The Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe Vera is a plant that has been on this earth for millennia. Because it has thorny ridges that protect the soft leaf, it is often confused for a kind of cactus. Actually it is a member of the Lily family, the plant family Liliaceae, along with tulips, daffodils, onions, asparagus and many other species of aloe. In fact, a mature Aloe Vera plant will produce beautiful, fragrant lily-like blooms every spring and fall.
How many species of Aloe are there? How long have these species been known? How has our knowledge progressed through the years? While no one knows exactly how many species of Aloe are extant, a good "guesstimate" is about 350 species. The reasons for the lack of preciseness are the large number of plant representatives and the similarity of appearance which make it difficult to differentiate one species from another.
Aloe Vera is a plant that has historical references dating back over 5000, where it can be seen on the tombs of the pharaohs. Apparently it was an herbal remedy used in embalming mummies, both as a superb preservative but also as an excellent preventive agent against tuberculosis and other respiratory complications innate to that kind of work. Fast forward a thousand years and the Europeans began using it as an important ingredient in their herbal based medicines. The earliest recorded pharmacological usage was recorded in ancient Sumeria about 1750 B.C. where it was considered an excellent treatment for stomach irritations and nausea.
There is evidence of both Chinese and Egyptians using Aloe Vera to treat burns, wounds and to reduce fevers. American Indians called Aloe "The Wand of Heaven". They believed than anyone touched by Aloes' gel would be cured of their skin disorders. Also, the legend says that Cleopatra used Aloe Vera as part of her beauty regime.
Although many still consider Aloe Vera to be a folk remedy, it is important to remember that two-thirds of the world's population is treated with herbs and plant products that are not only effective, but offer benefits that are equal or superior to the synthesized, chemically-derived remedies of the western world.
Most Aloe species are indigenous to Africa, but now have wide distribution in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. They are grown in warm climates, both as wild and cultivated plants, in countries in southern, eastern and northern Africa, countries bordering the Mediterranean and Red Seas, in India, in islands of the Indian Ocean, and in China. They also were grown in abundance in the islands of the Caribbean area - Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Jamaica, Puerto Rico - as well as in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and Mexico on the North American continent. They are also found in Hawaii.
Aloe plants may be found in temperate zones as cultivated crops or ornamentals, but must be protected from freezing water. Various species range from tiny, stemless plants only and inch or two high, to climbing and trailing forms, tall clustering shrubs, and tree-like specimens, 30 to 60 feet high, with trunks as much as 10 feet in circumference, which may be found in remote districts of Southwest Africa and Natal.
Where would modern medicine be today, if it were not for the large number of dependable drugs all obtained from plant and other natural sources? The list includes penicillin (probably the most widely-used infection fighter), quinine (used in the treatment of malaria), ephedrine (for asthma and bronchial problems), and diazepam (perhaps the most widely-prescribed tranquilizer).
Today, Aloe Vera is taking its rightful place among these natural remedies, as many in the medical profession have come to understand and appreciate the curative powers of this remarkable plant.
In recent times, Aloe Vera has been called a "miracle plant", "the silent healer", and the "first-aid" plant. In the United States, it has become common to see Aloe Vera plants in homes - where it may be used, by cutting off a part of a leaf, to spread its cooling, soothing, healing gel on burns, scrapes and bruises. And the wonderful thing is... it works!
How can Aloe Vera help?
Until 1943, most of the "proof" used to substantiate the claims made for the healing power of Aloe Vera was anecdotal - that is, by means of stories handed down from one generation to the next, or on recommendation by a friend or family member - not on scientific evidence. Then, a doctor working with burn victims "discovered" that Aloe Vera gel was an astonishingly effective treatment for his burn patients... a fact many had known for centuries. He found that applications of Aloe Vera substantially reduced healing time, helped relieve the agonizing pain of burns and even seemed to lessen scarring.
When his findings were published in medical journals, other researchers began investigating the possibility that some of those "old wives' tales" about Aloe Vera might have some basis in fact. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Aloe Vera helps dealing with the effects of diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, osteoarthritis, different types of digestive problems, ulcers, gastritis, colitis, constipation, reduce the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, helps the blood circulation, and cure skin and hair problems.
People use aloe topically for osteoarthritis, burns, sunburns, allergies, anti-itching, skin moisturizer and hair problems. Its topical properties are the consequences of the gel same pH reaction as human skin. In addition, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Aloe Vera as a natural food flavoring.
Given all this, it is hardly surprising that many in the medical community have suggested the possibility that Aloe Vera gel may well turn out to be the next "wonder drug" of our age.
What does GRAS mean? What is its significance to the public?
The term GRAS (pronounced "grass") is issued by the FDA and stands for Generally Regarded As Safe. This means that, in testing, a product shows so little relative toxicity that it is deemed "safe" for use in the human system or as a topical agent. This classification is predominantly given to foods, plants, and nutrients that might also be pressed into service for health, medical, or scientific purposes. Such general usage acknowledgment is coveted by any plant, herb, food or nutrient, or any family of products derived from it.