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 Herbal Medicine: Aloe vera: The succulent with skin-soothing, cell-protecting properties - Aloe vera - Steven Foster 
Steven Foster ©

The leaves can be cut with a sharp knife at the base of the plant, wrapped in cellophane, and stored for a week or two at 50ø to 70øF (the refrigerator is too cold). Better yet, use the leaves fresh.

Aloe is commercially produced in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, Florida, Mexico, and some of the Caribbean islands, where it has the sandy, chalky soil, good sunshine, and freedom from frost that it enjoys.

Product quality varies greatly from brand to brand, and distinguishing good products from bad can be difficult, even for scientists. Read the label. Ingredient lists are arranged in descending order according to quantity. If aloe is listed in the middle or last, or if the product contains large amounts of the fillers listed above, you have reason to suspect that the product is not of high quality.

Aloe vera juice is considered helpful for relieving many types of gastrointestinal irritation and juice products are widely available. According to Leung, the commercial "juice'' is normally produced by diluting aloe vera gel with water and adding citric acid and/or other preservatives. It is also sometimes mixed with other herbal extracts or fruit juices. Despite label claims of purity, Leung points out that the juice may contain only a very small percentage of aloe vera gel. Dr. Weil cautions that ingesting too much aloe juice can act as an irritant laxative. He suggests taking no more than one teaspoonful at a time, and only after meals.

Grow and heal
Few plants can claim a 4,000-year history of use for essentially the same purposes, and few are as easy to grow and use as aloe. If you are like most people, you take the plant for granted, but it's common knowledge that if you take care of your aloe plant, it will help take care of you.

Steven Foster is a member of the Herbs for Health Editorial Advisory Board. He is an herbalist, author, researcher, and consultant in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Additional reading

Grindlay, D., and T. Reynolds. "The Aloe vera Phenomenon: A Review of the Properties and Modern Uses of the Leaf Parenchyma Gel.'' Journal of Ethnopharmacology 16 (1986):117 - 151.
Heggers, J. P., R. P. Pelley, and M. C. Robson. ``Beneficial Effects of Aloe in Wound Healing.'' Phytotherapy Research 7 (1993):S48 - S52.
Koo, M. W. L. "Aloe vera: Antiulcer and Antidiabetic Effects.'' Phytotherapy Research 8 (1994): 461 - 464.
Leung. A. "Aloe vera Update: A New Form Questions Integrity of Old.'' Drug and Cosmetic Industry (September 1985): 42 - 46.
Saito, H. "Purification of Active Substances of Aloe arborescens Miller and their Biological and Pharmacological Activity.'' Phytotherapy Research 7 (1993): S14-S19.

(Excerpted from Herbs for Health Magazine)
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