Known widely for its topical uses, aloe can also be enjoyed for its healthful benefits in food and drinks. Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans used the clear liquid inside the leaves to treat wounds, and in the Middle Ages it was used as a laxative. Today, we find many ways to benefit from this versatile plant. Add it to cool drinks, teas and desserts to aid digestion or on your skin to treat minor scrapes and burns at home.
While available in over 500 species in the wild, the most commonly available species is aloe vera. These short-stemmed or stemless plants have thick leaves with serrated edges which are thicker at the base and taper toward the tip. The leaves are filled with a clear, gel-like substance known as aloin which is commonly used to treat sunburn and as a remedy for constipation. The flavour is fresh and slightly bitter with a gentle sweetness.
How to Select
The liquid stored in the leaves and stems allow the aloe plant to survive in hot, dry climates. Choose plants or leaves that are firm and in colours ranging from pale grey to bright, grassy green. Avoid aloe with nicks or scratches on the leaves, but pale stripes or spots on the leaves are normal.
How to Store
It you want to buy a plant, you’ll find they are very easy to care for. Water deeply only when the surface soil is dry, to prevent rot. You’ll also have to water less frequently in winter than summer months. If leaves are curling, the plant needs more water. Once a leaf is cut from the plant for use, any leftover leaf or gel can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to five days, although it is always best when used fresh.
You can also buy large aloe leaves at grocery stores. Some recommend that you can store the leaves in your fridge for up to one year but we’d suggest using the gel within 20-25 days. You can tell the leaf is past best when it turns reddish brown. If you only want to use a small portion, simply cut off what you need from the thicker base of the leaf, and store the rest in the fridge still in the rind of the leaf to help preserve the rest of the extract. You can add some vitamin E (from gel capsules) or citric acid powder to the exposed part of the plant to prevent discolouration and help preserve the extract.
Keep any extracted gel covered in the fridge within two days. Adding a squeeze of lemon juice can also help prevent discolouration.
How to Freeze
Scoop the gel out from the leaf and freeze it in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag or storage container and keep frozen for up to six months. Soothing aloe ice cubes are handy for treating burns and scrapes at home. Wrap the frozen aloe cubes in a thin towel and hold against the burn. As the cube melts, it’ll be absorbed into the fabric resting on your skin.
How to Prepare
Only the gel stored inside the leaves is harvested for edible or topical use. Typically, you’ll find large aloe leaves available in grocery stores near the exotic fruit section, but to harvest from a plant, clip off a leaf near the base.
Take your aloe leaf and trim off the serrated edges with a sharp knife. Fillet off the skin like you would a fish, removing all the skin and the yellowish layer, leaving behind the clear gel at the centre. You can use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. Alternatively, the leaf can be sliced lengthwise and the gel scraped out with a small spoon. The skins can be composted.
Tips & Topical Uses
- Since aloe is used in small amounts, it’s not necessary to start with a large plant. Start small and enjoy watching it grow overtime.
- Kids are fascinated by natural remedies, especially something an intriguing as a leaf that can help soothe injuries. Help calm your child’s upset by having them help you cut a leaf open and spread the gel on their (washed) scraped knees and elbows, mosquito bites or sunburn.
- Aloe vera is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory.
- Aloe can be very slippery, so use a tea towel or dishcloth to hold onto it when administering to your skin.
- Got razor burn? For a more natural aftershave, try using a piece of aloe and rub against the affected areas to sooth any irritation.
- Check out this DIY beauty article that has 16 ways to use aloe vera as a beauty product!
- Make a soothing sugar scrub to buff away dry skin and hydrate using sugar, extra virgin olive oil, essential oils, and aloe!
- Be sure to keep cut leaves or gel in the fridge to maintain it’s integrity.
Goes Well With
Produce: Apples, bananas, chili peppers, cucumbers, coconut, grapefruit, mangos, lemons, limes, melons, oranges, pineapple, strawberries and raspberries
Protein: Nuts such as almonds and cashews
Herbs & Spices: Basil, chili flakes, cilantro, ginger, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, turmeric, white or black pepper,
Other: Honey, yogurt, kefir, herbal teas, black teas and green teas
- A soothing cup of aloe tea can help with constipation and can be prepared easily at home. Stir one teaspoon of aloe vera gel into one cup of hot black, herbal or green tea. If you want to sweeten it, stir in a little honey until it melts.
- Aloe gel can be added to gelatin desserts. Stir a couple teaspoons of aloe into your gelatin mixture before allowing it to set.
- Dress up plain yogurt by stirring in a teaspoon of aloe to keep your digestion regular. It also stirs nicely into applesauce and other fruit purees.
- Include some aloe when mixing your morning fruit and vegetable smoothies, such as this Strawberry Lemonade Aloe Vera Smoothie from Ashley at Blissful Basil.
- Shake it into a cocktail or a non-alcohol beverage
- Aloe can also be combined with fruit jams and jellies then spread onto buttered toast, muffins and scones.
- Create your own aloe water! Add one teaspoon of aloe gel with water and your favourite fruits or veggies to taste. Try adding a little cucumber, mint and orange for a refreshing, hydrating drink!