Aloe’s Use and Cultivation – Part 1
Aloe’s Use and Cultivation
“If Aloe Vera were to be discovered today and it’s remarkable healing properties investigated, it would be hailed as the wonder drug of this century”
Dr. Ivan E. Danhof, Ph.D., M.D.M
Aloe’s healing properties were probably first discovered by accident. One can easily imagine a young mother in prehistoric Africa on her way to draw water for the family, bumping into an aloe plant and scraping her leg on the pointed leaf.
Looking down, she notices that the tip of the plant’s leaf has broken and it’s oozing gel. Curious, she stoops to examine the gel, taking some of it on her finger and sniffing. She notices no smell and, delighted by the gel’s coolness on her finger, smears a bit of it onto her scraped leg. Immediately, the sting of the scrape begins to abate…and the rest is history.
As awareness of aloe’s medicinal properties grew, we can be sure that tales of the “miracle plant” spread, first locally, then abroad. From its origins in the Fertile Crescent, aloe eventually found its way throughout the warm climates of the world. And once people were aware of its healing properties, it was cultivated wherever possible.
In Biblical times, migrating Hebrew tribes uprooted their aloe plants and replanted them when they got to their destination, where the hardy plants thrived once again. And ancient seafaring Phoenicians in the western part of the Fertile Crescent cultivated aloe for export throughout the Greco-Roman world. The Romans also learned of the power of aloe from Carthaginian prisoners who used the plant to treat injuries suffered during the Punic wars starting in 264 B.C.
Aloe was also cultivated on the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean. About twice the size of Maui, Socotra was renowned from as early as the 5th century B.C. for its plantations and the highly efficacious aloe plants they produced. Legend has it that Aristotle urged Alexander the Great to conquer the island to secure its healing aloe crops for his troops.
From there it was exported in powder form eastward to China by Arab merchants, who also stopped in India, Malaysia and Tibet and sold it there as well. By 700 to 800 A.D., aloe was known in Korea.
Aloe’s fame spread further yet. In their conquests of 710-797 A.D., Arabs introduced it to Spain. They extracted aloe pulp from the leaves and put it into goatskin bags to bake in the hot sun until it was reduced to a resin. During the Crusades 300 years later, Christian warriors from the West discovered aloe’s virtues from their Muslim adversaries. By the 1200s, dried aloe sap was well-known in Europe.
During the Age of Discovery (early 15th through 17th centuries), aloe became even more widely appreciated, as explorers traveling to and from Europe by ship transported live aloe plants or dried aloe sap from port to port.
Spanish conquistadors found aloe vera already being used in Tenochtitlán and throughout the Aztec empire. Mayan women of the Yucatan used aloe to moisturize their skin. The Jivaro Indians of the Andes called aloe “the doctor from heaven,” believing the sacred plant made their warriors invulnerable.
Portuguese and Spanish Jesuits also brought aloe plants to the African and American colonies, where it became known as the “tree of Jesus” and was cultivated for its health benefits.
By the 1700s aloe plants were widely cultivated through-out the warm climates of the Caribbean Islands and Central and South America. Especially in Barbados and Curacao, aloe was developed as a commercial crop. Slaves in Barbados collected the juice from leaves cut carefully from the plant by hand, and then boiled the juice, reducing it to the consistency of molasses. It was then dried and exported, mainly to Europe, where demand was high.
In the United States, Colonel H.W. Johnston started the first modern commercial aloe farm in Florida in 1912. No doubt Col. Johnston realized the importance of taking special care of his plants during their growing season—ensuring they were well-fertilized but not over-watered.
Today, it’s no different. Whether in the United States, Central or South America, Africa or Asia, growers are increasingly combining the benefits of modern science with good, old-fashioned care to bring the best product possible to the marketplace. In fact, modern growers go to great lengths while growing, harvesting and processing their plants to ensure that the finished product—be it powder, juice or gel that forms the basis of so many popular products today—is the purest, most stable product available, with all of the beneficial qualities of the original plant intact.
Growers realize that sometimes the old ways are best, so many today grow their plants organically, with no pesticides, herbicides or germicides to interfere with the chemical properties of the plant.
Two of the most alluring Egyptian queens, Nephrite and Cleopatra, relied on Aloe Vera to maintain their unlined and youthful complexions by both drinking aloe juice and bathing in it.
The name “aloe” originated from the Arab word “alloeh” wich means “shiny and bitter”.
And “vera” is latin for “true”. Ancient Egyptians called aloe vera their “Plant of Immortality”.