Now, while lilies are gloriously blooming in outdoor gardens, some indoor gardeners may have a member of the same plant family, the lily family, in bloom indoors. The indoor plant is Aloe vera. The Aloe, however, is not known for its flowers, although it may produce a cluster of small yellow flowers occasionally. It is best known to most of us as the "burn plant" because of properties of its pulp which alleviate the pain of burns.
Aloe vera, the True Aloe, is familiar as a rosette of gray-green succulent leaves with prickly edges. In many kitchens it is given a special place on a sunny counter or windowsill near the stove, handy for emergencies of minor burns.
Aloe vera is one of the earliest of pot plants, having been cultivated as such since Roman times. Sometimes called Barbadoes aloe, it came originally from North Africa. Records show that it was brought along by doctors on early Spanish expeditions to the New World.
Aloe vera can live on stored fluid indefinitely, a valuable trait in the climate where it originated. Records show it was brought along by doctors on early Spanish expeditions to the New World.
As a houseplant it can take only occasional watering, allow the soil to become dry between waterings. If you have an aloe, give it 4 or more hours of direct sun daily. Feed it once a year in autumn with a balanced houseplant fertilizer to half the strength recommended on the package. The soil should be loose and sandy, well-drained, with lime added to assure alkalinity.
Numerous suckers form at the base of a large Aloe plant, making it easy to propagate. Just snap off a plantlet and place it in moist potting soil to root; when rooted, transplant to a pot of sandy soil with plenty of drainage material in the bottom; shield from direct sunlight for about a month.
Instructions for use of Aloe vera in treatment of minor burns and scalds have been given by James Norris, Director of Research for the Herbs & Botanicals Section, Delta Products. Writing in the "Garden Journal" of the New York Botanical Garden, he advises: "Cut the most fully developed leaf and strip away the green rind that encases the clear crystal gel, in much the same manner as you would peel a plum. Apply this gel directly to a burn or scald immediately after it has occurred, and secure the gel with a light dressing.
"Should you use just a small portion, keep the rest of the leaf fresh by refrigerating it in a polyethylene bag. If the burn area is large, you can slice an entire leaf in half and lay its whole length on the injured surface. Swelling should subside quickly and tissue will begin to regenerate at once, for which reason, a word of caution: a burn treated with Aloe vera may heal over too fast, causing complications if there is dirt still in the wound. It is, therefore, simply a matter of good first aid practice to thoroughly clean the surface before applying the gel. Another cautionary word: the gel is not to be confused with the yellowish brown juice secreted by the rind. This is the source of Aloin, used in many cathartics, and can cause serious irritation to sensitive areas of the body and to open sores or abrasions."
Ancient records and drawings attest to the use of Aloe vera as a remedy for any number of real and imagined ills.It cosmetic value is also a matter of record as one of the first moisturizers and in today's market it is incorporated as a skin conditioner in several commercial lines of cosmetics.
There are over 200 kinds of Aloes. All are tropical or subtropical succulents, hence cannot be left outdoors all year in our climate. Some are houseplants, some are grown outdoors, for instance, in California where ssome species are used as ground cover plants. The partridge breast or tiger aloe, Aloe variegata, a species distinguished by white hands on the leaves, is commonly available as a house plant in the north and garden plant in the South.
Several Aloe species are cultivated in the tropics for their subepidermal yellow latex, which on evaporation becomes the wall-known cathartic "bitter aloes."
The folk uses of the Aloe for its supposed curative powers are legendary and spread through cultures worldwide. Many studies have been made both here and abroad to attempt to establish its value in various treatments and in the process the possibilities of its use in modern prescriptions are assessed.
Meanwhile, Aloe vera can be counted on as a utilitarian member of the indoor garden community.