The Healing Power of Plants - Aloe
I love winter for many reasons but one that always makes my heart sing are aloes in flower. Suddenly these unassuming plants shout “look at me” as their beautiful flowers appear. I suddenly start to notice all the variations of aloe most noticeably seen when in flower. From sunshine yellow to fiery orange they light up traffic circles and pavements, such a joy. A superfood right on our streets!
What is Aloe Ferox
Aloe ferox is our own local version of aloe vera and is considered to be a superfood. Superfoods are plants that have many unique properties and are known for their healing abilities. Unlike herbs they can be used daily as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Aloe vera is internationally known for its healing properties, here in the Western and Eastern Cape we have Aloe Ferox. A tougher hardier plant than aloe vera but with very similar properties. It is fascinating to see where the plant grows and how it provides for us in that climate. Found in conditions that are hot and dry it stores its moisture in big spiky leaves, in the form of a fibrous gel. This gel can be used internally providing us with much needed hydration. The aloe loves the sun and being a giving plant provides us with a topical relief for sunburn.
Aloe has been used since ancient Egyptian times, it is believed that Cleopatra’s famed beauty was in part due to aloe gel applied to the skin. It was passed onto the Greeks and Alexander the Great used the gel to help heal soldiers wounds.
What is in it?
When you cut into a leaf of aloe ferox be careful of the spikes! Just under the skin is a layer of brown liquid that weeps out, this is known as the aloe bitter and tastes very very bitter. The inner part is a mucilaginous gel that is rich in Vitamins A, C and E and the minerals sulphur, magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium and chromium. This gel also contains fibre, sterols, lignans and polysaccharides.
One of the polysaccharides found in the aloe is mannose, part of the glyconutrient family. Glyconutrients became popular about 10 years ago because of the positive affect they have on the immune system and cell to cell communication. The mannose found in aloe has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-parasite properties. It also helps to reduce inflammation.
Aloe juice is a perfect digestive remedy. Because of it’s anti-fungal properties it may reduce candida overgrowth. Aloe’s anti-inflammatory properties help calm inflammation in the gut such as colitis, ulcers, heartburn, and IBS. It helps to dissolve excess mucous in the intestine therefore improving absorption. It increases friendly gut bacteria by acting as a pre-biotic, feeding the good gut flora. Aloe can have a very healing effect on the gut lining. Aloe bitters can be taken as a gentle laxative and their bitter taste helps to stimulate the digestive system, therefore improving digestion.
Aloe juice helps to activate the production of glutathione an important nutrient found in liver detoxification. It will help to lower homocysteine levels (this is an important health marker). Acne and congested skin conditions can often be due to a sluggish digestive system and an overloaded liver. Taking aloe juice on a regular basis can help to clear up the skin from the inside.
Hydration & Skin Health
Aloe ferox contains sulphur which is found to be chemically similar to that of MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) and the polysaccharides in aloe contain hydrogen. Both of these are very important in helping to hydrate dried out tissue both inside and outside the body. It helps hydrate organs including the skin. Aloe stimulates collagen which helps to lubricate joints and helps provide elasticity and flexibility of the body. On the skin aloe gel is very well known for helping with acne, eczema, insect bites, jelly fish stings, rashes, skin infections, athletes foot, sunburn and sun damaged skin. It helps to calm the skin and because of the many vitamins and mineral it contains can also heal the skin.
How to use it
As a drink you can add 1 - 2 tablespoons of aloe juice to water or a smoothie and have once or twice a day. If you can get fresh leaf this is a great way to have it. I have an aloe ferox in my garden and harvest a few leaves in winter when they are plumb and full of water. Cut one leaf from the bottom of the plant and cut away the skin and brown bitter layer then liquidise the pulp with a little water and put it into ice cube trays. Take out one cube to make a delicious refreshing cocktail after work when you may be feeling dehydrated.
Recipe Tip: Add half a peeled lime, a quarter peeled cucumber, fresh mint, 1 cube of aloe or 2 tablespoons aloe drink. Add as much water to make about 2 big glasses and whizz up in a high speed blender with ice. So refreshing and hydrating your body will love you!
Recipe Tip: if you would like something warmer I peel one orange or naartjie add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder a pinch of cayenne and 1 cube of frozen aloe or 2 tablespoons of aloe drink. Add water and whizz up in blender.
Look out for aloe juice that contains as few preservatives as possible, citric acid as a preservative is probably the best option, I like Totally Wild Aloe 24/7 plain aloe ferox juice. For the gel Totally Wild is the cleanest option. Lots of aloe skin care ranges contain nasty chemical ingredients, in fact most of the commercial aloe beauty ranges are anything but natural.
IMPORTANT: Because of the detoxifying nature of this product it is not recommended for use during pregnancy and if you are on any medication that may be affected by stimulating the liver.