I remember heading over to my grandmother’s house when I was a kid and the first thing I encountered upon walking through her door was this giant aloe plant. It’s broad, spiky leaves overarched and poured out of its pot looking like a botanical giant with welcoming arms (or ones to suck me into some unknown world). I was always fascinated by this creature my grandmother kept as one of her prized possessions –namely because she would cut open a leaf and spread it’s gelatinous contents over whatever came in her path…and many times, that was me or one of my many cousins. Cut knee? Aloe smear. Burned arm from touching the stove when told not to 5,000 times? Aloe smear. Stomach ache? Eat a snack with aloe mixed in with it. Taking a bath? Smear aloe all over your hair and let it sit for 10 minutes. Feeling OK? Eat some aloe anyway. This got a little confusing when I thought I could smear on me or eat the contents of any plant I came across (and believe me, I ran the gamut from acorn and petunia soup to poison ivy tissues). At the time, I never really appreciated how awesome natural remedies are. My grandmother would try and explain to us that her Native American grandmother used aloe all of the time and how wonderful it was for anything, which is why she had her aloe plant. She said her grandmother would use the aloe gel on her skin and hair to keep it looking young and vibrant. Who knows if that was really true, but since I wanted to be cool like my Cherokee Indian ancestors, I went along with the gig and walked around most of the time at my grandmother’s looking like I was attacked by a swamp slug. Truth be told, aloe vera is a superfood gift from the ancient Egyptians who first discovered the magic of this food and bred into most of the plants we see today. Cleopatra’s rumored beauty and youth is tied directly to her application of aloe vera to her skin. Knowing what I know now about health and nutrition, I fully appreciate the incredible healing powers aloe has. PLEASE NOTE THAT DUE TO ITS STRONG EFFECTS IN CLEANSING THE LIVER, PREGANNT WOMEN AND YOUNG CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 2 SHOULD NOT TAKE ALOE VERA INTERNALLY (BUT THEY ARE FINE IN USING IT AS A TOPICAL HEALER) If your kids are too young to eat aloe, don’t fret – wait until they are older than two and gradually add a little to their foods. They can still benefit from using it on their skin and seeing you be a healthy adult by eating it.
We use aloe on a daily basis in my house and here are some reasons why (SOURCE: “Superfoods”):
- Aloe is one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet. Each leaf of fresh aloe vera contains a mucous-like gel which is a potent source of polysaccharides (long-chain sugars).
- The gel of raw aloe vera contains vitamins A,C, and E, the minerals sulfur, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and chromium, as well as antioxidants, fiber, amino acids, enzymes, sterols, lignins, and most importantly, polysaccharides.
- Aloe’s polysaccharides not only provide steady energy over time, but have a special lubricating effect on several important parts of the human body – the joints, brain and nervous system, and skin.
- The polysaccharides in aloe vera also have very effective immune-enhancing effects – they allow the human immune system to fight back chronic viral, nanobacteria, and fungal infections.
- When ingested, aloe vera helps you gain lean muscle mass.
- Boost your digestive health with the power of aloe vera – it can help with all types of digestive problems and can aid in the recovery from digestive illnesses like colitis, ulcers, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Research suggests that the polysaccharides in aloe vera are responsible for the calming effects on digestion.
- Aloe helps regenerate healthy epithelial cells that line our inner digestive system.
- Aloe cuts and dissolves mucous in the intestines, which helps increase nutrient absorption.
- Aloe’s mannose polysaccharide is effective at killing yeast (candida), which can help normalize pH levels in the body and help prevent recurring problems affiliated with this condition.
- Aloe acts as a prebiotic – meaning it helps the effectiveness of probiotics such as acidophilus and bifidus.
- Scientific studies show that aloe vera has the ability to help prevent arthritis, edema (swelling), and inflammation throughout the body.
- Scientific studies also show that aloe vera helps stimulate the healing of damaged tissue in the body, which is extremely important for chronic disease prevention and aiding in autoimmune and allergic responses – perfect for kids with allergies!
- The raw gel of fresh aloe vera has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar and help lessen the symptoms of diabetes.
- Aloe’s claim to fame is hydration – just think how it survives so well in desert environments. Aloe contains hydrogen and sulfur, which are effective at hydrating dried-out, leathery tissue (collagen damage, wrinkles, hardening of the organs, etc.).
- Antioxidant powerhouse! Aloe vera is super awesome at activating the liver to produce glutiathione, an antioxidant that is critical to the production of white blood cells (which as we know fight off illness, disease, and destruction of the body’s healthy cells).
