Healing with Aloe
IN OUR HOME, WE HAVE AN ALOE PLANT ON HYPERDRIVE—seriously, this thing just keeps sprouting and sprouting, and at this point it looks more like medusa than an aloe. After some quick research, I learned that Aloe have "male" and "female" plants, so to speak. The female acts like a mother plant and sprouts new babies on a pretty regular basis, and the leaves tend to be smaller and thinner; the male plants will grow larger, their leaves becoming longer and thicker. I've propagated a few of the male plants out of the main pot so they have more room to grow, but I still have a wonderful surplus of aloe.
The Benefits of Aloe Vera
Most people know that aloe is wonderful applied topically. It has many benefits for the skin, tightening and soothing, calming the sting of a burn, or because of it's anti-bacterial qualities even disinfecting minor cuts or scratches. But I had seen aloe leaves available at select grocery stores and have friends that I know blend them into smoothies, which got me curious. Very serendipitously, Jonathan handed me an article he had come across on the health benefits of aloe and my research then began in earnest. As it turns out, the benefits of ingesting aloe have been known for thousands of years—I've read that the ancient Egyptians called it the "plant of immortality" and Native Americans "the wand of heaven"—but this knowledge doesn't seem to be all that common. In more recent years, the actual composition of aloe has been studied and it now could be called a superfood. The gel in the leaves contain at least 75 nutrients, 20 minerals, 12 vitamins, 18 amino acids, and 200 active enzymes.
Some of the benefits found after ingesting aloe on a regular basis include (and these are only a few benefits found after relatively quick research):
- Lowers high cholesterol and high blood pressure
- Blood tonic
- Eases inflammation and soothes arthritis pain
- Protects the body from oxidative stress
- Protects the kidneys, prevents kidney stones and protects the body from oxalates in coffee and tea
- Alkalizes the body
- Aleviates ulcers, IBS, Crohn's disease and other digestive disorders
- Nourishes the body
- Aleviates constipation
- Prevents and treats candida infections
- Balancing electrolytes making it great for post-workout hydration
- Boosts cardiovascular performance and physical endurance
- Speeds recovery from injury or physical exertion
- Hydrates the skin, accelerates skin repair
- Good for oral health when mixed with water and used as a mouthwash
After the long, cold winter months, my skin, eyes, and body feel tight and dry, and my energy is low—there's just a general sense of depletion after spending so long indoors with the heat on and the stark contrast of crisp, dry, and cold winter air. I was particularly attracted to the hydrating and detoxifying qualities of aloe and proceeded to experiment with cultivating and preparing it. Some choose to blend it, although there is some debate if this action destroys some of the more complex nutrients of the plant, so I opted to muddle the gel into a pretty yummy, hydrating drink (which I think I will freeze and turn into hydrating, energy boosting popcicles for the summer and during my upcoming child-labour!).
Harvesting and Filletting Aloe
You can buy aloe leaves at some select grocery or health stores, and you can also purchase aloe juice or gel, but like many things if possible, harvest fresh leaves for maximum benefit. Grow a plant (tips below) and harvest as much as you can without destroying the plant and then supplement with store-bought product in between. To harvest your aloe, using a sharp knife, cut the leaf at the base of the stem. Place on a cutting board and remove the serated edges of the leaf. Then, place your palm flat on the broad side of the leaf and carefully use your (very sharp) knife to cut the leaf in half, lengthwise. This is hard to do perfectly, don't worry about that—the main goal is simply to open the leaf so the maximum amount of gel can be harvested. Once cut, turn the leaves over and remove the gel from the skin, cutting as close to the skin as possible to harvest as much as you can! Only harvest what you need and use immediately, reserving any unused portions of the leaf by wrapping and storing in the fridge.
Hydrating Aloe Drink
- Aloe Gel (I used a leaf that was about 8 inches long and only about 2 inches wide)
- Coconut Water
- 2-3 Stems Fresh Cilantro
- Fresh Lime Juice
Very roughly chop the aloe gel, leaving fairly big chunks. Place in a glass along with a few ice cubes and several leaves of cilantro. Using a muddler or spoon, crush the leaves and break up the aloe gel a little more (again some chunks are fine!). Fill the glass with coconut water, a swirl of honey if desired, and a generous squeeze of lime (I used 1/4 of a lime). Drink and enjoy immediately!
NOTE: due to the laxative qualities of aloe vera, it's recommended that you start with a small amount and build gradually. Also, on rare occasion some may be allergic to aloe. If you've never used it, apply a small amount behind the ear or under the arm—if stinging or rash appear do not use.
Growing & Propagating Aloe
Aloe vera is honestly very, very easy to take care of. You need dry, loose soil in a nice and bright, sunny spot. Overwatering will cause root rot, so err on the side of caution here. I water mine only about once per month, giving it a good soak and then leaving it the remainder of the time. If the tips of the leaves appear to shrink and shrivel slightly, you need to increase the amount you are watering. If you are lucky enough to have a mother plant, eventually you'll need to propagate the babies. To do so, gently dig around the base and loosen the plant from the soil. Place in a fresh pot and it will simply take root and flourish on it's own. Super easy!!