The Greeks and Egyptians knew the value of’ aloe vera juice, using it in their medicines and cosmetic preparations. It is believed to have been used by Cleopatra to keep her complexion clear and soft.
The aloe, aloe vera, is a very tall, strikingly attractive perennial plant which grows wild in the tropics, mainly of Africa and South America. Nowadays it is cultivated largely in the West Indies and in the hot climates of countries bordering the Mediterranean, in temperate climates it is cultivated as a houseplant.
An evergreen, succulent [herb, the aloe has fleshy, spiny leaves which form a large rosette around the single stem, The flowers, which grow on slender spikes, are red or yellow and droop slightly when fully open: they bloom nearly all the year round in their native habitat. The leaves of the plant are filled with a yellow juice which contains the bitter-tasting drug aloes. The juice is extracted from two- or three-year- old plants and used in medicines and cosmetics.
Aloe can be grown in pots or tubs in a sunny greenhouse. It is a tough plant and in the summer can stand out of doors in a warm spot or in a sunny position indoors. Sow the seeds in a tray of sandy soil in a temperature of 70°F (21 °C) and pot them on in March. Good drainage is important. Make sure the plants are moist through the summer months but do not .overwater. In the winter they require very little watering. Keep at temperatures of 55—65°F (13—18°C) in the summer and between 50°F and 55°F (10°C and 13°C) in the winter.
For many years the aloe has been well known as a purgative, though, with its very bitter taste and tendency to cause griping, it has always been mixed with other ingredients. Painting finger nails with bitter aloes used to be a popular remedy for stopping nail-biting, as the taste is so unpleasant. The treatment was not always successful and is rarely used nowadays.
Aloe vera is a soothing and healing gel, disinfectant and astringent when used externally. It helps to keep the skin healthy by stimulating the circulation and promoting the growth of new tissue. Fresh aloe leaves can be split open and the jelly-like juice used as an instant remedy for minor cuts and burns, insect bites and sunburn. Take care when using plant leaves not to use the green part or the skin of the leaf, which may be irritant, Aloe vera medicinal preparations are available from homoeopathic chemists and stores.
One of the most valuable cosmetic properties of aloe vera is its ability to stimulate the circulation of the skin and remove the dead skin cells, so giving a fresher and younger appearance to the skin. It also clears away blemishes, protects the skin against infection, and reduces wrinkles. Aloe vera shampoos help to combat dry, brittle hair. Aloe vera creams, lotions and shampoos can be purchased at health food stores stocking natural beauty products.