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Aloe Vera the healer.

Byline: With Elizabeth Shaheen

Bahrain's soils and weather conditions are ideal for growing the living "first-aid kit" Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis), widely known as the "true aloe" or "medicine plant". It is naturally domiciled in Cape Verde, in the Canary Islands and in Madeira.

Whenever I, very clumsily, catch my hand on the hot oven, I dash out into the garden and slice away a portion of one of the lower outer leaves of the Aloe Vera.

Then, I slice it through the centre and remove some gel - alone - taking care to separate the inner leaf gel from the "aloe latex", a bitter substance found just beneath the skin of the leaf.

This gel I urgently apply to my burn and it miraculously cools and begins its healing process immediately.

Frequently, Aloe Vera is confused as belonging to the cactus family. It in fact, belongs to the Liliaceae family and is therefore a form of lily.

It is stemless (some may have a very short stem) and forms a suckering rosette of fleshy, lanceolate-shaped leaves up to 80-100cm tall.

These are glaucous and coloured emerald green to grey-green, each with soft serrated margins.

The plant multiplies by offsets and root sprouts. Butter-yellow pendulous flowers are borne on a spike up to 90cm tall, each is tubular in design.

This time honoured medicinal plant is often called the "miracle plant" or the "natural healer" and has been the traveller's companion from time immemorial.

There are more than 400 species of Aloe, but it is Aloe barbadensis which is most exploited in medicines, in food and in cosmetics.

Its cousin - Aloe vera chinensis - hails from India and Vietnam and is known as the "Indian medicine plant".

Its leaves are shorter, around 30cm and are recurved at their tips. It produces apricot-orange flowers and is also valued for its medicinal properties.

However, it is said that the medicinal properties in Aloe Vera are only present in plants that are four (and above) years old. Its medicinal attributes are for both healing the inside as well as the outside.

Aloe Vera's reputation for healing has been recorded on a Sumerian clay tablet dating from 2,100BC. It is also recorded on Egyptian papyrus, this was discovered in 1862 and dates back to 1,550BC.

Cleopatra is said to have used the gel of Aloe Vera on her skin for which she was famous. The renowned Greek physician Pedanios Dioscorides (1st century AD), who wrote the first pharmacopoeia (a catalogue of drugs and their preparation) detailing the uses of plants as drugs, is said to have given the first detailed account of Aloe Vera's healing powers.

He maintained that it induced sleep, loosened the belly, healed bruises and mouth irritations, cleansed the stomach, eased haemorrhoids and salved boils.

He also asserted that the whole leaf, when made into a pulp, could stop wounds from bleeding.

His five-volume work De Materia Medica was used for more than 1,500 years.

Aloe Vera's medicinal qualities have been found recorded in many different cultures, not only of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman eras, but also references have been discovered in writings from the Chinese and Indian cultures.

In the Philippines, when blended with milk, its healing powers are realised in the treatment of kidney infections.

Legend has it that Alexander the Great conquered the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean to protect supplies of Aloes, which were greatly needed to nurture his soldiers' battle wounds.

It continues to be used today for much the same ailments as in its great past. Extensive research carried out in the 1930s and 40s in the UK and former Soviet Union revealed that aloe gel applied topically (to the skin) had a considerable power to heal wounds, ulcers and burns by sealing the injury with a protective covering and accelerating the rate of healing.

Researches deem this phenomenon to be in part due to a composite identified as "aloectin B" that fuels the immune system and accordingly promotes healing.

In Japan they produce a commercial yoghurt containing Aloe Vera. The people of Tamil Nadu, a state of India, make a curry using Aloe Vera, which is accompanied with nan bread or rice.

A two-year trial study is underway at Neath, Morriston and Singleton hospitals in Swansea, Wales, to study the effectiveness of Aloe Vera in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

A clinical trial involving 44 patients suffering from Ulcerative Colitis held at the Royal London Hospital and the John Radcliff Hospital in Oxford, found there was an improvement in 38 per cent of the patients administered Aloe Vera gel, as opposed to 8pc administered a placebo.

A laxative is produced from the aloe juice, which is taken from the tubules found just beneath the skin's surface.

Taken as a drink, it has been used to aid many medical complaints, such as: ulcers, diabetes, arthritis, headaches and coughs.

However, you should consult your doctor before using Aloe Vera, for some may have an adverse reaction to it.

The plant demands sun and over-watering it will cause it to turn up its toes and die. So, a raised bed is ideal.

Or simply grow it in a sandy-mix in a container where you can better control the watering, for you should allow the planting medium to dry out between each watering.

Today, Aloe Vera gel is available in tubes, so it is not absolutely necessary to have this first-aid kit growing in your garden or as a houseplant.

But personally, I wouldn't be without it.

Copyright A[umlaut] 2008 Gulf Daily News

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Jul 13, 2008
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