Aloes - The Herb

Page Summary/Index:

General description, origin and history of Aloes
Primary therapeutic effects of Aloes
Minor and potential therapeutic effects of Aloes
Cultivating Aloes - how to grow Aloes
Preparing Aloes remedies and part used
Side effects or contra-indications of Aloes
Properties of Aloes
Constituents of Aloes

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Common Name/s: Other Name/s: Botanical  name/s:
Aloes, Aloe, Aloe Vera, Aloe Vera Gel Cape aloe, Barbados aloes, Socotrine aloe, Zanzibar aloes. Aloe Africana
Aloe arborescens
Aloe aristata

Aloe Ferox
Aloe Perryi
Aloe variegata
Aloe platylepia
Aloe spicata
Aloe Abessinica
Aloe Vulgaris
Aloe Chinensis
Aloe Vera

General description and domicile:
Aloes, in this context, is not the plural for aloe. Aloes refers to the resinous substance made from the juice drained from the aloe leaves and then reduced to a solid by evaporation or boiling.

Aloes is obtained from several species of aloe and can be differentiated to some extent by adding nitric acid to it. A crimson color  means that it is either Barbados or Cape aloes (Barbados aloes is opaque Cape aloes is translucent before adding the nitric acid) or if there is no color reaction it is most likely Socotrine aloes. Opacity does not always aid identification as this can be effected but the rate of evaporation too as boiling the juice to reduce it can solidify into a clearer substance.

They are succulent plants of the lily family with fleshy tapering leaves that have thorn-like projections on the edge of the leaves giving a serrated effect. The Aloe plant can grow very large (in South Africa trees over 50 feet have been recorded). Tall spikes of orangey pink flowers appear in summer but in some areas the plant flowers all year round. The plant is perennial and is normally left to an age of three years before harvesting the leaves (although this varies considerably from region to region.

The fleshy leaves, that can be up to four feet long, contain a sap that drains out when cut if the leaf is placed cut end down. This juice should not be confused with "Aloe Vera Gel" as the gel is obtained by extrusion, often after the juice has been drained.

Varieties of aloes:
The major varieties that are commercially available in most major markets are Barbados, Socotrine and Cape but there are many other varieties. Strangely virtually none of the aloes are extracted in the country or region that it is named after.

Cape aloes is extracted in South Africa from a variety of plants (including Aloe Africana, Aloe spicata, Aloe platylepia, Aloe arborescens, Aloe aristata, Aloe Ferox and Aloe variegata). Cape aloes is harsher as a purgative than most other aloes. Cape aloes is not as pungent having an almost fruity odor and is dark red-brown with green tinges.

Barbados aloes is extracted from Aloe Chinensis and Aloe Vera in Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. It was once grown in Barbados but not any more.

Socotrine aloes, from Aloe Perryi, is still extracted in limited quantities on Socotrine Island but most of the product known as Socotrine aloes is extracted in several countries in Africa. Socotrine aloes is dark and red-brown - the odor is strong and taste is nauseously bitter.

Jafferabad aloes extracted from Aloe Abessinica is grown and harvested in Arabia but exported to India where it is marketed as Mocha Aloes.

Musambra aloes is extracted from Aloe Vulgaris in India.

Uganda Aloes actually does not come from Uganda, it is a variety of the Cape Aloe and is extracted just outside Cape Town in South Africa.

Natal aloes is extracted in Zululand in South Africa.

Good quality aloes should dissolve partially in cold water (leaving no more than 60% of its original bulk).


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Remedy Profile
Primary therapeutic effects:
Internal consumption of Aloe is mostly as a laxative. It is a stimulant laxative that is only recommended for occasional, infrequent constipation as there are strong indications that it becomes habit forming - causing constipation whenever treatments ceases.
The anthraquinone glucosides are not absorbed in the upper gastro tract and only breaks down in the colon to aglycones, which induce the secretion of water and inhibits the absorption of water by the colon. The effect is cathartic, causing violent diarrhea.
Aloe is such a violent purgative that it has been ruled as not for sale over the counter by the US FDA.

Aloe Vera Gel, which is a skin emollient, claimed to be responsible for the beauty of Cleopatra, is a different product that is harvested quite differently from the same plant. This gel is found in the central parts of the leaf and it will not drain out through gravity. This gel has to be expressed. It is highly regarded as a soothing balm for sunburn but can also be applied to mild abrasions and thermal burns.

The gel is also effective against skin infections

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Secondary therapeutic effects:

Psoriases - Recent studies indicate that Aloe gel is effective against psoriases. Although initial findings are encouraging  I have not found corroborative evidence so it is not yet conclusive.

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Minor and potential therapeutic effects:
These are differentiated from the major therapeutic effects of Aloes for the following reasons: either the constituent that causes the effect is relatively weak (in other words marginal efficacy) or the constituent causing the effect is present in Aloes but in such small quantities that it is too low in dosage.
Potential therapeutic effects are also noted here when there is some evidence of effect or efficacy but the information is either anecdotal or subjected to too little testing to be conclusive. Not all herbs have minor effects noted.

There are some reports of anti-cancer activity.

It is also claimed that aloe lowers blood sugar and that it inhibits the formation of histamine which may make it useful to control allergic reactions.

There is evidence it is effective against hyperpigmentation.

Unfortunately the dosage needed to achieve these minor therapeutic effects will cause extreme diarrhea.

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How to choose the right remedy/Herb:
In many cases there are several herbal remedies to choose from. This can be very confusing. Our Choose the Herbal Remedy page explains how to refine your choice

Cultivation of Aloes:
Providing you live in a tropical or subtropical area cultivating an aloe is a simple matter of placing a freshly cut leaf in the ground and a year or so later you will have a sizeable plant.

If you have any more than the mildest frost in winter the only option is to grow your aloe inside or in a glass hot house. Aloes can stand virtually anything but cold.

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Part used:


Remedy preparation:


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Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers should not use aloe.
Do not use if you have or suspect that you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), kidney disorders varicose veins or hemorrhoids.
Do not use for chronic constipation.
Do not use if you suffer from any disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.
Do not use if experiencing abdominal pain.
Do not give to children under 12 years of age.
Do not use for more than eight days of treatment,
Cease administration of aloe if it causes abdominal pain.


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Anthraquinones: Occurring mostly as glycosides anthraquinones are brown to yellow pigments traditionally used as fabric dyes.

In experiments it was concluded that Anthraquinones pass through the digestive tract unaltered until they get to the colon where they are converted to Dianthones which are then turned into anthrone which has a laxative effect increasing peristaltic action and inhibiting the absorption of water by the colon.

Anthraquinones are pale yellow thin prisms that are insoluble in water and has caused tumours in rats that have ingested it.

Anthraquinone can cause skin irritation, dermatitis and allergic reactions if applied to the skin.

Barbaloin - C21H22O9:

A c-glycoside of aloe-emodin


There is evidence that this substance inhibits some cancerous growth but this is at present not substantiated by further trials or studies


Recent tests have been conducted to explore the extent to which aloesin inhibits tyronase activity. Tyronase is involved in the synthesis of melanin pigment. Overproduction of melanin pigment causes skin hyper pigmentation, a condition that many people suffer from. 

Aloesin is a chromone


Derived from benzopyran by the addition of a ketone attached to the pyran ring

Resins: Brittle, often transparent substances secreted by plants in response to damage to the plant.  Insoluble in water but soluble in alcohol and non volatile oils, Resins are used in incense because of the high amount of smoke accompanied when burning them. Unless the resin is broken up further into various constituents it is difficult to asses the value or properties of a particular resin.


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