Healing with Aloe Vera

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Aloe vera gel, which comes from the leaves of aloe plants, is a botanical superstar.

Anyone who has experienced a sunburn is probably familiar with the soothing properties of aloe vera. However, the benefits of aloe vera don’t stop there. This easy-to-grow succulent is also a remedy for cuts, minor skin abrasions, canker sores and digestive issues. 

“Aloe vera has a long history of use for skin quality that predates Egyptian culture,” says Tyler Giles, of HealthWay Nutrition Center in Medford. “Just about all the hand sanitizers that we are using now include aloe vera. Since the main ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol, aloe vera is added to counteract the drying effects of the alcohol. Its only purpose in the sanitizer is to nourish and moisturize.”

Many cosmetics use aloe vera for its moisturizing, healing and rejuvenating properties. Made up mostly of water, the thick leaves hold a slimy gel chockfull of more than 200 nutrients. This combination of vitamins, enzymes and amino acids gives aloe its many benefits for skin care. A hydrating emollient, aloe vera’s anti-inflammatory properties create a protective barrier on the skin. Aloe also offers protection from free radical damage, soothes itchy skin and promotes healthy cell regeneration while nourishing the skin.

“Besides using aloe vera for skin care, my customers often get relief from acid reflux disease by taking aloe vera internally,” says Giles. 

According to Healthline Resources, a 2015 study found that purified aloe vera juice effectively reduced the symptoms of acid reflux as well or better than certain traditional medication without any reported side effects. 

“If taken internally, use high quality products only,” Giles says. “Do your homework before you purchase. Ask questions: where did it come from, who made this? Get it from a good source. Be sure to store it correctly. Refrigerate after opening.” He also noted that pure aloe vera juice is clear, without any added color.

Giles cautions against ingesting raw aloe in large quantities. “While there are no down sides to topical use, raw aloe taken internally can cause irritation,” he says. As with any supplement, people should check with their providers before taking. For example, people with diabetes and pregnant women should not drink aloe vera juice without consulting their providers. 

What about the taste? Giles says if the taste is unpleasant, you can mixed aloe vera with juice. “Some products are already sweetened,” he says. “You can also buy distilled aloe vera which takes out the taste. This product offers advantages because it is not watered down and is not sweetened.”

With thousands of years of human use, aloe vera is a classic healing plant. “Clinical trials are wonderful, but having this history is the next best thing,” Giles says. “We view that with great significance.”

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How to grow your own aloe vera

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Aloe is a plant species with thick, spiky leaves in the succulent family. Its fleshy leaves contain a gel-like substance known for healing properties. Aloe is often grown as an indoor plant in a sunny kitchen window where a piece can be broken off to quickly soothe a burn from a hot skillet. By growing your own aloe vera plant, you have immediate access to aloe gel for skin conditions. However, don’t harvest the gel for internal use. Raw aloe can cause digestive irritation.

Potting: Aloe vera does best in loose, well-drained soil. 

Watering: As with all succulents, aloe vera requires very little water. Soak the soil just before the leaves begin to shrivel, then let the soil dry out completely before watering again. 

Sunlight: Aloe plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily but can tolerate some filtered sun or light shade at midday.

Temperature: As a tropical plant, aloe vera can survive outdoors in Oregon but will need protection from temperatures below 40 degrees. If grown in a container, bring the pot indoors in colder seasons. If grown in the ground, cover with a landscape blanket to protect it from light frosts. 

Herbal tradition

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“Aloe vera has a long history of use for skin quality that predates Egyptian culture.”

Tyler Giles, HealthWay Nutrition Center, Medford

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