Aloe Vera is perhaps the most commonly found succulent plant with soaring popularity, and for all the good reasons. With its soothing gel-filled leaves, the plant has found itself in every second home across the globe. From the medical fraternity to the cosmetic industry, Aloe has been a one-stop solution to a variety of skin and stomach-related issues. With the plant enjoying its superfood status for quite some time now, let's explore more about this amazing super plant!
THE ALOE HISTORY
Among the 300+ species of the plant, the dominating species that has set its hold as a houseplant is Aloe barbadensis miller. The plant is most famous for its plump, succulent leaves filled with a soothing gel, extolled for many benefits. Native to arid regions, this is a perfect plant for a beginner gardener - with its love for negligence and less water requirement, Aloe vera is one plant you will struggle to kill. The leaves grow in a rosette formation, from the base with spines along the side of the leaves. The plant takes about 3-5 years to reach maturity.
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With Kale and Quinoa dominating the superfood market, Aloe has remained a quiet competitor.
HOW TO CARE FOR ALOE VERA PLANT
Aloe is a patron of sunlight- which is quite obvious since the plant natively grows in the aridest, drought-stricken regions. A day of full direct sunlight helps the plant to grow its thick and fleshy leaves. This makes it an excellent outdoor plant. However, if you want to decorate your interiors with this plant, make sure to place it on a sunny windowsill. Indirect sunlight or less light dries up the leaves and tips. But, be aware- too much of something is also not good. Strong, long sun exposure might turn the leaves reddish.
Aloe can handle drought well and prefers watering infrequently but deeply. Once or twice a week watering for the plant is quite enough for growth and survival. Make sure the soil is well soaked and before you water again 75% of the soil should have dried. If you have left the plant without water for too long, you might find the leaves shriveled and dry- which again can be rectified with watering. However, too much back-and-forth extreme conditions will cause stress to the plant.
Oh! Did you know Aloe Vera blooms? Yep! You heard us sound loud! Mature Aloe Vera plants grow spiky flowers on long stalks in colors ranging between Orange, Red, and Yellow. The plant blooms mostly during spring or early summer, but do note that young plants do not flower. It is only after 3-4 years of it establishing itself, will you be able to get an Aloe bloom.
FERTILIZE & PROPAGATE
A well-draining soil and once every 2 months fertilization is enough for the plant to grow well. If the tips turn brown, make sure to trim them to avoid spread. Aloe propagation might just be the easiest of them all. The plant bears offsets at the base of the plant. You can simply separate these mini plants and pot them separately and ta-da! You got yourself a new succulent! In fact, Aloe can be so easy to grow that regardless of conditions, it keeps sprouting new pups, growing forever as new plants. Quite an immortal characteristic, right?
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ALOE: A MASTER HEALER
Aloe Vera is a cocktail of good stuff- over 70 components! Enriched with necessary vitamins like A, C, E, B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12, it also has powerful antioxidants that ward off free radicals that cause cancer and heart diseases. That being said, let us look into the common benefits of this plant.
The clear Aloe gel has a dramatic ability to heal burns and wounds. It is also effective to soothe irritated skin and calms sunburns and lesions. The gel can be found on various cosmetic products and is a household name for face masks and creams.
The main structural components that maintain skin elasticity are collagen and elastin. Aloe is known to slow down the enzymes that break down this collagen-elastin matrix, keeping the skin young and supple.
Aloe vera gel is known to have a photoprotective effect on chemically treated hair. Most probably why we find it a leading component in many hair masks and conditioners. Aloe vera contains proteolytic enzymes that stimulate dormant hair follicles, in turn promoting hair growth. The anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties of this plant reduce itching and flaking.
Aloe has an anthraquinone in its latex called "Aloin". Aloin has potent laxative properties that are known to relieve constipation.
"An analysis of three randomized controlled studies published in October 2018 in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility suggests that aloe vera may be useful for individuals with constipation, including those dealing with this symptom in IBS"
LOWER BLOOD SUGAR
Past clinical trials have shown that 2 teaspoons of aloe vera gel every day helped in reducing blood sugar levels, especially in people with type 2 diabetes.
RISKS AND SIDE EFFECTS
Isn't Aloe Vera the super-plant? Like, doesn't it have only the good stuff? Sadly, no. Like the two sides of a coin, Aloe Vera also comes with its fair share of risks, and a half knowledge of which might be quite fatal for you.
Remember we said Aloe vera has anthraquinones? Aloe has anthraquinones in latex form, which are quite detrimental to health. Consuming the latex orally causes diarrhea and cramps, rendering your regular medicines less potent. It also causes skin reactions if applied topically. Long-term consumption of latex leads to kidney damage and may even contribute to cancer.
Though it is much safer to use the plant in a readymade product from a known brand to remove all doubts about allergic reactions, if you do want to use the plant you are growing in your backyard, a few pointers can help you evade the above issues:
- Test the plant on a smaller area on your hand, to check if you are allergic to the gel before you decide to go all in.
- After cutting the leaf from the base, let it stand upright in a glass. After some time you will see yellowish latex coming out of the leaves like a sap. After the latex is out, cut off a thin slice of the leaf from the bottom (to remove the residue latex), wash it well and then apply it.
Now that you know the benefits (and risks) of this plant, go right ahead and get yourself a wonderful Aloe Vera plant here!