Monday, June 12, 2017

Aloe Vera Miracles and Uses

Aloe Vera - also called aloe, burn plant, lily of the desert, elephant’s gall. I think it should be named the miracle plant. Aloe Vera produces at least six natural antiseptics, which are able to kill mold, bacteria, fungus's, and viruses. In fact, the plant is so powerful that researchers and scientists are looking into its potential as an AIDS and cancer-fighter. The inner cellular tissue of aloe is soft and spongy, in order to hoard aloe vera water and prevent evaporation. This tissue also includes mucilage (a vegetal, gummy, water-absorbing substance) that nurtures the plant and facilitates photosynthesis. Opposite to most plants, Aloe has the peculiarity to absorb carbon dioxide during the day and expel oxygen during the night.

It has the appearance of an agave plant and its utilization goes back in time as far as humanity. Best of all aloe can be grown from a pot, a garden, on a hillside and in areas with little rain. If you are a beginner gardener, aloe is the perfect plant to wet your future green thumb. Furthermore, aloe is hearty and stubborn and very cool to look at, hosting a world of benefits, both orally and topically. Please see the map below and basically, if you live in the green zones and/or orange zone, you probably have aloe growing around you already. I purchased my plant from my neighbor's nursery. He grows the best plants in Costa Rica. If you live further North, South or just higher in altitude, you might need to search harder to find an aloe vera plant, although many grocery stores sell them. 

You need to find a plant because aloe does not produce seeds. But the good news is that aloe can live happily indoors next to a window with plenty of sun, making it the perfect apartment or kitchen plant. Many cooks keep them in or near the kitchen because they are known to sooth burns. Plant your aloe in wide containers with a well-draining potting mix, such as those made for cacti and succulents, or do like I did and add some rocks and compost to the bottom of your planter with a good bit of sand in the mix. Aloe vera plants are hardy, but a lack of proper drainage can cause rot and wilting. Water aloe deeply, but in order to discourage rot, allow the soil to dry completely between watering. Water even less often during the winter months. Aloe vera plants produce offsets or shoots, also known as plant-lets or “babies” that can be removed to produce an entirely new plant. This is another way to find a starter plant, if you have a friend who happens to already have a mature plant growing, just bring them some cookies and ask to harvest a baby shoot :) it will require some deconstruction, but the aloe will not mind, in fact, this will keep it healthy. Knock the aloe vera out of its pot and find where the shoots are attached near the root. Carefully sever them from the mother plant with a knife. Put in a sunny location, do not water for at least 1 week and forget to water occasionally. Like I said, aloe is the perfect beginner plant. If you can't grow aloe, then look for an all natural gel and be sure to read the label. I can't imagine not growing my own aloe and cultivating it as well. I use it for everything under the sun and I also use it for nightly remedies as well. For almost a year, I have not purchased shampoo. I simply blend the gel of one whole stem and mix it with one can of coconut milk, plus a few drops of essential oils if needed. Pour the mixture into an ice-cube tray, then keep the cubes in a bowl covered. Take one cube out a few minutes before your bath or shower for an awesome, all natural, replenishing shampoo. This does wonders for dandruff and psoriasis too. Personally, I prefer without essential oils because the little cubes are great in my teas and coffees. One of my newest obsessions is making my own hand sanitizer in place of the store bought choice. I just mix 1/2 cup aloe vera gel (blended), 1/4 cup alcohol, and about 10 drops of my favorite essential oil and pour into a spritz bottle. To use, spritz once and rub between hands. The alcohol kills bacteria and is super inexpensive while the aloe soothes my dry hands. This works great on tired feet after being cooped up in a pair of shoes, for men and teenage boys as well! 

Before you start making your own recipes, it is first important to know what part of the miracle plant to use. Did you know there are two parts to an aloe vera leaf: Gel and leaf juice (not to be confused with aloe juice in stores). The gel is what most people are familiar with. It’s the odorless and clear, slime at the innermost part of the leaf. Aloe latex, or juice, seeps from the leaf when cut. It’s yellow in color and has a bitter taste. When ingesting aloe, the gel is the safest part of the plant. The latex has laxative properties and can cause serious health complications if used too often. To make use of the aloe vera plant’s soothing properties, remove a mature leaf from the base of the plant, close to the stalk. It is best to pick aloe from mature plants. When the tips of the leaves attain a rosy tinge, the leaf is ripe and ready to harvest. The plant is fairly slow growing, so be cautious when aloe harvesting not to take too many leaves in a condensed period. Additionally, avoid removing the lower smaller leaves and focus on the larger upper foliage. Choose a thick, smooth large leaf and use a clean, sharp knife to cut it as close to the trunk as possible. A knife is the best way to harvest the leaves, as hand picking aloe vera may cause tissue damage to the leaf and the plant. Unblemished leaves are the best tasting and contain the most aloe gel. Slice the leaf along the stem. I like to hold the leaf and run a small knife parallel to the counter top. Try not to use any of the green skin as it contains the latex. The gel chunks can be placed in a bowl or Tupperware in the refrigerator for up to a week. Ice cubes are the best way to store aloe. I like to make a fresh batch about every 2 weeks.

