By: Marian Campbell June 1973
The Aloe Vera plant is without a doubt one of the most precious gifts God has ever given to the world. As the quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree is used for malaria fever; digitalis from the purple foxglove is used for heart ailments; and penicillin from soil bacteria and fungi is used for infections; the “gel” from the Aloe Vera has been used for many afflictions by many nationalities for 3,500 years that can be substantiated by records.
It is not known where the Aloe Vera actually originated, though its home has been recorded as Cape Verde, Canary Islands, Egypt, and Algeria. The Jesuit Fathers, however, have been given credit for bringing it to the New World because of its medicinal qualities. There are 180 species and 2,200 varieties of the Aloe, but only one true Aloe Vera. This proud family does, however, have on black sheep. It is the poisonous Aloe Venonosis. None of these plants have ever been known to grow in the United States. Most Aloe Vera plants used for cosmetics or medicinal purposes are grown in southern Florida or along the Rio Grande in Texas under rigid specifications.
The Aloe is often mistaken for cacti and referred to [as] a cactus, but it is actually from the lily family. This beautiful plant has stiff, full leaves edged with a barbed or jagged spine. A mature plant may have from twenty-seven to forty-two leaves, and they can weigh up to three pounds apiece. Aloe Vera leaves contain a thick, clear “gel.” It takes from 3.5 to 5 years for an Aloe plant to grow to maturity.
When the workers go into the Aloe groves to cut the leaves for use in cosmetics or medications they must be very careful not to break the leaves or tear or cut them above the gel line. The leaves are attached by a thin extension that wraps around the stalk and this is the part that must be severed very delicately. The leaves are then carefully inspected, washed and gently wrapped so they can be shipped by refrigerated trucks to the laboratory for processing.
Research has shown the crystal clear “gel” from the Aloe Vera is in itself bacteriostatic. Laboratory tests have been made where the various types of bacteria were placed in broth and in the gel, and the bacteria spread through the broth whereas it remained dormant on the gel itself. However, there are seven types of bacteria which are found to cling to the exterior skin of the leaf, and in manufacturing extreme caution is taken to make sure none of these different types of bacteria get involved with the gel. At the laboratory a germicidal bath is the first process the leaves will undergo in preparation for antiseptic gel extraction. A jet of purified air prepares them for the next step. Both the tip and the base of the leaves are removed and the spines trimmed. The outside rind is filleted off revealing a solid block of ‘gel’ so clear you can read a newsprint through it. For maximum effectiveness, the ‘gel’ must be stabilized while it is still in the fresh, gelatinous form. If it is not promptly stabilized it will become watery and ineffective for cosmetic use.
The reason this plant has not been used more widely for medicinal use is because the leaf will only keep about three weeks without spoiling if it is not refrigerated. In the olden days ships doctors had tubs of aloes growing on board for their use. As a matter of fact, on the second voyage of Columbus the doctor wrote on the ship’s log that he had Aloe plants on the ship for his medical use.
Just beneath the green rind there is a yellow, slimy substance known as aloin. This has been used as a cathartic for centuries, and is one of the ingredients used in several over the counter medications sold today.
In 1568 Wm Turner wrote in A NEW HERBAL, “The Nature of herbe Aloe is to hele woundes.”
In 1595 John Gerard wrote in THE GREAT HERBAL…. “This Aloe I say taken in small quantities after supper (or rather before) in stewed prunes or in water the quantities of one or two drammes in the morning is most sovereign medicine to comfort the Stomacke.” It seems the business men, or men of letters as they were called, suffered the same ulcers and tensions as the men and women of today.
In 1879 Heratio G. Wood wrote in A TREATISE ON THERAPEUTICS “Aloes is a stomachic, stimulant cathartic.”
Aloe was first introduced to Europe by the Dutch East Indies Company in the late 1600’s. There was direct trade between England and the Island of Socotra. These trade notices show the drug being sold by the Sultan of the Island who held a monopoly on these plants. In further checking our Ancient History books, we find Aristotle advised Alexander the Great to include the Island of Socotra in his conquests because of the lush Aloe Vera growing on the island. His soldiers were injured and ill, and the Aloe Vera was needed for medicine.
