Botanical name: Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)
Common Names: aloe vera, true aloe, Chinese aloe, Barbados aloe, Indian aloe, burn aloe, first aid plant
Family: Xanthorroeaceae (formerly Liliaceae)
Origin: Unknown, but probably the Arabian Peninsula.
Exposition: Preferably medium to bright light, including full sun, but it will tolerate low light for some time.
Watering: Let the soil dry out before watering deeply. May go for weeks without water in winter.
Temperature: Average indoor temperatures are fine. Outdoors, subtropical to tropical temperatures. Minimum: 40˚F (4˚C).
Humidity: Tolerates dry air.
Fertilizer: Not a heavy feeder. Just about any fertilizer will suffice. Apply during the growing period (around March-October in the Northern Hemisphere) at a quarter to an eighth of the recommended dose.
Growing Medium: Any well-draining houseplant or cactus and succulent mix. Outdoors: any well-drained soil, either poor or rich.
Repotting: Anytime. A terracotta pot can be useful for mature specimens: its weight may help prevent the heavy plant from tipping over.
Multiplication: Division of offsets.
Special Care: Remove dead leaves and cut or pull off the flower stem when it dies.
Use: The gooey, transparent, odorless gel extracted from leaves can be applied to minor wounds (abrasions, burns, cuts, etc.) and has the reputation of reducing pain and speeding up healing. The gel is also used in many beauty and medicinal products. It can likewise be used internally as a medicine or tonic, but be careful because the gel has laxative effects and can even be slightly toxic if not harvested with care.
Problems: Rot may occur under low light conditions, especially when combined with poor drainage or overwatering. Watch out for mealybugs and scale insects.
Aloe vera has been cultivated as a medicinal plant from time immemorial, so much so that its place of origin has been forgotten. It is grown outdoors in regions with a Mediterranean climate, and is also thoroughly naturalized in several countries around the world. In temperate climates, it is grown as a houseplant.
To use the sap, harvest a leaf (or, more logically, part of a leaf; you can then use the rest of the leaf section by section over time) and open it to extract the gelatinous sap. Apply it liberally to soothe the pain of minor wounds (cuts, scrapes, minor burns, sunburn, etc.). Major wounds need a doctor’s attention.