What is Aloe?
What is Aloe?
There are over 400 species of aloe; some only inches tall and others as big as a tree. However, when it comes to medicinal properties, the most treasured species of all is the ancient aloe vera.
Often mistaken for a cactus because of its thick green skin and spiny leaves, Aloe vera is indigenous to Africa and the legendary Fertile Crescent, considered the birthplace of modern civilization.
In fact, the name “aloe” originated from the Arab word “alloeh,” which means “shiny and bitter.” Ancient Egyptians called aloe vera their “Plant of Immortality,” and actively cultivated it.
Aloe vera, also known as aloe barbadensis, is the common name of one particular species of the genus Aloe. This botanical genus is classified in the Liliaceae (lily) family, because it germinates from an original bulb like lilies do. Other well-known plants in this family include onions, garlic and asparagus.
In assessing the characteristics specific to the aloe plant, an English researcher, Tom Reynolds, coined a new classification, inserting it into the new Aloaceae botanical family.
Sometimes classified as a member of the Xanthorrhoeaceae subfamily, aloe vera is the most commonly used species in consumer products. The proper scientific name is Aloe vera (L.) Burm. f. The synonym Aloe barbadensis or Aloe barbadensis (Mill.) or (Miller) is commonly used to refer to aloe vera and is found on many product labels.The Aloe vera plant is a clump-forming perennial succulent with basal rosettes whose stems are topped by bell-shaped, yellow flowers in summer. The leaves of a mature three to four-year-old plant can extend up to 30 or more inches in length, and have a diameter of about 5 inches at the base and weigh more than three pounds. Approximately one and a half inches thick, each leaf tapers up to a point and thorns project from its sides.
The individual aloe leaf can be divided into four descending layers: the hard, greenish gray, protective outer rind; sap, an unpleasant-smelling yellowish fluid located in the cells next to the outer rind; mucilage gel, also known as the inner leaf area; and finally the inner gel or gel fillet in the center.
Native to warm, arid climates, the aloe vera possesses some unique survival characteristics. It can go months without water. Its tough, thick, thorny outer rind protects it from the elements and predators. If a leaf is accidentally broken and the inner parts of the plant exposed to the environment, the aloe automatically moves to protect itself by exuding a fast-drying latex-based yellowish sap that engulfs the break and forms a protective barrier over the breach.
The complete lifecycle of aloe barbadensis spans up to twelve years. Each plant produces an average of twelve to thirty leaves, which are harvested from the bottom of the plant, oldest first.
Today, due to a number of factors including therapeutic potency, lifetime yield and increased consumer demand, the aloe vera’s range has expanded from the ancient Fertile Crescent to virtually every temperate continent worldwide, and aloe is actively cultivated in areas as diverse as Africa, the United States, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, China, Central and South America, the Middle East and Australia.
And thanks to breakthroughs in modern processing, stabilization and preservation techniques, thousands of products contain aloe and people all over the world have come to appreciate its amazing therapeutic properties.