Spring has begun and it is hard to stay inside locked up in our homes. As we are trying to protect ourselves from covid, it is also important to protect our skin from the blazing sun. One of the most famous natural home remedies to prevent sunburn is using aloe vera gel.
There are between 400–500 varieties of aloe vera, maybe even more, but Aloe barbadensis Miller is possibly the most famous one. It is one of the most commercialized and easiest to find.
This is my plant that is more than 3 years old now. It had grown enormous and was occupying almost 4*4 feet space. I had to harvest some leaves so that I can accommodate them in my garage in winter. It always stays in this cement planter that is homemade and hand-painted by me. Every year, I re-pot this plant and keep it in the same container. And other than occasional watering changing soil is the only special thing that I do for this plant. It hardly needs any attention compared to my other plants and that is the reason it goes unnoticed many times and I hardly have any pictures of this one.
History of Aloe Vera
The name Aloe vera comes from the combination of two words. “Alloeh” means a shiny sticky substance and vera means True. I think that is the reason it is also referred to as True Aloe. It is one of the oldest mentioned plants and you can find the mentions even in religious books like the Bible. . Every time I try to find the history of plants, we always see that all the cultures in the world respected plants and nature. Respect for nature is universal.
For thousands of years, Aloe vera is well a respected precious medicinal herb in many cultures in Greece, Egypt, India, Mexico, Japan, and China.1 Egyptian queens, Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it as part of their regular beauty regimes. Alexander the Great, and Christopher Columbus used aloe vera to treat soldiers’ wounds.
It is believed to be originated in the Arabic peninsula but since it has been cultivated almost worldwide, it is hard to pinpoint the exact origin.
Is Aloe Vera an Ancient Medicine or Poison?
Now even though based on its chemical composition, it is hard to explain why aloe vera receives so much attention for being a medicinal plant because no overly miraculous phytochemicals are found in this plant, it is still believed to have so many health benefits and marketed and commercialized in the form of many medicines.
Now before we find out if aloe vera is poisonous, just a quick snapshot of the benefits of aloe vera
It is used as a soothing gel and pain reliever for burn injuries and also acts as a surface protectant. It is part of some denture adhesives. It is also used in various anti-aging remedies and skin hydration creams. Aloe vera is believed to have antibacterial and antiviral effects. In India, it is commonly used in cough remedies known as “kadha” in which a decoction is made by boiling aloe vera, with onion and some other medicinal herbs. It is also a laxative. Aloe vera is an antioxidant and is added to many health drinks.
Do you get these questions?
How much aloe vera to use in medicine?
Are there any side effects?
Is Aloe vera poisonous?
Is aloe vera really that useful?
The main problem in finding out if aloe vera is really that valuable is difficult because it contains many chemicals like polysaccharides, minerals, and enzymes mainly anthraquinones. There are some non-clinical studies that claim the efficacy of some of these chemicals in treating various illnesses but then again there are some toxic substances too. Like aloin which is associated with causing side effects like allergies, or irritation of the skin and inner linings of intestines and even has cancer-causing properties. It also has harmful effects on the blood cells and sperms. And that is the reason more research has to be done. At this time the research on aloe vera is not very thorough and doesn’t focus on individual chemicals or a combination of phytochemicals that are present in aloe vera. Toxicity is higher when the entire leaf is used as medicine along with the sap compared to when only the innermost part of the leaf that is the gel is used. The claims from both sides lack enough clinical data which is common in the case of most plant-based medicines. But now we know that the plant can have some undesirable effects depending on how it is processed.
Aloe Vera is toxic to animals so it is important to keep your pets away from them.
Growing Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a beautiful plant and can add a lot of character to your home garden. It is a perennial and can survive up to 25 years. It can become invasive and start growing new plants from basal offshoots. That is something to consider if you are planting it in the ground. I keep my plant potted as I know that it is not going to survive outdoors during winter.
The Soil- Mix for Aloe Vera
Let’s prepare a soil mix. Aloe vera likes nutrient-rich loamy soil with a pH between 6.5–7.5 but it can sustain in poor soil as well. I add equal parts of good quality garden soil, compost, coco peat, and perlite. To this mix, I’ll add any good all-purpose fertilizer and done. Our soil mix is ready. IF you are planning to plant it directly in the ground, then you might want to mix some sand into the soil to allow proper drainage. I have clay type of soil in my garden and the plant doesn’t handle this soil well especially in the spring when it rains, clay holds more water. Too much water damages the leaves. Once the plant is established in the ground its moisture tolerance increases slightly but at least while planting the soil needs to be well-draining.
Aloe Vera is a sun-loving plant and grows well at temperatures between 19–27 °C or 66–81°F. It can survive at temperatures between. But in my personal experience, this limit can be stretched further in both directions. My plant has survived even beyond this limit during winter even during extreme freeze and heat waves that lasted for a week at a time. The temperature went beyond 105°F. It shows the resiliency of the plant. I protected it in my garage during winter without any special preparation.
Aloe vera requires very little water to survive. I water my plant once every two weeks and it still does well. I keep my plant in a covered patio to prevent overwatering due to rain. In fact, if overwatered the leaves of the plants start turning yellow. During winter months, watering should be further reduced because aloe vera goes into dormancy and needs very little resources.
Like other succulents, aloe vera leaves are triangular blade-like, and feel like a cushion. They have serrated margins. Under the green outer covering of the leaves which is also known as the rind is a thin layer of sap and under that is the gel. The sap part mainly contains anthraquinone that is responsible for the side effects of aloe vera. So that is something that you should avoid. The gel part forms the majority of the core portion of leaves and is rich with polysaccharides and minerals. The leaves do an awesome job of storing water. The leaves are about ½–1 inch in thickness and can grow up to 2–3 feet in length.
Aloe vera roots form a symbiotic association with a fungus in the soil that helps them to better access the mineral nutrients in the soil.
My plant has not produced any flowers yet but I’m expecting that they will do it soon hopefully this summer. This is how flowers and seeds look like. The flowers are bisexual and backyard birds carry out the pollination.
Aloe vera is mainly grown from basal shoots. You can see here how these basal shoots grow from underneath the plant and give rise to new plants. These young shoots are very delicate and you can easily separate them from the mother plant and start new plants. I’m keeping these three tiny plants aside for now but first, let’s re-pot this main plant. You can see the soil is very dry. It has almost zero moisture still the plant is doing fine. This is a homemade cement planter that works beautifully for this plant. The only problem that I face is that the leaves grow very long and horizontally in all directions and spread on the ground. If the light source is localized on the top only then the plant will grow upright towards the light I believe.
I have removed almost all the soil and potting the plant again. You can see that the plant is heavier now and the wind may topple it down. I will stabilize it with a few rocks from the backyard.
Potting Mix for Indoor Plants
Next, I mixed equal parts of the coco coir and perlite to make these tiny indoor planters for these tiny aloe vera plants. I’m also using a big seashell plant for this third one. And then just watering it to remove any trapped air in the soil. And I’m set for one more year.