If you have ever had a sunburn, then you have probably experienced the cooling relief that an aloe vera plant can provide. If you want that gentle, soothing treatment every day, but without the additional chemicals in commercial aloe vera, then growing your own aloe vera plant is the answer. These plants are relatively easy to grow and use, but you should get clear on their care and their myriad benefits before you start raising your own.
Aloe vera has been used for as long as there has been written history. Egyptian papyri describe its moisturizing benefits and uses for physical beauty, while it was also used in the Middle East and India for kidney infections and soothing a variety of skin and internal ailments.
The aloe vera plant has thick, fleshy leaves. While there are over 250 species of aloe vera, they all have thick leaves, moist insides and tend to develop brightly colored flowers. When the leaves are broken, they ooze the soothing gel that you probably remember from your last sunburn. The gel is actually aloe vera sap, which is very thick and sticky. This sap is characteristic of all succulent plants like aloe and helps the plant hold on to moisture for use during dormant periods (winter for most aloes). The sap can be applied directly to burns as it oozes from the plant.
The most common type of aloe vera plant is the Aloe barbadensis. This is a common houseplant. You can also grow lace aloe and partridge vested aloe in your home. Other types of aloe are tropical and can grow up to 2 feet in diameter.
Care and Cultivation
Aloe vera plants like warm, dry environments. Whether they are in a pot or in your yard (only an option in warm, arid climates), they need well-drained soil and lots of direct sun. Aloe can be grown from a seed, but in most cases you will be more successful starting with a small plantlet, which is an offshoot of a larger aloe plant. If you cut the plantlet off the main plant, dry the plantlet overnight on a sheet of wax paper before installing it in a pot. If you did not have to slice the plantlet off the main aloe plant but were able to pull up an entire root system with the plantlet, then you can pop it in a new pot immediately. Keep the soil moist, but never fully wet or muddy. In the winter, aloe vera plants need very little water, but in the summer they drink it up quickly.
Uses for Aloe Vera Plants
In addition to being a striking addition to your garden or collection of houseplant, aloe vera plants have a variety of practical uses. If you experience a mild burn, simply break an aloe leaf and apply the cool, sticky sap to the wound. You can also boil aloe leaves and inhale the vapors to soothe asthma attacks. Aloe vera is a natural moisturizer, and it also can be used as a natural, detoxing laxative to clean out the intestines.