The medical and cathartic use of Aloe vera has been recorded since the ancient civilizations. The plant’s Aloe vera gel is most commonly employed for everything from bug bites to burns. A deeper, scientific look into the physical and chemical make-up of Aloe vera reveals why the plant is effective in healing wounds, aiding digestion and boosting overall immunity and health.
Aloe barbadensis-miller is said to be a member of either the Asphodelaceae or the Lilacea family—making it kin to nutrient-packed “super foods” such as asparagus, garlic, and onion.
The plant reaches maturity after four years and is perennial, meaning it persists for many seasons. It is grown in semi-arid to arid climates and is able to sustain warm conditions because it maintains large amounts of water.
According to a National Center for Toxicological Research study, 99% of the Aloe vera plant is composed of water, with the remaining 1% being solid material filled with over 75 active vitamins and minerals.
Aloe vera plants have three identifiable parts—the external, green rind, the outer leaf pulp and the inner leaf pulp, commonly known as the gel. Modern research continues to show how the biology of each distinct part works to help with human ailments.
The thick, outer rind resembles a cactus with its thorny flesh. It consists of up to 18 layers of cells that are filled with phytochemicals, or healthful nutrients, and chloroplasts that synthesize the carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
The outer leaf pulp, a thin, mucilage layer between the rind and gel, consists of vascular bundles. Vascular bundles act as the transporting system for the plant. They contain xylem, which move water and minerals from the roots to the leaves, and phloem, which take the synthesized minerals to the cells responsible for storing the Aloe vera latex, or juice. This juice of the plant is used as a laxative and is prescribed to assist in digestive disorders and the alleviation of ulcers.
The inner leaf pulp makes up the majority of the plant and is the most recognizable form of medicinal Aloe vera—the gel. The gel has been used to treat burns and wounds for centuries. It is this part of the plant that boasts a high content of water and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. These elements are attributed with improving tissue repair and accelerating healing.
Aloe vera leaf pulp also contains high percentages of polysaccharides, most importantly acemannan. There has been much research on the beneficial effects of acemannan, an antiviral compound said to stimulate the immune system.
Acemannan has been shown to inhibit cancerous tumor growth and HIV replication by prompting tissue renewal and cell growth. There is also evidence that ingestion of the mucopolysaccharide-rich Aloe vera gel decreases cholesterol and triglyceride levels, making it a natural remedy for coronary heart disease and diabetes.
When closely examined, each component of the Aloe vera plant contains essential vitamins and minerals that are proven curative compounds for a variety of diseases and disorders.
“Internal Uses of Aloe Vera”, Ivan E. Danhof, North Medical Associates
“An Evaluation of the Biological and Toxicological Properties of Aloe Barbadensis (Miller), Aloe Vera”, Mary D. Boudreau and Frederick A. Beland, National Center for Toxicological Research, Journal of Environmental Science and Health