The versatility of aloe vera is one of the things many people love about the plant. While it favors dry environments, it will survive regardless if you plant it indoors or outdoors. It also requires minimal care. In the rest of this post, we will discuss more about aloe vera, including its many uses and health benefits, providing you with an abundance of reasons to grow it as a houseplant.
Background and History
Aloe vera is a part of the Asphodeleceae family, which has more than 900 species. It is a common plant in countries with tropical climates, where the plant is cultivated mostly for its medicinal and agricultural values. It is also a common choice for a decorative indoor plant. It has a wealth of applications, not only in alternative medicine, but also for commercial uses, such as cosmetics and beverages. The plant is a native to North Africa. There are many beliefs with regards to the origin of its name, with one of the most believable being fact that it is from alloeh, an Arabic word that means bitter.
Historical accounts would prove that aloe vera is one of the oldest plants in the world. It has been around for many centuries, with the most common applications being in the field of natural medicine. Its first recorded existence was 6,000 years ago in Egypt. Cleopatra was one of the first users of aloe vera gel, specifically for skincare. In Chinese medicine, aloe vera also has an extensive history of use. In Japan, the plant is nicknamed as the royal plant. The Egyptians, meanwhile, call it the plant of immortality.
Physical Characteristics of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that many people would instantly recognize because of its spiky leaves. More than 240 varieties of the plant are available and each may be different in terms of their appearance. The average height of the plant is 24 to 39 inches.
The leaves form a rosette, which can be smooth or spiny, depending on the variety of the plant. The most common color is green, but there are also some with different hues, such as blue green. Each leaf has three layers. When you slice the leaf, there is a clear gel inside, which you can use in many ways, such as for soothing the skin. We will tackle more of this later on.
Aloe vera also produces a flower, which is usually tall and slender. They grow at the center of the rosette or leaves. The color can vary, but they are usually yellow, red, or purple. Most of them are tubular or triangular, depending on the variety.
Varieties of Aloe Vera
If you are planning to grow aloe vera at home, it is important to choose the right variety. With this, below are some of the choices that you might want to consider:
This is a good choice for aloe vera plant if you want one that is unique, basically because the color of the leaves can range from yellow orange to red orange. There can also be purple tinge on the edges. This makes it a bright decorative indoor plant.
As the name implies, it has a bright red color, which makes it another great option if you want a hint of color in your indoor or outdoor garden. It has a height and spread that can reach one to three feet. Its chemical content is 22 times more potent compared to the common aloe vera.
It has shorter leaves compared to most of the aloes. It is fast-growing, which is why it is a good choice for gardeners who are impatient. It produces orange-gold leaves, allowing it to stand out in the garden.
For thousands of years, people from all over the world grow aloe vera because of its abundance of health benefits, which include the following:
- Helps in Weight Loss: The best way to use aloe vera to shed off pounds is to make a juice out of it. It has amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, which will help improve the ability of the body to burn fats. It is also a natural laxative, and hence, will be instrumental in the improvement of digestion and prevention of constipation.
- Enhances the Immune System: The juice from aloe vera also contains natural detoxifying properties. It helps the body to get rid of toxins that can possibly cause a number of health problems. It also improves the health of the cells, making them less prone to damage.
- Strengthens the Heart: For a better cardiovascular health, aloe vera also assumes a significant role. It helps to accelerate the supply of the blood and purifies it as well, contributing to a healthier functioning of the heart. It also helps to regulate blood pressure and improve blood circulation.
- Improves Skin Health: This is one of the well-known benefits of aloe vera. It can be an analgesic, which can help to speed up wound healing. Topical application can also help in the treatment of burns, insect bites, rashes, and other common skin problems. For skincare, it improves the elasticity and flexibility of the skin, making you look younger through the years.
- Treatment of Inflammation: Aloe vera is also a good source of anti-inflammatory compounds, such as salicylic acid. To add, it also minimizes acid production, which is one of the reasons why it is excellent in combatting inflammation.
- Manages Diabetes: It is also effective in both the prevention and treatment of diabetes. It aids in the treatment of chronic hyperglycemia, making sure that your blood sugar is always in check. To maximize this benefit, when making aloe vera juice, use a natural sweetener, like honey, instead of sugar.
- Improves Oral Health: For healthier gums and teeth, aloe vera gel can also offer a promising solution. It is a great alternative for a toothpaste, especially because it is chemical-free. It helps to get rid of bacteria that can cause a wide array of oral diseases.
- Improves Hair Health: If you have falling hair and other similar problems, you might want to consider using aloe vera as a natural shampoo. It is free from toxic chemicals that can have negative impacts on hair health. It has chemicals that are the same as keratin, which will make the hair stronger. It is a protein that prevents breakage of the hair.
