Aloe Vera is a type of succulent plant that is easy to grow in the home. There are many botanical variations on the Aloe plant, and it goes by a number of synonyms in its name, including Aloe barbadensis and Lu Hui in Chinese herbology (though Lu Hui specifically refers to the flesh latex in the plant itself).
The Benefits of Aloe
Aloe has a very long history of use in herbalism, and enjoys a wide range of use in cosmetics & skin care products. What can aloe do? The plant is historically used to reduce fevers, skin inflammations, blistering, acne, and taken internally as a laxative. It’s classical use in Chinese herbal medicine is similar to how it is used worldwide, although the Chinese focused more on its internal uses – prescribing aloe to kill intestinal parasites (primarily roundworm or tinea infections), strengthen the stomach, and guide out bowel obstructions.
Research on Aloe
The research on aloe vera is very mixed – particularly for skin conditions. Most studies on aloe for skin issues are in the context of treating UV damage, and they report mixed reuslts. However, these studies also make no distinction between using aloe to prevent skin blistering and using it to soothe or heal blistering after damage has already been done, and Chinese medicine typically reserves aloe for post-damage healing only, if used for this purpose at all.
Research for aloe treating constipation is better developed. A compound called aloin is one of the things in aloe vera, and it is a known laxative. Aloin increases peristalsis (GI muscle contractions that move stool through the intestines) and hinders the large intestine from absorbing water. The end result is that stools are softened and expelled. Aloin is located in the leaf latex – the interior gel part of the plant (the part that Chinese medicine uses) – rather than in the juice, so to get this benefit out of aloe you have to actually ingest this part of the leaf. You should be cautious before doing so, though – aloin is also a potential carcinogen and the FDA considers it unsafe for use or inclusion in products sold in stores.
Using Aloe Vera
If you own one of these plants the easiest way to use it for skin issues is to break off one of the larger and slightly wilting lower leaves and spread the aloe juice on red, itchy, dry, or burnt sections of skin. After doing this, rub in the juice as you would rub lotion into the same part of your skin.
For internal use, the latex part of the plant has to be properly prepared, and for this it is best to see an herbalist prior to use to ensure that it is done safely and effectively.