Growing up in Venezuela, my mother and sister had a strong interest in the aloe vera plant. While my mother studied its botanical aspects, my sister was more interested in its medicinal and nutritional properties. You could say that I benefited from their experience and knowledge, as I was exposed to the healing powers of aloe at a very early age. For this reason, I’d like to share part of our family wisdom and our country’s beautiful traditions.
The arid climate of certain Venezuelan regions is ideal for the growth of the succulent aloe plant. In our culture, it is cultivated in pots, not only for its ornamental beauty but also for its medicinal properties and, in some cases, for luck and good fortune!
In fact, there is a popular belief that one is supposed to own three aloe plants: one you purchase on your own, a second you get as a gift, and a third borrowed from someone else. By having these three plants at home, one is well equipped with good fortune and protection. While there is no science that supports such claims, there is something to be said about the positive energy around this plant and the faith in popular traditions.
The medicinal properties of aloe vera are considered controversial among scientific communities. Many studies of the medicinal uses of this plant have yielded conflicting results. In spite of these differences, there is some evidence that aloe vera is useful in the treatment of skin burns, wound healing, skin infections, diabetes, sebaceous cysts and elevated blood lipids in humans. The positive effects are attributed to some compounds present in the aloe plant such as polysaccharides, mannans, lecithins, and anthraquinones. My hope is that science can gather more conclusive evidence in the near future.
From a nutritional standpoint, the aloe plant is a good source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes and other essential nutrients. A simple way to incorporate these nutrients in our diet and obtain the alleged health benefits of the plant is by including a few slices of the aloe crystal – the fleshy, translucent part after you peel off the skin and wash away the yellow sap – in your favorite smoothie. Sweeten with maple syrup or honey.
While aloe vera’s medicinal properties are still highly debatable, there is definitely something about this plant that, in the right context, can be beneficial to our quality of life. Throughout history, aloe’s crystal and its bitter sap have been providing relief from some of the dietary and environmental excesses we are exposed to in our daily lives. You can see some of the current medicinal evidence for treating specific illnesses, such as constipation, seborrheic dermatitis, cancer prevention, canker sores, type II diabetes, and other illnesses at the MayoClinic website. You can also find information regarding side effects, interactions, and uses at WebMD. However, keep in mind that the information on WebMD refers to aloe as a supplement and not as a whole food.
Whether you use aloe topically or consume it as food or medicine, I would suggest doing some research and seeking advice from your doctor or an herbalist. Our bodies are different and will react differently to certain foods. Context and individual experience are very important to the benefits you are expecting to achieve. For me and for my family, the use of this plant as a whole food proved to be very helpful. So although I am biased, I would suggest you do your homework and have your own experience with this amazing gift from Mother Nature.
Aloe Syrup Home Recipe
Our homemade recipe was very rudimentary and definitely did not meet the “delicious” principle the Natural Gourmet Institute teaches to its aspiring chefs (at least not delicious to my taste buds, but you be the judge). We prescribed it as medicine and consumed it as such, just like you would any cough medicine. This home remedy is my sister’s adaptation of Dr. Keshaba Bhat’s* Aloe Punch recipe. We used it as a remedy for sore throats, colds, and digestive ailments.
One leaf of aloe vera (2-3 inches)
Honey (1-2 tablespoons)
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
Peel the aloe leaf carefully cutting the serrated edges first. Save the yellow sap or use it for the skin. Wash any excess of sap off the crystal. Blend the aloe with honey and lime.
Dr. Bhat adds pepper grains and ginger root to his depurative punch and recommends drinking it in the morning before breakfast. Dr. Bhat’s version when taken for a specific amount of time is to purify the liver.
Here are some links to websites with additional recipes for aloe vera chicken soup, poached aloe with lime, aloe juices, and many others:
*Dr. Bhat is an ethnobotanist promoting a Natural Health Re-Education Movement. He teaches and trains people about his philosophy in different countries around the world. He believes the solution to combating health problems around the world, especially in developing tropical countries, is promoting self-sufficient means, education, proper use of local natural resources available and adequate living conditions. Per Dr. Bhat, aloe can be used to help detoxify the body, as a natural antibiotic, for arthritis, to help menstrual cramps, to retain moisture in the skin, to increase the elasticity and resistance of the cells in the skin, amongst other health benefits.