"Four vegetables are indispensable for the well being of man:
Wheat, the grape, the olive and aloe.
The first nourishes him, the second raises his spirit,
The third brings him harmony, and the fourth cures him".
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)
"You ask me what were the secret forces which sustained me during my long lasts.
Well, it was my unshakeable faith in God, my simple and frugal lifestyle,
and the Aloe whose benefits I discovered upon my arrival in South Africa at the end of the nineteenth century".
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
A Brief History of Aloe Vera
Often called the 'miracle plant' or the 'natural healer', Aloe Vera is a plant of many surprises. It flourishes in warm and dry climates, and to many people it looks like a cactus with fleshy thorny leaves. In fact it is a member of the Lily family, staying moist where other plants wither and die by closing its pores to prevent moisture loss.
There are around 400 species of Aloe, but it is the Aloe Barbadensis Miller (Aloe Vera or "true aloe") plant which has been of most use to mankind because of the medicinal properties it displays. Ancient records show that the benefits of Aloe Vera have been known for centuries, with its therapeutic advantages and healing properties surviving for over 4000 years. The earliest record of Aloe Vera is on a Sumerian tablet dating from 2100 BC.
Its antiquity was first discovered in 1862 in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1550 BC. It was used to great effect by Greek and Roman physicians. Researchers have found that both the ancient Chinese and Indian used Aloe Vera. Egyptian Queens associated its use with their physical beauty, while in the Phillipines it is used with milk for kidney infections. Aloes are referred to in the Bible, and legend suggests that Alexander the Great conquered the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean to secure supplies of Aloes to treat the battle wounds of his soldiers.
Aloe Vera remained a prominent herbal remedy but as the Northern European countries expanded their colonisation of the globe, Aloe Vera starts to fall from grace. It is not clear why this was so, but a possible explanation is the difference between the use of Aloe Vera in tropical climes, compared with the temperate north. In tropical countries where Aloe grew naturally, there was an abundance of fresh Aloe. However, Aloe Vera had to be imported to the temperate north, but inevitably degraded in transit. Physicians in Europe therefore never got to experience the true benefits, and scorned reports of the wonders that Aloe Vera could do for health. In consequence Aloe Vera never really "took hold" in the knowledge of European Physicians, and the "remarkable healing powers" were felt to be more myth than fact. As science developed Aloe Vera became discarded along with many stalwart herbal remedies of an earlier age considered to be "folk remedies", not worthy of scientific examination.
Aloe Vera Fights Back
Aloe Vera remained popular in tropical areas, and after the end of World War II interest was refreshed in Aloe Vera but the main obstacle to it being used outside tropical areas was the need to prevent the inner gel deteriorating. Many attempts were made, but failed as excessive heat destroys the essence of Aloe Vera, and higher than acceptable contents of Aloin remained which is a potent laxative. Indeed it was the laxative powers of the un-pure Aloe Vera gel that helped Aloe Vera maintain a toehold in Western medical science.
Interest in Aloe Vera in the USA remained strong and by the 1920's there were over 25 popular preparations, but it was not until 1935 that the healing powers of Aloe Vera were firmly established. Another big breakthrough came in the 1970's when American Scientists found an effective way of separating the Aloin and stabilising the inner leaf gel with natural ingredients and cold processing.
By Andrew Munro
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