The Greeks identified the Aloe a as a medicinal herb in 333 B.C. and the Egyptian history is dotted with mention of its use. It was found on the walls of tombs and on their pottery and old papyrus scrolls. The Egyptians referred to it as the plant of immortality and hung the plants over the doors of their new homes to assure long life to the inhabitants. Both Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti used the Aloe as a cosmetic and were known for their great beauty.
The Mohammodans placed great religious significance in the Aloe leaf. After a pilgrimage to Mecca they placed the leaf over their door as a Holy symbol of protection for their household.
Marco Polo found the Chinese using Aloe for skin disorders. They used the Aloe to help the growth of hair where there was baldness. In Africa we know they used the fresh ‘gel’ for chronic conjunctivitis and other eye ailments. In India they mixed the gel with burnt alum, wrapped it in muslin and sued it for inflamed joints and eye ailments.
The people of Java dice the pulp and mix it with syrup of rose water. When taken internally it is believed to care for the early stages of tuberculosis and gonorrhea. They also thought the ‘gel’ mixed with sugar would relieve asthma and various bronchial complaints.
The Malayans and Jamaicans bind a slab of the pulp to the forehead to relieve headache, and use it also as a poultice on burns. The Mexicans also use it in this way as well as a poultice for erysipelas and tumors. They considered it effective for Beriberi sufferers.
In addition to the many purposes we have already mentioned the list goes on and on. It has been mixed with milk and used for dysentery and kidney pains. Mixed with brandy it was used for hemorrhoids. It has been used for ulcer and stomach disorders, burns, scalds, radiation burns, insect stings, rashes, allergy conditions, arthritis, rheumatism, sunburn, sting of the man-o’-war, and goodness only know what other ailments.
The stately Aloe Vera plant!! Gathered at the command of queens for their personal beauty rituals. Used by the poor and wretched to heal and relieve their suffering since before the time of Christ. In fact, Balaam, the Old Testament poet wrote in the 24th chapter of Numbers: “How fair are your encampments, O Isreal! Like valleys that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like the aloes the Lord has planted!” Mentioned in the New Testament, John 19:39, as being brought by Nicodemus to embalm the body of Jesus.
The Aloe Vera is truly the blue blood of the flora family!!!!
Many years ago we were both troubled with ulcers. We took the ‘gel’ from the leaf of the Aloe Vera and cut it into chunks and placed it into a half gallon container which we then filled with tap water. After a few hours we took a glass apiece to drink and then filled it back up with tap water. We drank this three or four times a day. At the end of the week we threw this out and made a fresh batch. WE still drink our aloe water frequently. Not for the ulcers because after three weeks they seemed to have disappeared, but it seems to help our arthritis and never fails to calm an upset or nervous stomach. I must warn you at this time to be sure to wash the ‘gel’ after you peel off the rind to get all of the yellow, slimy substance, which is the aloin, or it will act as a cathartic.
Our children are now grown and we are enjoying our grand-daughters, but I don’t know how we would cope with all of the scrapes, rashes, burns and sunburns if we didn’t have many Aloe plants surrounding us.
This articles pays tribute to its Author, Marian, and to her husband Ben for all the “behind the scenes” hard work they had done in the past to get the word out about this wonderful plant. Thank you again Campbell Family.
The History of Aloe Vera
God made Adam
And then he made Eve
He created bedlam
And then he took leave.
But he checked back in
After a little time
Found sickness and sin
And a little crime.
Adam and Eve begat Able and Cain
And all their troubles began
Cain had made himself a name
Before he became a man.
Able was a shy child
And no match for his brother
His manner was mild
He was more of a lover.
Cain hit able until he bled
They had bites and infection too.
Eve’s hands were rough and red
But they didn’t know what to do.
The Lord was troubled as could be
And he thought what he could do
To relieve his peoples misery
And make it better for me and you.
It had to come from Nature
Perhaps something he could grow.
And he made the ALOE VERA
That we’ve all come to know.
May 19, 1970
Marian Passed away in 2010. Among other things, she was somewhat of a historian pertaining to the history of aloe vera gel and its uses. She and her husband Ben were also long time friends of Rodney Stockton
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