I was raised in southern California, where it’s standard practice to keep a sun-loving aloe plant on any and every premises — in a pretty planter in the window, potted in terra cotta on the patio, or planted directly into the ground. The spiky succulent is ubiquitous there — as commonplace to San Diego gardeners as designer sunglasses are to fashionable Angelenos.
Many of my childhood memories — creekside picnics in the park at the start of mosquito season, beach days playing in salty surf that washed the sunscreen from young faces too excited to stop and reapply, evenings on the deck with the barbecue that always seemed to result in an inevitable finger in the flames — these are the memories that all end with the same sentence: “Honey, will you run grab a piece of aloe from out back?”
Aloe vera, that hippie cure-all, saved us from bug bites and sunburns and fire burns and skateboarding scrapes and surfing sand-rash and everything else that comes with being young and adventurous. Fresh is best of course, so if you can get your hands on a plant I’d highly recommend you try to grow one in your home. But even for the black-thumbed among us, the good news is that the jelly is widely available, bottled and sold in health food stores everywhere. Keep some on hand and use it for:
1. Soothing and cooling your fiery sunburned skin. It's indispensable for people who work outside, like roofing contractors and lifeguards.
2. Calming and treating other seasonal skin conditions, like drying, redness, flakes/ash, and minor irritations or rashes.
3. Pat it onto bruises to reduce discoloration.
4. Use it to ease the discomfort caused by razor burn.
5. Spread it onto minor burns (of the kitchen or candle variety).
6. Use it to give a blister a break.
7. Treat it as an anti-aging and wrinkle cream, like the infamous Cleopatra was rumored to do.
8. Soothe poison ivy and poison oak rashes.
9. Rub it over an itchy or angry insect bite.
10. Apply it daily to reduce scars and stretch marks.
11. Use it to care for small wounds like cuts, scrapes, and abrasions.
12. Studies show it will even out the complexion, and may even reduce dark spots.
13. Aloe can act as a leave-in conditioner and gentle-hold styling gel.
14. It can be used to help clear up acne.
15. Soothe and speed up recovery of cold sores.
16. Spread it on as a natural body lotion.
17. Use it as a muscle rub on sprains and strains. Aloe reduces inflammation!
18. Apply it orally to alleviate symptoms of gingivitis and related gum distress.
19. Rub it into the scalp to help clear up dandruff.
20. Dose your feet after communal showers (like the gym) in order to ward off athlete's foot.
Although this herb has been used in traditional and folk medicine for centuries, there are not a lot of scientific studies that corroborate the claims regarding its cure-all abilities. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t work — and the anecdotal evidence would indicate that it does — but it does mean that you should probably consult your own doctor.
Thumbnail photo: Matt Biddulph/Flickr