Published by Llewellyn Publications
The Royal Horticultural Society New Encyclopaedia of Herbs and Their Uses by Deni Bown (ISBN 0751333867) Published by DK
Disclaimer: This is for reference guide only. Herbs can be used effectively for mild ailments but medical advice should be consulted first to rule out major illnesses.
Rachel Tsoumbakos is a stay at home mother of two and a freelance writer who likes to grows her own food in her spare time.
Share this post