Aloe Vera plant species
The name aloe is well known but the ‘vera’ is derived from the words ‘true or genuine’ which why they were coupled as a description of a plant species well documented for its healing abilities which were claimed to be true and genuine. It is commonly known as aloe vera but its Latin origin is Aloe barbadensis miller.
Named after Philip Millar who was one of the first people to document it in the ‘Gardeners Dictionary’ in April 1768 although it was originally detailed by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 it does not bear his name, it is of the Liliaceae family of plants.
The virtues of this plant have been recorded throughout history from Biblical times to the present day. 3000+ year old carvings found in Egypt referred to the aloe vera plant as the ‘plant of immortality’ and were given as burial gifts to dead pharaohs.
Distribution of aloe vera plants
Many aloe vera plant specialists and botanists are of the opinion that the plant originated in the warm climate of Africa and was taken to other lands because of its usage and its adaptability and is now found in warm areas throughout the globe. Some of the countries where aloe vera grows are Egypt, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, Caribbean, Japan, the Philippines and many pacific islands to name a few.
It is extensively grown in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, California and in specially designed hot houses in various parts of North America. The distribution of aloe vera across the globe can be attributed mainly to human cultivation rather than origin.
Aloe Vera plant Description
Although it is a tropical plant it seems to survive even in cold temperatures. It is a fleshy short stemmed plant growing on average approximately 39” tall with spreading offshoots. The aloe vera leaves are generally green and sometimes a grey-green color.
The leaves are fleshy and are serrated on the outer edges. Each plant usually has 12-16 leaves that, when mature, may weigh up to three pounds, the plants can be harvested every 6 to 8 weeks by removing 3 to 4 leaves per plant.
The aloe vera plant flowers in the summer months and the flower is bright yellow and hangs like a pendulum off a spike on the plant. Each leaf is made up of three layers of which the middle layer is a bitter latex substance. The inner layer is the gel like compound that is made up of 99% water and the balance of sterols, vitamins, amino acids and lipids. This is the part that is predominantly used medicinally and cosmetically, the outer layer is predominantly but not exclusively as a protective layer.
There are over 360 varieties of aloe vera however the most common and better known one is the Aloe barbadensis miller.
Aloe vera has been extensively used as an ornamental plant indoors and outdoors due mainly to its interesting flowers and because it requires little water and virtually no maintenance. It is also extremely resilient to most garden pests with the exception of aphids and spider mites which are easily controlled. It requires a dry sandy type soil with good drainage as water that does not drain away will systematically rot the roots.
The plant has ‘pups’ that grow on the mother plant and these should be removed and repotted as they stunt the growth of the mother plant and also become a breeding ground for aphids. An aloe plant becomes dormant in the colder months and requires no watering at all and it will rejuvenate when the warm months arrive.
Historical medicinal uses aloe vera
Aloe vera gel is one of the most widely used substances for a variety of treatments throughout the globe although its usage for medicinal reasons has been documented it has not been extensively tested until recently. There is some extensive research and in depth studies being conducted as to the efficacy of the aloe vera species.
The FDA has approved the development and eventual use of Aloe Vera in the treatment of cancer and Aids which indicates the light in which the healing properties of a plant species used since Biblical times is being viewed. After all one of the earliest users of aloe vera as a healing product was the Greek Physician Dioscorides hundreds of years ago, he was a leading physician in early Greek history. It is documented in his words in the Dioscorides De Materia Medica written in 41AD. So lets dive in the plants history and benefits.
Aloe Vera plant history
The generations of our past mention the healing methods of Aloe vera plants being handed down through the centuries and this was in most instances by word of mouth. There is documented proof that the use of Aloe vera plants and aloe vera juice appears throughout history with many testimonials of its medicinal uses and values.
The history of the Aloe Vera plant and its healing properties dates back thousands of years. The first recorded documentation dates back to 2,200BC and right through out history right up until today. This record was found on clay boards from Nippur detailing how the aloe was used for cleansing purposes for internal organs however in Mesopotamian history a body illness was regarded as ‘demonic possession’ and that ingesting aloe would rid the body of the demons.
