It’s late in summer, and with the heat bearing down upon us, most of us Americans are dreaming of the impending fall that is just around the corner. In the beginning of the summer, my back patio started with only one aloe plant, but now, over the course of three months, it has transformed into FOUR aloe plants! To most, you might wonder what on Earth one person could do with that much aloe vera, but I look at it as do I have ENOUGH aloe vera for the many uses it has?
What IS Aloe Vera?
This plant has to be one of the most popular and widely used plants for herbal medicine, throughout the world. Native to Eastern and Southern Africa, aloe vera has managed to weasel its way into nearly every part of the world by being able to adapt to just about any climate and living conditions. It’s so easy to grow aloe, that even those with the brownest of thumbs have come back to a fully neglected plant that is still living. Aloe vera, with its prickly, gray-green succulent leaves and slimy gel like insides, is one plant that no household should be without.
How to Prepare and Store Your Own Aloe Vera Gel
If you are not going to use store bought aloe vera, which can be cut with harsh solvents and all sorts of preservatives, learning to harvest and prepare it yourself is the cheapest and healthiest option! It’s extremely easy to cultivate your aloe plants. To harvest your own aloe vera gel:
- Cut off leaves from your aloe plant, starting from the bottom so that the plant can continue to grow and thrive.
- Setting the leaves bottom/cut side down in a cup, allow to drain the yellowish resin from the leaves for 5-10 minutes. This bitter liquid, known as “bitter aloes” or aloin, can be a bit irritating to the skin, but in it’s dried/powdered form, is used internally for constipation as a very effective natural laxative.
- You can either harvest the gel the conventional way, by slicing the leaves in half and scooping out the gel; or you can take a fruit/vegetable peeler and peel the outer leaves off of the gel. The latter method will conserve the most amount of aloe vera gel, but both are effective methods.
- To store your aloe vera gel, keep it in a jar in the fridge. For a longer shelf life you can mix in 500 UI vitamin C powder per one cup of aloe (this can be substituted for citric acid and/or vitamin E if that is what you have on hand). For a smoother consistency and/or to blend in vitamin C, put the aloe gel in your blender or food processor before storing in a jar in your fridge.
There’s a Million and One, But These Are My Top 10 Uses for Aloe Vera
In the event of some sort of apocalyptic event, you will likely see me running down the road with my aloe plant in one arm, and my bugout bag in the other! There are so many uses for aloe vera, that I truly would be at a loss without it by my side. Here are 10 of the top uses for all of that aloe vera that has taken over your pots in the backyard:
- Wash and condition your hair with aloe
With a pH that closely matches that of our scalp, aloe vera is a perfect match in most hair care products because it not only effectively cleanses the scalp without stripping it of its precious oils, but it also conditions your hair while sealing in the cuticles. Used as an alternative to the baking soda method, aloe vera makes the perfect pH-balanced option when you are “no-pooing.” Aloe vera is also great for relieving problems with dandruff and other scalp related issues. You can either combine equal parts of the aloe with coconut milk, raw apple cider vinegar, hydrosol, or water and then wash as you do with your other no-‘poo options.
- Use aloe vera as a curl defining and softening hair gel
I have wavy/curly hair, and it is really hard to find a great natural curl defining gel that also keeps your hair super soft rather than crunchy. When I first learned that I could use aloe vera as a curl defining hair gel, I was actually a bit skeptical, but after trying it out, I haven’t used anything else since. All you need to do is use a small dime-sized amount for medium hair and quarter sized amount for longer hair. Scrunch into your curls and either allow to air dry or blow dry with a diffuser.
- Cleanse, tone, and moisturize your face with aloe vera
Just like your scalp, your face has a sensitive oil layer that can easily be disrupted when cleansing, because of pH variances. Unlike castile soap, which has a high pH of 9.5, aloe vera has a pH that closely matches our skin’s sebum and acid mantle, allowing you to effectively cleanse your face without disrupting the natural oil cycle. Those with acne/oily skin types will find relief using aloe vera because not only does it tone the skin and close the pores while moisturizing, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties that helps to reduce acne breakouts as well.
- Strengthens teeth and gums
Aloe vera’s natural antibacterial and antiseptics properties make it a great non-toxic choice for brushing your teeth. Not only does its anti-inflammatory properties aid in helping soothe inflamed gums, but studies have shown that aloe vera gel is just as effective at fighting cavities as your commercial toothpastes. Mix in a drop or two or peppermint essential oil for a minty fresh mouth! (If you are new to EO’s, read about how to safely use them here.)
- Soothe and heal sunburns and burns
Aloe vera is one of the most widely used remedies for burns of all kinds. Not only does it soothe and cool the skin, but it helps to speed up healing while even reversing blisters before they develop. If kept in the fridge, aloe feels amazing on a fresh sunburn. Here’s a great recipe for sunburn relief using aloe.
- Helps relieve itching from bug bites
Apply a dab of aloe to your bug bites to relieve itching and burning. Its antibacterial properties will help clean the wound while its anti-inflammatory properties will help to reduce swelling and redness.
- Helps reduce signs of aging, wrinkles, stretch marks, and scars
Rich in anthraquinones as well as vitamins A, C, and E, aloe vera helps promote rapid healing and tissue repair in the skin. Once called “the plant of immortality” by the Ancient Egyptians, it was said to be Cleopatra’s secret ingredient to her age-defying face cream. Use a small amount as a light daily moisturizer for your face and hands. Those same antioxidants that help reduce signs of aging and wrinkles, also help to reduce scarring and prevent stretch marks. Apply twice daily throughout your pregnancy, to prevent stretch marks and scars.
- Helps heal and relieve symptoms from rosacea and psoriasis
Both of these skin conditions do not thrive when using soap or other pH changing products. Cleansing with aloe instead, can help relieve rosacea and psoriasis symptoms and even help prevent them from returning, for some.
- Helps to cleanse and heal cuts and wounds
Aloe vera not only is antibacterial, but also contains several antiseptics that all help to kill bacteria and fungi. Apply to cuts and wounds before bandaging, to help cleanse the wound as well as to help promote rapid healing.
- Helps soothe and heal stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis
The clear aloe vera gel is not just great externally for skin, but its ability to heal and protect also works internally as well. You can just eat the gel itself for this purpose, but be sure to avoid the skin and the aloin resin so that you don’t experience the laxative properties.
It is important to show caution when using the dried powder and outer sheath of the plant as they are strong laxatives. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid internal use of aloe, and young children, and the elderly should use caution if using internally. If you experience cramping or stomach pains, discontinue internal use.
Aloe is not recommended for use topically on staph infections, including staph-like infections such as impetigo. It may seal in the infection allowing for the infection to worsen.
Chevallier, Andrew. (2001). Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York: DK Publishing
Gladstar, Rosemary. (2012). Herbal Medicine: A Beginner’s Guide. North Adams, MA: Story Publishing
Academy of General Dentistry. (2009). “Tooth Gel: Healing Power Of Aloe Vera Proves Beneficial For Teeth And Gums, Too.” ScienceDaily, 28 July 2009. Accessed on in August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090717150300.htm.
This post was written by The Hippy Homemaker, Christina, who loves to share what she’s learning about green and eco-friendly living, natural health, aromatherapy, herbalism and more!