Every May, I put my aloe plant outside on the deck to enjoy the summer sun and warmth. Aloe vera thrives despite my neglect, I barely remember to water her. By autumn, she has produced many “pups,” crowding inside the small pot, eager to escape. When the nights get too cold for them, I upturn the entire the pot, gently pull apart each pup, and nestle each into a small container of soil. I replant the mother and move her in to my house while I box up the pups to bring to the office. Within hours of placing the box in the office kitchen, colleagues have helped themselves to a new plant, armed with growing instructions I have printed on strips of paper. My colleagues love free plants, needless to say it is much like leaving cookies in the kitchen. I have brought in baby aloe plants each fall for several years now and it is a joy for me to share as it is for my coworkers to receive.
Aloe vera is a succulent, perennial herb well known for healing burns. Snapping a leaf in two reveals a gel-like liquid that when applied to the burn offers pain relief and a fast healing process. The leaves actually have three sections: a thick outer rind, a thin slimy layer of cells, and the inner gel. Just beneath the rind is a bitter yellow substance called aloin, which causes intestinal irritation creating a laxative effect. The inner gel is used to help with burns, sunburns, or as a skin moisturizer. Diluted with water, this gel can be ingested to sooth intestinal irritation. Although aloe’s beneficial effects have been documented for thousands of years, it was not until U.S. researchers discovered that aloe gel could quickly heal burns caused by x-rays and ultraviolet rays in the mid-1930s that interest soared. Today, aloe is recognized as an excellent first aid kit for disinfecting minor cuts, insect stings, and burns but researchers are still studying the plant. Aloe gel has more than 75 nutrients and 200 compounds.
Growing the plant is simple as long as you give it warmth and sun and good drainage. It can be grown indoors as a houseplant provided it gets sun, as in a southern exposure window or a sun room. It needs little water, I just let the rain water it outdoors. It will not tolerate the winters here in Virginia so in the fall before the nights hit forty degrees and below, bring it back indoors and then back outdoors in May. I have not fertilized mine but then I am a lazy fertilizer. I don’t try to ingest the leaves but I do use my plant for kitchen burns — I just cut off the outer leaf and slice in half to release the gel.