They also used Aloe Vera to ward off evil spirits in their homes. During the Crusades the Knights of Templar concocted a drink from aloe vera juice, hemp and wine which they named “Elixir of Jerusalem” and they believed that it would add years to their life and that it would improve their health.
Aloe Vera in Egypt
Clay boards depicting the use of Aloe vera were recorded as far back as 6000 years ago. Both Cleopatra and Nofretete used the aloe vera juice for beauty purposes and for their daily skin care, although this information may be mythical as no documentation was ever found.
The dead in the early history of Egypt used aloe vera for embalming purposes due to its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties in order to delay the onset of decomposition which would ensure a life of immortality. A mourning mans wealth was estimated by the weight of aloe that was delivered to the dead mans funeral.
The ‘papyrus Eber’ of 1,500 BC documented the anti-inflammatory and soothing properties of aloe vera. There are many drawings of the aloe vera plant on the walls of temples in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians elevated aloe vera to an almost ‘god-like’ status and revered the plant for its medicinal and spiritual healing properties. The Egyptians also made paprus from the pulp of the aloe plant.
Alexander the Great and Aloe Vera
Alexander the Great who fought many wars in Asia and Asia Minor used aloe vera to treat the war wounds of his soldiers. It is said that Aristotle instructed Alexander the Great to invade and capture the island of Socotra in order to take possession and control of the aloe vera plants to ensure a continuous supply of fresh aloe. Thus Alexander the Great had to aloe needed for his troops. I would be only logical that Aristotle persuaded Alexander the Great to conquer the island of Socotra for Aloe. Socotra is an Island east off the African coast in the Gulf of Aden. Socotra was known for its large Aloe Vera crop.
If you want a big empire and want to rule over it successfully and you want your millions of people and armies to be healthy and prosperous, then you better have access to one of the most beneficial plants to support it. I can understand the idea behind it, modern civilization would be difficult to maintain if we didn”t have access to some of our most important medicine.
These aloe vera groves or plantations date back to 500 BC and were used as a trading commodity with countries such as Tibet, China and India where the aloe vera juice was held in high esteem.
Biblical References to Aloe
King Solomon grew and used aloe vera and it is recorded in the Bible at Psalm 45: 8 “All your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia” and again in the Book of Solomon 4:14 “….myrrh and aloes, along with the finest spices” which they used for embalming the dead. But the most famous Biblical reference was in the book of John 19: 38-40 where it states “And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for the fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.” Whereby John treated the wound inflicted on Jesus when he was sacrificed.
Pliney the Elder
Pliney the Elder, a physician from 23 – 79 AD wrote a manuscript “Natural History “ on the discoveries of Dioscorides that the aloe vera gel was good for tonsils, gum disease, leprosy, boils, dry and itching skin and many other ailments. His most astonishing and documented discovery was the anti-perspirant properties of aloe vera, obviously a precursor to our modern anti-perspirant deodorants.
How aloe vera plants were spread to the world
In 500 BC aloe vera was transported to Persia and India by mostly Arab traders who called it the ‘Desert Lily’ The plant itself was not transported but the traders crushed the leaves with their bare feet then put the sap into goatskin bags and left in the sun to dry out then was further crushed to make a powder and this they transported to Persia and India.
Christopher Columbus then transported the aloe vera to the New world however he never transported the aloe vera in powder form but had living plants growing in pots on his armada of ships that sailed on his second voyage of discovery in 1434 AD.
Columbus once said, “Four vegetables are indispensable for the well being of man: Wheat, the grape, the olive, and aloe. The first nourishes him, the second raises his spirit, the third brings him harmony, and the fourth cures him.”
Spanish Jesuit Monks are believed to have harvested the wild aloe vera and then to cultivate it in areas where it had not been seen before. In the 15th century the Spanish Jesuit Monks were instrumental in bringing the aloe vera plants to Central and South America. The Mayan Indians called aloe vera the “Fountain of Youth” and helped spread it throughout the region.