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Aloe Vera

Author: P.G. Glynn

Aloe vera has attracted lots of attention over the centuries and been seen as a cure-all by some civilisations! But it is only relatively recently that it has come back under scrutiny and been treated again with the respect that it deserves. 

After all, it is an incredibly versatile plant, which has been given many labels including Plant of Life. 

Heaven's Blessing and Wand of Heaven are two more of its sobriquets, as well as Potted Physician. 

I think this says plenty about why aloe vera has been used as a medicinal plant in many cultures, including the ancient Greeks, Babylonians, Romans, Chinese and Indians.

Mahatma Gandhi, in a letter to his biographer Romain Rolland, wrote: 'You ask me what were the secret forces which sustained me during my long fasts. 

Well, it was my unshakable faith in God, my simple and frugal life style, and the Aloe whose benefits I discovered upon my arrival in South Africa at the end of the 19th century.'

Although indigenous to Africa, aloe is now grown globally - chiefly in warm, dry climates - and while botanists have identified around 300 types, these are the five demonstrating medical benefits:

-Barbadensis Miller, -Perryi Baker, -Ferox (often called Cape Aloe), -Arborescens and -Saponaria. (The last two of these are the least popular and are mainly used in Japan.)

Aloe Barbadensis Miller is the most potent. It takes four to five years to reach maturity, when its leaves (which grow from a short stem) are about 60 cm in length and about 8-10 cm in width at the base. 

The outer leaves are usually harvested (up to three times a year) at about 4 years of age - and when they are removed this adaptable plant 'seals' itself within seconds against water loss!

How does it do this? As the wound is inflicted it films over and then, during the next few minutes, a rubbery protective coating stops further loss of sap.

Thus the stem avoids dessication and quite soon the wound heals completely. A perennial, Aloe Barbadensis Miller has approximately a 12-year lifespan. 

So as well as helping to heal us, clever aloe vera heals itself!

Some lesser known facts are that Aloe Americana is used by the Mexicans to produce their Tequila, while Aloe Sisalina's fibres are often used to make scratching posts for cats!

But back to Barbadensis Miller, where aloe vera's natural nutrients exist in perfect balance. It is likely to be this synergistic relationship between the elements found in the plant's gel that gives it its potent power to heal.

'Synergism is defined as "the working together of two or more drugs, muscles etc. to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects".'

There are no less than 75 ingredients within an aloe leaf. These are their categories:

Lignin, Saponins, Anthraquinones (Aloin, Isobarbaloin, Anthracene, Emodin, Ester of Cinnamonic acid, Chrysophanic acid, Barbaloin, Anthranol, Aloetic acid, Aloe Emodin, Ethereal oil and Resistannol. 

Minerals: Calcium, Manganese, Sodium, Copper, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc, Chromium and Iron.

Vitamins: Vitamins A, C & E, Vitamin B & Choline, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid.

Amino Acids: Aloe vera provides 20 amino acids and 7 essential ones (of the 22 amino acids and 8 essential ones that the human body requires!)

Enzymes: These are some of the most important enzymes in this remarkable plant: Peroxidase, Aliiase, Catalase, Lipase, Cellulase, Carboxypeptidase, Amylase and Alkaline Phosphatase.

Sugars: Both monosaccharides, such as glucose and fructose,and polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are the most important types of sugars.

Sterols: Cholesterol, Sitosterol, Campesterol and Lupeol.

Aloe vera is very safe and has no known side effects. For more comprehensive information visit

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The Power of Aloe Vera

Author: P.G. Glynn

Here is an Aloe Vera feature I was commissioned to write ten years ago for the national magazine (now defunct) MAD ABOUT DOGS. It was well received and led to many dogs benefiting from Aloe products.

It was Sam, my Beardie, who brought Aloe Vera into my life. Aged eight, he had lost his bounce and his limbs had stiffened alarmingly. 

Was he an old man already? The vet pronounced him arthritic and shook his head ... but my daughter, Joanna - a reflexologist - was more constructive. Producing a chubby yellow tub with a brown lid she insisted: "Give him some of this."

I poured a teaspoonful of the pale liquid onto Sam's subsequent dinners and awaited developments. Knowing Joanna as I did, I was confident that Sam would benefit, but even so I was astonished to see him beginning to bounce again within a week. 

And after a fortnight his limbs were positively rubbery. Yes, he was back to his old self and I was well chuffed. What exactly was in the yellow tub?

An Age-Old Remedy

Aloe Vera's benefits had been documented for centuries. The gel from its thick and fleshy leaves had been used by the Greek physician Dioscorides for its health-promoting properties, while the Ancient Egyptians regarded it as an enhancer of physical beauty. Yes, Cleopatra had help from this clever plant when charming Mark Anthony! 

