What is Aloes
Aloes (lu hui, 芦荟), also known as Aloe Vera, is a cactus-like plant with a long history of being used internally and externally to treat wounds and upset stomachs. Today, it is used in many consumer products, including beverages, skin lotion, cosmetics, ointments, or in the form of aloe vera gel.
Known for its thick, pointed, and fleshy green leaves, which may grow to about 12–19 inches (30–50 centimetres) in length, each Aloes leaf contains a slimy tissue that stores water. This water-filled tissue is the “aloe vera gel” that people associate with aloe vera products. The gel contains most of the beneficial bioactive compounds in the aloe vera plant, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants.
Aloes target our Large Intestines and Liver, and it has a bitter taste. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), bitter herbs are said to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness, and promoting elimination through urination and bowel movements. In addition, Aloe Vera are Cold in nature, which helps to treat constipation by removing Excess Heat in the intestines and stomach. Thus, Aloes fall under the TCM category of ‘Purgative Herbs that Drain Downwards’.
For individuals who have too much Heat in their body, giving them a Yang Excess or a Yin Deficiency, Aloe Vera may help to restore a harmonious balance between their yin and yang to maintain their health.
Functions and Benefits of Aloe Vera
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Aloe Vera have three main functions:
Aloe Vera are said to drain excess Fire in our body to tackle discomfort caused by Heat accumulation, such as constipation, dizziness, red eyes and irritability.
Aloe Vera can clear excess Heat and cool our Liver to resolve problems caused by abundant Heat in the Liver Channel, such as epigastric discomfort, dizziness, headache, constipation and fever. As Liver is associated with the emotion of anger, Aloes can also help us with our anger management to tackle irritability, headaches and hypertension caused by Heat in our Liver.
Aloe Vera are able to kill parasites in our body and strengthen our Stomach. This makes it a particularly useful herb for childhood nutritional impairment, especially impairment caused by roundworm.
Modern studies also found that aloe vera benefits largely lie in its antioxidant and antibacterial properties that can help to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria which cause infections in humans. Studies have also shown that aloe vera have the ability to effectively treat genital herpes, psoriasis, burns, and reduce the incidence of tumors in the liver, bone and spleen by 90%.
Aloe vera can also accelerate wound healing. Many people rub aloe vera onto their skin to treat sores and burns, especially sunburns.
Last but not least, one of the most famous benefits of aloe vera is its benefits for skin and hair.
Aloe vera have the power to improve skin condition and prevent wrinkles. In a 2009 study of 30 females over the age of 45, aloe vera gel increased collagen production and improved skin elasticity over a 90-day period. It was also suggested that the aloe vera benefits for skin include helping our skin to retain moisture and combating dry skin conditions.
As aloe vera contains Vitamins A, C and E, it also provides us with natural hair care. Aloe vera can help to calm itchy scalp, give oily hair a gentle but deep cleanse, restore healthy shine to our hair, and repair damaged hair.
How to Use Aloe Vera
To harvest your aloe plant for gel and juice:
- Remove three-four leaves at a time, choosing thick leaves from the outer sections of the plant.
- Ensure the leaves are healthy and free of any mould or damage.
- Cut them close to the stem. Most of the beneficial nutrients are found at the base of the leaves.
- Avoid the roots.
- Wash and dry the leaves.
- Trim the prickly edges with a knife.
- Using a knife or your fingers, separate the interior gel from the outside of the leaf. The interior gel is the part of the aloe that you’ll use.
- Allow the yellow sap to drain from the leaf. This is the aloe vera latex. If you plan to use the latex, you can catch this in a container. If you’re not planning to use the latex, you can dispose of it.
- Cut the aloe gel into slices or cubes.
If you want smooth aloe gel, after separating the aloe from the exterior part of the leaf, you can put the aloe into a blender and then strain the substance to remove the pulp.
You can apply aloe vera gel directly to your skin. You can also consume it through aloe vera products (e.g Aloe Vera Essence) or by adding it into your recipes.
Common recipes that contain Aloes include: Aloe and Snow Fungus Stew (lu hui yin’er tang shui, 芦荟银耳糖水）and Aloe Juice Poached Pear (lu hui dun li, 芦荟炖梨).
Aloe Vera is also often incorporated into healthy and beauty products. For example, Aloe Vera can be added into Bird’s Nests, Facial Masks, and Skin Lotion.
Cautions and Side Effects of Aloe Vera
As Aloe Vera can relax our bowels, it may cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Thus, patients with a cold and weak Spleen or Stomach should avoid Aloes and consuming products that contain Aloe Vera. Aloes are also not recommended for long-term consumption due to its laxative capacities. Unlike the laxative mechanism of insoluble dietary fibre, its laxative effect is achieved by stimulating the bowel, which will cause potassium loss in intestinal cells. Long-term usage of Aloe Vera may cause kidney damage, hematuria, hypokalemia, muscle weakness and other symptoms.
Aloe Vera juice also poses a potential risk to pregnant and lactating women. There have been reports that associated Aloes with miscarriage and giving birth to babies with birth defects. While there is no strong evidence of a relationship between the above factors, it is highly recommended for pregnant and lactating women to stay away from Aloes.
In addition, Aloes should not be used by patients who have diabetes, kidney diseases, intestinal diseases or hemorrhoids as it might worsen the symptoms.
Here is a summary for Aloe Vera:
- Herb name (Chinese): 芦荟
- Herb name (Pin Yin): lú huì
- Herb name (English): Aloes
- Herb name (Botanical): Aloe
- Origin of species: Aloe barbadensis Miller; Aloe ferox Miller
- Part(s) of herb used: Concentrated matter obtained from juice of the leaf
- Geo-specific habitat(s): Yunnan, Guangdong, Guangxi, as well as North Africa and South America
- Taste(s) & Properties: Bitter; Cold; Administrates the Liver, Stomach and Large Intestine Meridians
- Actions: Provides relief from constipation and insomnia; Relieves malnutrition in children due to intestinal parasites; Relieves skin irritations
Cho, S., Lee, S., Lee, M. J., Lee, D. H., Won, C. H., Kim, S. M., & Chung, J. H. (2009). Dietary Aloe vera supplementation improves facial wrinkles and elasticity and it increases the type I procollagen gene expression in human skin in vivo. Annals of dermatology, 21(1), 6-11. [Accessed on 12th September 2022]
Feily, A., & Namazi, M. R. (2009). Aloe vera in dermatology: a brief review. Giornale italiano di dermatologia e venereologia: organo ufficiale, Societa italiana di dermatologia e sifilografia, 144(1), 85-91. [Accessed on 12th September 2022]
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