How To Use Aloe Vera

| January/February 1997

For countless Americans, myself included, aloe vera was the first encounter with a medicinal herb. As teenagers in coastal Maine, my friends and I would head for the beach on a warm spring day to start renewing our suntans, and after frying our pallid winter skin, we’d rub aloe gel on each others’ blistered backs.

Aloe gel is perhaps the most widely recognized herbal remedy in the United States today, used to relieve thermal burn and sunburn, promote wound healing, and moisturize and soften skin. Everyone who uses it seems convinced that it works, and its millennia of use for the same conditions support that assumption. In addition, recent research suggests that aloe gel can help stimulate the body’s immune system.

One of the additional beauties of aloe is that it is easy to grow and to use.

Growing Aloe Vera

For a fresh aloe source, your best bet is that plant on the windowsill. Happily, aloe thrives on neglect, but this tropical or subtropical native can not tolerate temperatures much below 40°F. Even a light frost will reduce it to a blackened, oozing mass of dead tissue.

My plants do well in a bright window out of direct sunlight. The soil should be well-drained and porous—a coarse, sandy potting soil that’s not too rich seems to suit aloe best. Overwatering and poor drainage are the greatest threats to this plant.

If you leave an aloe undisturbed in a slightly oversized pot, it will soon produce suckers that, when they’re a couple of inches tall, can easily be separated from the main plant and replanted. You can also cut off an overlong stalk and simply plant it in a pot. It will root readily.

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