What is the Aloe? - Origin of Aloe - History of Aloe

What is the Aloe?

Aloe is any of various chiefly African plants of the genus Aloe, having rosettes of succulent, often spiny-margined leaves and long stalks bearing yellow, orange, or red tubular flowers.

Aloe means any species of the genus Aloe, succulent perennials of the family Lilaceae (lily family), native to the warm dry areas of South Africa (especially Cape Province) and also to tropical Africa, but cultivated elsewhere. The juice of aloe leaves contains the purgative aloin.

The Aloe Barbadensis Miller, the Aloe Saponaria, the Ferox Aloe, the Aloe Chinensis and the aloe Arborescens, are the most commercially known varieties of more than 360 species of well-known aloes. 

The aloe receives diverse names, based on the languages:

Spanish: aloe, zabira (of the Arab çabira), zabila, zabida, zadiba, toots zabila, sábila, penca sábila, toots or canary pitera, flower of the desert, loto of the desert. 
Portuguese: aloés, erva-babosa, babosa, azebre vegetal. 
Catalan: àloe, séver, atzavara verae. 
Italian: aloe. 
French: aloés. 
English: aloe. 
German: aloe. 
Chinese: Lu Hui 
Scientific names: Aloe vera (Lineo), Barbadensis Aloe (Miller), Saponaria Aloe (Haw). 

Origin of Aloes

Aloe is a plant with more than 360 varieties and presents several origins, but the most recognised is probably the Aloe Barbadensis, better known as Aloe Vera. Although most Aloes have medicinal properties it is this particular variety that has taken the west by storm in recent years.

The aloe vera (aloe barbadensis miller) is native of the Mediterranean region (South of Europe and North Africa), whereas the aloe ferox, the aloe saponaria and the aloe arborescens are original of southern Africa. 

The aloe vera has a habitat in Egypt, South Africa and the Caribbean, whereas the aloe saponaria has it in Zimbabwe and South Africa, as well as the aloe ferox and the aloe arborescens. 

Other popular varieties are the aloe chinensis, aloe socotrina and aloe perryi, among other aloes less known to the common people.

Aloe in History

The knowledge of the aloe and its healing properties goes back to the antiquity. In the most remote times the virtues of the Aloe in East and the Mediterranean were already known. 

The attractiveness and beauty of Cleopatra is attributed to the use of the Aloe oils. Egyptian Nefertiti queen is also famous by the use of aloe in baths. In fact, the origin of aloetherapy and aloe spa is there.

The history tells that Aristotle advised to Alexander Magno (356-323 BC) who before initiating the Eastern campaign, conquered the island of Socotra to provide itself with Aloe with which to cure the wounds of its troops in the combat. 

The well-known oldest description is in the Egyptian papyrus of Ebers in 1,500 BC in where they are detailed more than 12 remedies with Aloe vera. The original copies of this document are protected in the University of Leipzig, in Germany. These Egyptian documents declare that the curative values of the Aloe were known many centuries ago extensively.

In century I AD, the greek physician Dioscórides, while accompanying the Nero´s army, extensively described in its Greek herbario the Aloe medicinal and cosmetic uses and its qualities. In Chapter 23 of his book III it makes reference to the aloe, and defines the main characteristics.

The Arabs, great consumers, took it to their campaigns and when finalizing they left extensive plantations that were tried to move to the North of Europe where the plant did not resist the cold of the Winter. The difficulty for the conservation of the plant caused that their virtues forgot and fell in the forgetfulness replaced by others remedies. As of century XVI, the called plant aloe was common to a large extent of Italy, and it was planted in the gardens.

In Malaga first and soon in Andalusia, great plantations of aloes in time of the Arabs, enthusiastic propagators of the medicinal use of the aloe existed.

In the Middle Age the use of the Aloe was restricted to the aloe gum dried with great content in Aloin that conferred healing and bactericidal properties to it. In the Canary Islands the Aloe vera L. (Aloe Barbadensis Miller) is a plant that grows like native, where its ample medicinal phantom is used traditionally from immemorial times. Cristopher Columbus in their trips to the New World sourced the ships of canary Aloe to fight the epidemics.

The health benefits of this wonder plant have been known and documented for thousands of years and it has been used in the Canaries since the days of the original inhabitants of the islands. When the Spanish conquered the archipelago the traditional usages of many curative plants were passed down from generation to generation and kept alive by the local curers.

Apparently, Christopher Columbus took a plentiful supply of the Canarian Aloe Vera with him on his voyage to America for use among the crew. The plant thrived on the new continent and is now used and cultivated widely.

Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian, Arab, Indian historical documents and the Chinese informed on their use for curative and cosmetic intentions.

In XX century it became popular again by its effectiveness, although was not until the Fifties that were able to stabilize the juice or gel.

Source: Extracted from Aloetrade America main site.