Last month I had promised to write about the most versatile, easily potable and cheapest medicinal plants around. So here comes the first post in the new series, Pharmacy-in-a-Pot Plants!
“Okay Doc, everyone knows that aloe is good for the skin! What’s the big deal?”
So you think it is good only for that much? Keep reading, this article is juuuust for you.
Common Name – Indian Aloe.
Botanical Name – Aloe Vera.
Physical Features – Perennial thorny shrub with long, sword-shaped, fleshy green leaves having small thorns at the edges. Leaves contain a yellow to white, crystalline, bitter-sweet juice which holds most of its medicinal properties.
Natural Habitat – Dry, sandy, arid regions all around the world. Can easily grow in a pot with any soil, irregular watering and sunlight.
Price – Available in most nurseries for Rs.10 (lesser than what a coke costs) in India. Free, if you can identify it in the wild, though I won’t recommend that for non-professionals.
Medicinal part – leaf gel (the fleshy part inside the leaf)
Ayurvedic Properties formula – Tikta-Sheet-Madhur. (Don’t bother if you don’t know how to decipher this. Will explain it in time.)What do we do with it?
Aloe Vera is literally one truck load of medicines in one plant. It is called ‘Kumari’ in Sanskrit, which translates as ‘girl’. The origin of this name is not known exactly, but it is widely attributed to the fact that Aloe is most useful as a medicine for the health of young women. Here’s the list of its medicinal uses, function by function –
(A) Topical uses
1. Antiseptic – Aloe gel is excellent for burns and moderate wounds. Paste it with alum and turmeric to apply on moderate cuts and wounds. It is also great for boils, eczema and general skin eruptions.
2. It is a very good local anti-inflammatory agent. That means you can apply it to reduce any edema (swelling) or even rashes, specially on an enlarged spleen / liver, swollen gouty joints, and conditions caused by allergic reactions.
3. Ocular Antibacterial –The leaf juice works as a great antibiotic for eye infections. (However, care should be taken to extract it using hygienic methods and equipment.) The other safer way is to place a poultice of aloe gel and alum on the affected eye.
4. Aloe gel is also a good remedy for acne and a skin cleanser-cum-moisturiser. Mix and blend it with cucumber and a tiny bit of turmeric powder, and it makes a great face pack and moisturiser.
5. Antifungal – It has been found effective for trichophytiasis.
6. Antiviral – Cream form gives good results in genital herpes.
(B) Systemic uses –
1. As Liver tonic – Perhaps the best known and most widely practised use of Aloe in Ayurveda. It acts as a hepatocyte stimulant and regulates multiple metabolic pathways going through the liver, making it a great medicine/supplement for many conditions involving the liver, such as –
Anemias (blood deficiencies) of certain types
Conditions involving enlargement of liver and/or spleen (hepatomegaly / splenomegaly)
‘Kumari Aasav’, an Ayurvedic syrup made from aloe is used as medicine in a great range of illnesses, and as a tonic otherwise.
2. In ulcers – Gastric ulcer patients supplemented with Aloe have been found to have been healed 3 times faster than normal, especially from aspirin-caused ulcers. The results in duodenal ulcer depend on location and cause, as aloe increases bile secretion which is a factor in duodenal ulcer aggravation.
3. As uterine tonic – Aloe increases uterine muscle tone and stimulates menstruation without interfering much with hormonal metabolism. That makes it a useful medicine for amenorrhea (lack of menses) and irregular menses. It is also widely used as an uterine cleansing agent for women who have just given birth, though this needs to be done under supervision of a qualified practitioner only.
4. As a digestive – As mentioned earlier, aloe is a hepatostimulant that increases the secretion of bile juice, and in turn, improves digestion and general appetite.
5. For bloating and abdominal cramps – When taken with black pepper, it relieves bloating, indigestion and the cramps caused by it.
6. As anti-pyretic – Aloe is described as good for all Kapha type fevers in Ayurveda. Though this is a fairly technical term to describe, we can say that you can generally take it when the fever is accompanied by anorexia, drowsiness, indigestion, wet coughs, excess salivation or salty taste in the mouth.
7. As laxative – Aloe gel is a good stimulant purgative that can cause gentle purgation within 10 to 12 hours on ingestion in appropriate doses, which vary person to person. It is recommended to be taken along with fennel seeds to avoid cramps and diarrhoea which happen on accidental overdose.
8. As anti-tussive – In wet cough, a roasted aloe mixed with powdered cloves, long pepper and honey can work wonders for drying up the secretions.
9. In male infertility – Aloe has been used in traditional medicine for increasing sperm volume in men. Though there are no modern studies to reinforce this claim, it can be a fairly safe home remedy to try out.
10. In neurological disorders – Aloe has been lately demonstrated to inhibit autoimmune damage to brain cells in neuro-degenerative disorders through its antiinflammatory action. So it can be a great regular supplement for patients of Guillain Barre Syndrome, Alzheimer’s, Multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune and/or inflammatory neurological disorders.
11. For decreasing blood cholesterol – A regular supplementation of aloe has been found to lower the levels of serum cholesterol, triglycerides and other esterified fatty acids, while simultaneously increasing HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) in the blood. This action is believed to be exerted by Glucomannan, a polysaccharide from aloe known to exert similar action in animal trials.
12. Anti-cancer properties – Aloe gel is known to slow down formation of new blood vessels in tumours, thereby hampering tumor growth. Acemannon, a compound known to hinder uterine tumor growth, is also found in aloe. More detailed studies are yet to be carried out on it.
Now that we know where to use it, where NOT to use it?
1. Pregnant women need to avoid this plant; it is a uterine stimulant, as mentioned above, and can potentially cause abortion. So, a practitioner’s advice is strictly in order here.
2. Dosages for children below 14 years should be determined by a qualified practitioner only.
3. Use as a laxative should be made for a maximum of 10 days. Further use can cause dependence.
4. Laxative use in inflammatory bowel conditions like Crohn’s disease and appendicitis should be made only after consulting a practitioner.
So that was aloe… , I mean, all for today, folks!
Stay healthy, stay happy!
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About the Author – Dr. Harshad Rajandekar is a practitioner of Integrated and Ayurvedic Medicine, based out of Nashik, India. He can be reached for an online/offline consultation through the About page.