Legend said that Aristotle had persuaded Alexander the Great to capture the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean so that its rich supply of Aloe could heal his wounded soldiers.

Carvings of Aloe were found on Egypt's temple walls in the fourth century BC.

The Bible says that Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and Aloe to the burial chamber to anoint Christ's body.

Aloe's healing properties have meant that it is known as the "Miracle Plant", "Wand of Heaven" and "Immortality" among many other accolades.

Though there are over 200 species of Aloe, there are probably only three or four with medicinal properties. Of these, Aloe Vera Barbadensis (Miller) is the most potent.

Gel from the inner leaf can be taken internally or can be combined with other ingredients to produce topical creams and lotions.

It's essential, when buying Aloe Vera, to look for the International Aloe Science Council's Seal of Approval. This guarantees the quality and quantity of Aloe in the product being sold. If the actual Seal (not just a claim) appears on the container it is bona fide.

Aloe Vera's natural nutrients are contained in a perfect balance so that they work together. It is seemingly this synergistic relationship between the elements found in the plant's gel that provide it with its potent healing power. It is very safe and has no known side effects.

How It Started

Until 1968 scientists had been unable to explain or duplicate the plant's effectiveness but that year Dr Bill Coats, a practising pharmacist in Dallas, Texas, realised a longstanding dream and succeeded in extracting and naturally stabilising the gel while preserving its natural healing potency. 

His work opened new frontiers for the use of the stabilised Aloe Vera gel in medicine, athletics, health, beauty and animal care.

Why It Works

The plant produces at least six antiseptic agents: lupeol, salicylic acid, phenol, urea nitrogen, cinnamic acid, sulphur. Together these exhibit antimicrobial activity, which explains why Aloe Vera can eliminate many internal and external infections. The first two on the list are also highly effective analgesics, endowing Aloe Vera with natural painkilling properties.

And Aloe Vera contains at least three anti-inflammatory fatty acids (cholesterol, camperterol and B-sitosterol - all plant steroids) which is why it can be effective with cuts, burns and abrasions as well as with rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid fever and both internal and external ulcers. 

The fatty acid content is probably why Aloe Vera is often said to help many inflammatory conditions of the digestive system, the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, kidneys and pancreas. It's great, I understand, for constipation!!!

So it is no wonder that, for centuries, lay persons, vets and physicians have claimed that Aloe Vera can heal, alleviate, eliminate or cure a huge list of human and animal diseases and disorders, deserving the name "Medicine Plant".

Sam's On The Mend

I had reached this stage of my research when Sam had another setback. There was blood in his faeces and oozing from his back passage. 

Panicking, I gave him 4 fl oz of Aloe in a small bowl. The odd thing is that ordinarily Sam would never have drunk this neat. Its slightly bitter taste discourages such enthusiasm in its canine drinkers. 

But that morning Sam drank as if his life depended on it ... and maybe it did. I kept him on extra Aloe Vera for five days, until his symptoms went. That was 18 months ago and there has been no recurrence of the problem.

There has been an extraordinary reaction from people he meets! Almost invariably newcomers assume that he's a youngster. When I tell them that he turned 10 in April they look absolutely stunned!

Rusty's Tale

Rusty's ulna was fractured by a bullet. As some dogs do when ill and scared, Rusty disappeared for three days and, during that time, his leg muscles shredded and blackened and the wound became badly impacted with grass and dirt. 

So bad was his leg's condition that it looked as though amputation would be necessary to save his life, let alone his leg. 

But luckily his loving owners took him to Richard Holland, a vet with immense vision and a deep understanding of Aloe Vera's powers. Thinking there was a remote chance that Rusty's leg could be saved through surgical excision and treatment with stabilised Aloe Vera, he went to work at once. 

After cleansing the wound to take out as much dirt and contamination as possible, he operated to remove the debris and dead tissue from Rusty's leg.

Even when Richard could see a gaping hole where the bullet had passed through, he still felt the prognosis was grim.

But Rusty's owner had such hope in his eyes that Richard pinned his own hope on Aloe Vera, rejecting antibiotics for the first time. 

For several days he adopted an Aloe Vera regimen for Rusty that involved first cleansing the wound with Aloe Activator and, second, applying Aloe gel under a pad bandage.

Following this regimen strictly, he changed the dressing once daily for two weeks. At the end of this time a point had been reached in Rusty's progress where Richard knew beyond question that his leg was going to heal.

The tissue repair was accelerated beyond anything he could recall, certainly for such a short time span.

In 36 days the medial wound was nearly covered. By the end of 60 days the leg had healed completely, there was minimal scar formation and the muscles of Rusty's leg had knitted together well enough to permit him almost normal use. Today, Rusty has full use of his leg.

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