Aloe vera is one of approximately 420 species of the genus Aloe; the botanical name of aloe vera is Aloe barbadensis miller, and it belongs to the Liliaceae family. Aloe vera is considered to be the most biologically active of the Aloe species; astonishingly, more than 75 potentially active components have been identified in the plant, including vitamins, minerals, saccharides, amino acids, anthraquinones, enzymes, lignin, saponins and salicylic acids. It provides 20 of the 22 human-required amino acids and eight of the eight essential amino acids. Aloe vera contains many vitamins and minerals vital for proper growth and function of all the body’s systems. Aloe vera contains antioxidant vitamins A, C and E + plus vitamin B-12, folic acid and choline. It contains eight enzymes, including aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase and peroxidase. Minerals such as calcium, copper, selenium, chromium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc are present in aloe vera. It provides 12 anthraquinones or compounds known as laxatives. Among these are aloin and emodin, which act as analgesics, antibacterials and antivirals. Four fatty acids are present, including cholesterol, campesterol, beta-sisosterol and lupeol - all providing anti-inflammatory results. The hormones called auxins and gibberellins are present; they help with healing wounds and have anti-inflammatory properties. Aloe vera provides sugars, such as monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides.

Wikipedia will tell you that all the studies by the FDA are inconclusive about the benefits of using aloe, but history and experience out-way the lack of studies approved by the FDA. Besides, there is no FDA in Costa Rica. Traditionally, aloe was used in Indian medicine for constipation, skin diseases, worm infestation, infections and as a natural remedy for colic with babies. Aloe was used in Chinese medicine for fungal diseases, and over 6,000 years ago, the Egyptians found used aloe vera as an offering to deceased pharaohs as a burial gift calling it the “plant of immortality”. The succulent has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. The plant is native to North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Canary Islands. Today, aloe vera is grown in tropical climates worldwide. From relieving heartburn to potentially slowing the spread of breast cancer, researchers are just beginning to unlock the benefits of this universal plant and its many byproducts. So why is the Western world using it in cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries? Actually, the manufacturing of aloe vera extracts is one of the largest botanical industries in the world.

Many Uses of Aloe Vera

  • Sunburns Of course - rich in antioxidants and vitamins to combat and neutralize the effects of (UV) ultraviolet radiation, but it also can help combat acne and fine lines and wrinkles, eczema and psoriasis flare-ups. Aloe seems to be able to speed wound healing by improving blood circulation through the area and preventing cell death around a wound. 
  • Strengthens the Immune System with its ability to detoxify
  • Heartburn Relief & reduce swelling of gastric ulcers
  • Alternative Mouthwash - Aloe vera contains an anti-inflammatory compound called B-sitosterol that soothes acid indigestion, a common cause of bad breath.
  • Lower Blood Sugar
  • Lower Cholesterol
  • Arthritis Pain Relief
  • Diabetes Treatment by lowering glucose levels
  • Muscle and Pain Relief with its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities can relieve muscle and tendon pain and is used widely in sports medicine.
  • Helps treat Cold Sores
  • Aid Digestion especially for people with (GERD) Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Breast Cancer
  • Skin Care, treat acne, rejuvenate skin and lighten dark spots and blemishes. 

My Recipes

  • Hand and Foot Scrub - I make a rub out of the gel, a squeeze of lemon or lime and a tablespoon of sugar. The sugar exfoliates and the lemon helps lighten the dark spots, while the aloe replenishes the skin with vitamins and hydration, leaving a healthy, shiny glow. I use this at least once per week. 
  • Doctor Green - I apply leaves to mosquito and bug bites and small cuts. My children love playing doctor with the leaves.
  • Facial Mask - Combine the aloe with some honey for a facial mask. The mixture helps to combat acne as well. The natural porteolytic enzymes found in aloe repair dead skin cells. 
  • Shampoo - Mix blended aloe gel with coconut oil and apply to the scalp and hair, leave for several minutes for an all natural hair miracle. I also make ice cubes by mixing aloe with coconut milk, walnuts and mint for variety. The natural porteolytic enzymes found in aloe repair dead skin cells on the scalp, acting as an all natural conditioner, promoting hair growth, preventing itching and combating dandruff while naturally conditioning the hair and scalp. 
  • Drinks - A good mix of Aloe vera gel and coconut juice or pipa fria can help re-hydrate and detoxify the body by optimizing the body's organ output. Alkalinity can help balance an acidic pH body. This aids in assisting liver functions enriching the liver with hydration and phytonutrients. Also it increases water content and healthy bacteria in the gut and intestines which can help aid constipation.
  • Fruit and Vege Spray - Aloe also keeps your produce fresh! You can make a dip or spray for your fruits and veges. It naturally keeps microorganisms from forming on the skin of the fruits and veges, but it also inhibits the fruit from ripening so be sure to only use it on already ripened fruits and vegetables. I use it on my tomatoes and apples regularly.

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