PLANT OF THE WEEK
Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department
Aloe, Medicine Plant, Burn Plant, Barbados Aloe
Scientific name: Aloe vera, also known as Aloe barbadensis
of scientific name:
- from the ancient Arabic name for the plant
- true or genuine
- from or of Barbados
Aloe vera growing on Peter Island of the British Virgin Islands.
is one of about
250 species of Aloes. The Aloes are
members of the Lily family (Liliaceae) and, therefore, are relatives of
such common plants as tulips, Easter lilies, and asparagus.
vera is believed to be native to the Mediterranean, but its
exact native habitat is unknown. In
the Old World the aloes have had a long history of economic use, and this
species in particular has been carried around by people for so long that its
original habitat has been lost in history.
In fact, some taxonomists believe that Aloe
vera is not even a naturally developed species, but instead
some ancient hybrid. This may, in
part, account for the use of two scientific names for the species.
is a leafy succulent that grows in a rosette fashion on hot, well-drained soils.
The leaves are spotted when young but take on a uniform light green color
with age. They can reach 2 feet in
length and are edged with soft spines. Older
plants produce an 18-inch long stalk from the center of the rosette that is
topped with nodding cylindrical yellow flowers about 1-inch long.
Interest in the sap of
this species extends back over 2000 years.
It is bitter, slimy, and can be collected as an exudate from cut leaves
or squeezed from the pulp of leaves. Leaves
from all aloes have long been credited with healing properties, but the
especially succulent Aloe vera is
In the past, leaves were
sliced and laid on the skin to relieve itching and to heal burns.
Today it is claimed to work effectively on sunburns, minor burns,
wrinkles, insect bites, skin irritations, cuts and scratches.
A “tea” made from the dried sap of this species is said to make a
good wash for wounds and the eyes. Interest
in Aloe vera’s
healing properties has revived in recent decades in respect to its use as a
treatment for radioactive burns. Today’s
consumer may be familiar with Aloe vera because
extracts of its sap are found in many hand lotions and other skin care products.
The “aloe” of
medicine is actually the compound aloin that is extracted from the sap of Aloe
vera. The major
source of the raw sap today is the Netherlands Antilles, the true aloe having
been introduced there several hundred years ago. Aloin is still used as a cathartic (strong laxative) in
various preparations. The cathartic
properties of even the raw sap have been documented for centuries.
Historically, physicians commonly prescribed aloe sap for “cleansing
the body” of a variety of “toxins”. Applied to an infant’s thumb, it was
a sure way to stop thumb sucking.
makes a sturdy, long-lived houseplant as long as it is given plenty of sunlight
and is not over-watered. Many home
gardeners grow it on a windowsill so the sap is readily available.
An Aloe vera plant growing in one of Union County College's greenhouses.