The Potted Physician
Aloe Vera is a medicinal herb that has been benefitting mankind for thousands of years. Even though Aloe Vera looks like a cactus, it is in fact a member of the lily family and is related to onions, garlic and asparagus. There are over 200 species of Aloe Vera but it is the Aloe barbedensis plant that has been of most use to mankind because of the medicinal properties it exhibits. It is known as Gritkumari in Sanskrit, Gheekanvar in Hindi and Thazhai in Tamil.
Botanical name:Aloe barbedensis Miller
Nature of herb
Aloe species are perennial succulents belonging to the lily family and are the source or drug aloe, known for its domestic medicinal value. It has been given various other names like ‘The Miracle plant’, ‘Healing plant’, ‘Plant of immortality’, ‘Fountain of youth’ and ‘The Potted physician’ due to its various beneficial properties like being an emollient, anti-fungal, nutritional, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant , purgative, antiseptic and cosmetic.
The first documented use of Aloe Vera dates back to an Egyptian papyrus from 3500 BC. It was used to great effect by Greek and Roman physicians. Researchers have found that both the ancient Chinese and Indians also used Aloe Vera. In India, Aloe Vera has been referred to as ‘kumari’ in Ayurvedic treatments where it was popularly used to treat the sore eyes, abrasions and wounds.
Egyptian Queens associated its use with their physical beauty and legend has it that Alexander The Great conquered the island Socotra in the Indian Ocean to secure Aloes to treat the battle wounds of his soldiers. Even Mahatma Gandhi used it to maintain his strength during times of fasting.
Aloe Vera is a coarse looking shallow rooted plant with a short stem.
It has thick green leaves that have a sharp and pointed apex, 15-50 cm by 4-7 cm, arranged in a rosette around the short stem. Blade is green to variegate with small white glaucous dots, irregular bands, lanceolate, tapering from base to apex, glabrous with green and spiny toothed margins. The leaves contain a thick colorless juice.
The flowers are yellow, orange or red produced in summer on a spike up to 90 cm (35 in) tall, each flower being pendulous, with a yellow tubular corolla 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in) long in a panicle.
The plant doesn’t have a true stem but produces bloom stalks.
It has multiple tuberous roots and many supporting roots penetrating into the soil.
- Height at maturity
Aloe Vera being short stemmed reaches a height up to 50 cm at maturity.
- Life span
Aloe Vera is a perennial plant.
Plants of the genus Aloe belong to the old world and are indigenous to East and South Africa, the Canary Island and Spain which spread to Mediterranean basin and reached the West Indies and India and other countries in the 16th century.
Aloe is grown in warm tropical areas and cannot survive freezing temperatures. It is usually cultivated between March and June. The plant has a wide adaptability and can be seen growing across all regions of India. It is found growing in warm, humid or dry climate with even 150-200 cm to about 30-40 cm of yearly rainfall during the growing period.
The plant can be grown in a variety of soils ranging from sandy coastal soils to loamy soils of plains. It is sensitive to water logged conditions. The crop also comes up well in light soils. It can tolerate higher pH and high salt concentrations. Growth is faster under medium fertile, heavy soils such as black cotton soils. In well drained, loamy to coarse sandy loam in a pH range up to 8.5, it grows well with higher foliage.
UsefulnessThere are three main areas of benefit from Aloe vera which include its wealth of nutritional components, beneficial effects on the epithelial tissues of our body and lastly its immunity boosting properties. Its medicinal uses include:
- It has also been used to control bleeding, itching of piles, and relief from arthritic pains. The Chinese uses the plant juice as a mild laxative, abscesses and scabies. In Philippines, it is used to treat dysentery and pain in the kidneys.
- The plant has been found to treat bacterial infection, as a cathartic, purgative and vermifuge. It can be used in the treatment of burns, edema, pain, swellings and wounds; treatment of leukemia, lung cancer; treatment of constipation, eczema, piles and pertussis.
- The whole plant has also been used for the treatment of rectal fissures and piles while the root is used to treat colic.
- The jelly is used as aperients for wounds, applied on the abdomen in fever.
- Fresh juice of the leaves is cathartic and cooling and used for various eye diseases.
- The dried juice is applied with lime juice for reducing swellings and promoting granulation in ulcers. The mixture of sugar with sap obtained from heated leaves is taken for asthma.
- The mucilaginous flesh and the sap are used for burns.
- It is mixed with milk and given for dysentery and pains in the kidney.
- When used as a mouth rinse, Aloe is beneficial for cold spores and lock jaw.
- Used in dental problems like bleeding gums and denture somatitis.
