Aloe vera is a plant that can also be grown at home from which juice and gel are obtained, two products with very different properties and benefits
- Characteristics of the plant
- Benefits and properties
- How to use aloe juice
- How to use aloe gel
- How to grow Aloe at home
- Contraindications, interactions and side effects
Characteristics of the plant
Aloe is a succulent plant of the Aloaceae family, native to various regions of Africa. There are several varieties of aloes, including Aloe vera or Aloe barbadensis and Aloe ferox, characterized by woody stems of variable height and tufts of fleshy, large, lanceolate and spiny leaves. Anatomically, the leaves have a thick green epidermis and a whitish and gelatinous internal parenchyma, rich in mucilage.
The aloe flowers develop on an inflorescence axis that grows in the center of the leaves and which can reach considerable heights. The flowers are hanging, gathered in clusters, yellow in the ferox variety and yellow in the Aloe vera. The fruit that develops after flowering is a capsule.
Two distinct extracts with different properties are obtained from aloe plants:
- the condensed juice obtained from the outermost part of the leaf, rich in anthraquinones with a laxative action;
- the gel extracted from the central part of the leaves, with a high content of water, polysaccharides, amino acids, vitamins and enzymes.
In addition to having different properties, benefits and indications, aloe juice and gel also have different contraindications and side effects.
Benefits and properties
The aloe drug, that is the part of the plant that contains the highest content of active ingredients, is made up of concentrated and dried juice extracted from the leaves.
The aloe juice, which flows spontaneously from the cut leaves of aloe, is concentrated by boiling until it reaches a consistency similar to that of glass. The result is a dark, bitter mass, rich in anthraquinones with a purgative action, used to make dry extracts with laxative properties, useful in case of constipation.
Aloe gel is also obtained from the leaves, consisting exclusively of cells rich in mucilage and free of anthraquinones. Various properties have been attributed to the aloe gel and it is used for internal and external use such as:
- local anesthetic
The internal use of aloe gel is used as an immunostimulant and to treat digestive system disorders, as it protects the mucous membranes of the mouth, stomach and intestines.
The topical use of aloe gel is instead indicated to calm the irritation caused by shaving and hair removal, to treat erythema, burns caused by the sun or small domestic accidents, insect bites, to speed up the healing of minor wounds and abrasions of the skin and to relieve itchy skin.
How to use aloe juice
Aloe juice has laxative and purgative properties due to the presence of anthraquinone compounds. Anthraquinones irritate the intestinal mucosa, stimulating the accumulation of water within the intestinal lumen. The increase in intestinal fluids, in addition to softening the stool, increases the motility of the intestine by promoting evacuation. Due to its laxative properties, aloe is generally administered in capsules, tablets or powder, often associated with other anthraquinone drugs.
Preparations containing aloe are available in herbal medicine, are recommended for the treatment of acute constipation and normally act six to twelve hours after taking. The dose to be taken is equal to the equivalent of 10-30 milligrams of anthraquinones per day and use should not exceed seven days.
The administration of aloe and other anthraquinone drugs are in fact not recommended for long periods since their use can worsen constipation and damage the intestinal mucosa.
How to use aloe gel
Aloe gel is a colorless gel that is obtained from the central portion of the fleshy leaves of aloe. It does not contain anthraquinones but is rich in mucilages, lipids, polysaccharides, tannins, glycoproteins and enzymes. The aloe gel has immunostimulating, healing, moisturizing, emollient and protective activities and is used internally and externally.
The internal use of aloe gel is useful for increasing the immune system and especially for inflammation affecting the stomach and intestines, to protect the mucous membrane of the entire digestive tract and promote the healing of ulcers.
Externally, aloe gel is instead used for various skin problems, in particular to relieve inflammation and irritation caused by erythema, sunburn, insect bites. Skin applications with aloe gel also help speed up the healing of wounds, sores, boils and other skin lesions.
Aloe gel is also used – pure or included in cosmetic cream formulations – to hydrate the skin, soften it and prevent the formation of wrinkles and other signs of aging.
How to grow Aloe at home
Aloe plants can also be grown at home, in the garden or in pots, both for ornamental purposes and to take advantage of the benefits of the gel obtained from the cut leaves.
To start growing aloe, simply buy a small plant and place it in a bright place in the house or in the ground. The ideal soil for aloe must be well drained and irrigation should only be carried out on very hot days and in the event of periods of severe drought, avoiding excessive amounts of water and stagnant water. If the plant is grown in pots, it is good to provide a special fertilizer from spring to autumn, to allow the plant to develop.
During the summer months, aloe plants can be placed outdoors, in full sun, while in winter they must be protected from harsh temperatures through the use of sheets or, if possible, by sheltering the plants in a greenhouse or apartment. .
In case of skin problems, burns or small wounds, it is possible to cut an aloe leaf with a sharp and disinfected blade and apply in gel on the area to be treated. The leaf taken from the plant can be stored in the refrigerator for one or two days and the gel obtained should not be taken orally.
Contraindications, interactions and side effects
Although aloe is a plant rich in benefits and properties, its use is not without contraindications and side effects.
The internal use of aloe as a laxative, if prolonged over time, can in fact lead to alterations in the intestine like senna (Cassia acutifolia) leading to aggravation of constipation, to develop symptoms similar to those given by irritable bowel and to compromise intestinal health also irreversibly. This does not apply to aloe juice and gel, as it is free of anthraquinones.
The intake of products containing aloe is also contraindicated in case of hypersensitivity or allergies to one or more components, as well as in pregnancy and lactation and in the period preceding an operation and in case of chronic constipation, appendicitis, chronic colitis, gastritis, diverticulitis and intestinal obstructions.
As for the interactions, prolonged and excessive use of aloe can interfere with the intake of various drugs including analgesics, cortisones, cardiotonics, antiarrhythmics and beta-blockers.
The topical use of products containing aloe gel can, on the other hand, cause photosensitizing reactions.
Journal of Environmental Science and Health