- Aloe helps keep our kidneys healthy – which helps take some burden off of those special organs that work so hard at cleaning out your body.
- Healing of the Skin – The best application is to let aloe sit on the skin as long as possible, as just rubbing a little here and there on the skin will not be effective. I remember my grandmother would cut open a leaf and slap the whole leaf on our skin and tell us not to take it off for as long as we could hold it on.
Aloe has been used topically to treat the following:
- Cuts and abrasions
- Athlete’s foot
- Blemishes and brown spots
- Insect bites and stings
- Jellyfish stings
- Poison ivy and oak
- Skin allergies and infections
- Stretch marks
- Varicose veins
Now that I hopefully convinced you to cover your body in aloe vera leaves and chew on aloe vera gel like a crazed lunatic, you’re probably wondering what’s the best way to acquire this ancient marvel of natural magic. Aloe vera leaves are usually a 1-2 feet in length and dull-green in color. They are “squishy”, as they are comprised of gel inside their leaves. Aloe gel can taste bitter or it can be tasteless. If you choose not to have a looming aloe plant at your home like my grandmother (they are actually beautiful plants), you can buy individual leaves or the gel or juice from the plant. Try to follow these suggestions:
- Purchase organic aloe vera
- Select fresh leaves in preference to bottled aloe vera. Only fresh aloe vera maintains the strong antifungal properties that aloe contains.
- If choosing a bottled aloe vera product, try to select one that has been minimally processed, as processing damages the healing polysaccharides.
- Select aloe leaves that are thick with gel and free of white speckles (although if the leaf does have speckles, that does not mean it’s bad).
- You can even buy aloe vera powder (which is a great product to fight chronic bladder infections).
- Aloe vera lotions that are minimally processed are great for the skin.
If you chose to go with the aloe vera leaf option, great choice! Here are some things to know about how to use it –
Don’t chew on the leaf like a dinosaur (and kids may be tempted to do this). Aside from the thorny sides, aloe is best when cut open and filleted. Cut the portion you want to use or eat from the aloe leaf and remove the thorns on either side. Separate the gel from the inside of the leaf skin using a knife, scraping the two apart. Once the gel is removed from the aloe leaf, it can be eaten as is (might not taste so awesome), or you can mix it in with other foods without it being detected (I promise). Try aloe in:
- Fruit salads
(I personally like aloe best mixed in with a smoothie)
Once the gel has been removed and filleted from the outer leaf, the thin gel remaining on the inner surface of the leaf can be applied to the skin as a lotion or soothing pack from burns.
*Aloe vera keeps best when left in a bowl in indirect light
at room temperature (NOT in the refrigerator).
I buy a decent-sized jug of aloe vera juice from Trader Joe’s that I incorporate daily into our smoothies. I know other health food stores have different types of bottled aloe vera juice, and some products are pretty pricey, so read the label carefully to make sure you are not buying overly-processed aloe juice that ultimately will be ineffective (and a waste of money). Some come with pulp, some don’t, some come flavored, some come tasting pretty harsh…. You have to research the labels to see if what you are buying notes that it is minimally processed (which is why buying the whole aloe vera leaf is your best bet).
Here are 2 tasty recipes to try if you’re curious:
- Fill a blender ¾ full of filtered or spring water
- ½ prepared aloe leaf (remove skin, keep the gel)
- 1 whole lemon with only the outer rind removed (keep the white pith)
- 1 whole lime with only the outer rind removed (keep the white pith)
- 5 pinches of sea salt
- 2 tbsp. agave syrup OR ½ tsp stevia
- Blend and strain; serve on ice
Strawberry Orange Aloe Drink
- In a blender, put prepared aloe gel or about ½ – 1 cup of aloe juice
- Add fresh orange juice (about 2-3 cups)
- Add 1 cup organic strawberries
- Add ½ cup goji berries
- Blend, strain, and serve cold. Very refreshing!
If ingesting aloe vera isn’t your thing or you’re not ready to try it (or your kids are not old enough yet to taste), then hopefully utilizing this natural healing powerhouse topically will bring oohs and ahs. I love using aloe every day and I can attest to its healing properties, as I healed a pretty disturbed digestive system by adding aloe to my smoothies every day. Besides, how cool is it for a kid to scrape gel out of a plant and be able to use it “as is” instead of some fancy cream or lotion that comes out a bottle?