6 Aloe veraCommon Names: medicinal aloe, burn plant, Barbados aloe, unguentine cactus Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
Medicinal aloe is a clump forming succulent whose fleshy gray-green leaves are arranged in a vase shaped rosette atop a very short stem. The leaves are up to 18 in (45.7 cm) long and 2 in (5.1 cm) wide at the base, slightly grooved on top, and terminating in a sharp point. The leaves have small grayish teeth on the margins. The main rosette gets up to about 2 ft (0.6 m) high, and the plant continually produces little offset rosettes. In winter and spring, medicinal aloe bears small tubular yellow flowers on branched stalks up to 3 ft (0.9 cm) tall.
Medicinal aloe is believed to have originated in northern Africa, the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. It has escaped cultivation and established in the Florida Keys, throughout the Caribbean, and in tropical areas worldwide. It is grown commercially, especially in the Netherlands Antilles, for the sap which is used medicinally.
CultureMedicinal aloe is easy to grow in sandy or gravelly, well-drained soil. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Propagation: Propagate medicinal aloe by separating the offset "pups."
Medicinal aloe is a very popular potted plant, and will thrive for years with little attention. It is used in subtropical cactus and rock gardens and makes an excellent ground cover under palms or large agaves or cacti. This aloe is very salt tolerant and an excellent choice for seaside gardens.
The clear gel-like sap that oozes from cut aloe leaves has been shown to help burns and wounds heal faster and to reduce the risk of infection. Aloe gel is a soothing and effective first aid remedy for minor burns and scrapes and for sunburn. It is available commercially in a wide variety of preparations including first aid creams, shampoos, and soaps. The dried sap is known as "bitter aloes" (as is that of a related species, Aloe ferox). Whichever the source species bitter aloes is a very potent laxative.
There are about 300 species of Aloe, mostly from Africa. The aloes are sometimes confused with the agaves, but the latter (in the family Agavaceae) have fibrous leaves whereas the leaves of aloes are juicy and not at all fibrous.
Steve Christman 2/20/00; updated 11/29/03, 7/17/05