- Chemical constituents: Chemical compounds found in Aloe can be divided mainly into three components; the first group includes complex sugars among which acemannan is the most important; these impart an immunosuppressive action to the gel. The next group includes the anthraquinones, which are found in the outermost part of the leaf skin are known to have a strong laxative action. Lastly, it contains a plethora of chemicals such as minerals, essential and non essential amino acids, phospholipids, organic acids, enzymes, lignin and saponins which are beneficial for us pharmacologically and have a nutraceutical value. The presence of salicylic acid and magnesium in Aloe are thought to work together for an analgesic effect on burns.
The tree is rich in flavonoids and rich compounds including simple flavones, furanoflavonoids, chromenoflavones, chromenochalcones, coumarones, flavones glucosides, sterols and triterpenes and a modified phenylaline dipeptide. Seed and seed oil contain karanjin, pongamol, pongapin and kanjone. Additionally, seeds contain lanceolatin B, iso-pongaflavone and pongol. Seed oil contains iso- pongachromene and ponga-gaglabrone.
,br> Flowers contain flavonioids majorly, such as hydroxyl furanoflavones, furanoflavones, triterpenes, beta-sisosterol glucoside and auratiamide acetate.
Aloe Vera is generally propagated by root suckers by carefully digging out without damaging the parent plant and planting it in the main field. It can also be propagated through rhizome cuttings by digging out the rhizomes after the harvest of the crop and making them into 5-6 cm length cuttings with a minimum of 2-3 nodes on them. Then they are rooted in specially prepared sand beds or containers. The plant is ready for transplanting after the appearance of first sprouts.
- Land preparation and planting
land is ploughed and cross ploughed thoroughly. Farm yard manure is added @15t/ha during the last ploughing. Ridges and furrows are formed at 45 or 60 cm apart. The plot maybe irrigated if necessary. The suckers are planted at 40 or 30 cm apart, maintain the spacing suggested.
Aloe can be successfully cultivated both under irrigated and rain fed conditions. Provisions of irrigation immediately after planting and during summer season will ensure good yields. However, the plant is sensitive to water logged conditions.
The plants are harvested eight months after planting. Normally, three harvests are taken in a year by removing three to four leaves per plant. The broken rhizome part left in the soil throws out new sprouts in the spring for raising the succeeding crop. An Aloe plantation yield gives a commercial yield from the second year up to the age of 5 years, after which it needs replanting.
- Application of plant nutrients
Before land preparation, about 8-10 tones FYM/ha should be applied. Before the last ploughing, organic substitutes of chemical fertilizers such as vermicompost, oil cake or poultry manure should be added. If the soil is rich in organic matter, fertilizer amount can be reduced.
- Plant protection
Mostly, Aloe vera diseases are caused by conditions that are too wet or too cold for its nature.
- Use of organic source of plant protection materials like raw garlic juice, neem oil (10,000 ppm) 2-3 ml / lit, tobacco extract 20 ml / lit gives a reasonably good yield.
- For controlling termites, 350-400 kg Neem Cake / ha may be applied.
- The black spots on Aloe vera are type of rust caused by Alternaria species (fungus) which is a commonly occurring disease, due to improper growing conditions. Proper light and timely treatment can help curb this problem. It is of utmost importance to remove the diseased leaves after detecting the problem to curb the spreading of infection as the fungus is self-limiting, and does not spread beyond the spots that are affected.
Commercial UsesAloe Vera is among the few medicinal plants by virtue of their extensive medicinal, nutraceutical and other uses enjoy a major chunk of the market across the globe. Given the exponentially growing demand for it in the international market, Aloe Vera presents the finest commercial opportunity among the various medicinal plants. Also, India is among the few countries gifted with the unique geographical features essential for cultivation of Aloe Vera and other high potential medicinal plants.:
- Uses in Ayurveda: It is used in Ayurveda as a skin conditioner and in the treatment of non-healing ulcers, burn injuries and in treating the liver diseases like jaundice.
- Uses in Homeopathy: A homeopathic remedy, Aloe socotrina is made from the tincture of the aloe plant which is used for diarrhea, hemorrhoids, flatulence, bloating and lower back pain.
- Uses in Unani: In Unani system of medicine Aloe vera is used to heal wounds, burns, treat jaundice and allergic inflammation of the skin.
- Cosmaceutical uses: Aloe vera is considered a cosmeceutical herb i. e. a blend of cosmetic and pharmaceutical product. The gel from its leaves finds a wide range of cosmetic and therapeutic applications which include anti-wrinkle creams, moisturizers, sunscreens, hair care products and wound healing, treatment of burns, frostbite etc. It is also used as protective against radiation exposure and as antimicrobial agent.
- Herbal and medicinal plants of India by Dr. D.K. Bhatt, Dr. Aparna Raj, Dr. Kiran Bhatt
- Cultivation of Medicinal and Aromatic Crops by B.S.Sreeramu
- Indian Medicinal Plants by C.P. Khare