Uses and Applications
More than just being a decorative plant, aloe vera has a long list of uses, including the following:
- Skincare: Whether at home or for commercial applications, aloe vera is an ingredient that greatly benefits the skin. The topical application of its soothing gel can provide immediate relief from sunburns. It is also a major component of many cosmetic products that promise to make the skin youthful.
- Beverage: An aloe vera juice has detoxifying properties, making it an essential for cleansing the body. You can add the gel from the leaves to almost any juice that you prefer. It is sure to make your drink refreshing and tastier, even without the use of artificial sweeteners.
- Food Preservative: Several studies in the past have proven that aloe vera can be used as a coating to fruits and vegetables. In turn, this will help to extend the freshness of the latter. The gel from the plant is an eco-friendly and safe way to prolong the shelf life of fresh produce.
- Natural Mouthwash: If you have bad breath or gum disease, you can use aloe vera as an alternative for a toothpaste or mouthwash. One of the reasons for its effectiveness is B-sitosterol, which provides relief from acid indigestion, and hence, prevents bad breath.
- Natural Shampoo: By having aloe vera in the garden, you can also save since you can use it as a shampoo. Extract the gel from its leaves and use it as you would use a normal shampoo. It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which will be essential for better hair health.
- Indoor Air Purifier: Growing aloe vera as an indoor plant is also good because it purifies the air. It gets rid of the impurities that will lower indoor air quality. According to NASA scientists, it can absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
How to Plant Aloe Vera
The best way to grow an aloe vera is through transplanting. This means that you have to buy a young plant from a local nursery. Once the transplant is ready, look for the right container to use. Any material would do. A medium or large container is best, providing the roots with a generous amount of space to grow. There should be holes at the bottom to act as drainage, which will prevent the soil from being soggy.
Next, choose a soil and fill the pot. A cactus potting soil mix is one of the best choices, especially because succulents thrive best in a soil that is dry. You can also consider adding soil amendments, such as perlite, which will make it nutrient-rich. Transfer the transplant and cover with light soil on the top. Press firmly.
After transplanting the aloe vera, the next concern is the right position of the pot. The plant will survive in a dry environment. See to it that it is in a location where it will receive at least eight hours of sun daily. Too much sunlight, however, may cause the leaves to burn. It will be good if the plant is in a lightweight pot, making it easy to transfer the aloe vera depending on the sunlight.
Common Pests and Diseases
The fleshy leaves of aloe vera can be prone to a number of problems. This will affect its overall health and will reduce the yield of juice. Some of the diseases that can be apparent include aloe rust, root rot, soft rot, witches broom, white scale, and anthracnose, among others. When it comes to pests, on the other hand, some of the most common include aphids, snout beetles, and mealybugs, among others.
How to Take Care of Aloe Vera
Even if you are a novice gardener, you can easily succeed in growing aloe vera. Here are some of the tips that you need to keep in mind:
- Regular watering is a must for aloe vera. You need to water deeply, but make sure that the water does not stay too long on the soil. Otherwise, rotting can be a problem. Touch the top of the soil. When it is firm and dry, this is one of the indications that you need to water. In the colder months, reduce the frequency of watering.
- There is no need to fertilize the plant since it is not a heavy eater. If it is taking too long for the plant to grow or if it is showing signs of being unhealthy, you can fertilize, but limit doing so to once a year only. Too much fertilizer will inhibit the growth of the plant, making it bring more harm than good.
- If the aloe vera is growing slowly, it does not instantly mean that a fertilizer is necessary. In some instances, it can be because of the high level of alkaline in the soil, which you can correct by adding sulfur. It is also possible that the plant needs more sunlight to speed up its growth.
- Especially if you plant the aloe vera in an open garden and not a pot, you will need to deal with weeds effectively. Pull them out from the soil as they can compete for the absorption of nutrients. Be careful when pulling them out, making sure to not cause damage to the roots of the aloe vera.
Harvesting Aloe Vera
Make sure to harvest the aloe only upon reaching maturity, which will provide you with the optimal gel yield. Pick a leaf that is thick and healthy. The leaf must also be smooth and deep green in color. Wear garden gloves to protect your hand from the spiky edges of the leaf. Hold the top of the leaf that you will harvest and cut it from the base using clean and sharp scissors. After cutting, hold the leaf sideward and allow the aloin or the yellow brown sap to drain. Clean the leaf with a damp towel or running water before you extract the gel.
If the leaf is long, cut it into more manageable sizes. Take out the outer edges and peel off the top skin of the leaf. Now, you can scoop the gel using the spoon and transfer it to a clean jar. Alternatively, you can also peel the skin from all sides. After extracting the gel, proper storage is another essential consideration. Keep it in the freezer to extend its shelf life.
For centuries, aloe vera has established a positive reputation for its many uses and applications, especially because of its health attributes. Luckily, growing this plant does not need to be a difficult task, especially if you live in a place with dry climate. The right position of the plant and frequent watering are some of its most important requirements. Other than this, it needs minimal care, making it a plant that is beginner-friendly.