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Aloe

Latin Names: Aloe vera; Aloe ferox; Aloe socotrina; Aloe barbadensis; Aloe spp.

Other Names: Bitter Aloe; Cape Aloes; Socotrine Aloes; Shibr (Arabic); Aluwwa (Persian); Elva (Urdu); Sabila (Spanish); Lu Hui (Chinese); Kumari (Sanskrit)

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Liliaceae family

Part Used: Juice of the fresh whole leaf; de-bittered juice or gel; dried, powdered resinous extract of the whole leaf.

Basic Qualities: Hot 2, Dry 2 – Bitter / Cape Aloes (Avicenna); juice / gel of fresh or de-bittered leaf is cooling and moistening.  Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine consider the Bitter / Cape Aloes to have a Cold energy. 

Other Qualities: Dissolving and attenuating; mildly constricting the tissues and channels of the body; concocting toxins, stimulating digestion; purging downwards.

Taste: Intensely bitter; pungent (Bitter / Cape Aloes, juice of whole fresh leaf); bland and slightly sour (de-bittered juice and gel)

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – cleanses and invigorates the Blood, improving its circulation and vital function; regulates the menses; aids in the healing and granulation of wounds.  Phlegmatic – liquefies excess phlegm and mucus, aiding in its expulsion.  Choleric – promotes the generation and secretion of bile; reduces and regulates excessive or pathological inflammation in the body.  Melancholic – Although the Bitter / Cape Aloes is a purgative for Black Bile in small doses, in large doses, its intense bitterness can stir up Melancholy, causing giddiness and nausea; in spite of its heating qualities, Aloe can even be a sedating or sleep inducing drug, says Avicenna.  Bitter / Cape Aloes is a laxative / purgative drug, especially in larger doses, and as such, excessive use can weaken the digestion and assimilation, especially over time.  Bitter / Cape Aloes is a universal attenuant and purgative drug, helping to fluidify and expel morbid excesses of all four humors, making it one of the most versatile purgatives.

Tropism: As a universal attenuant and purgative, Aloe has an affinity for all four humors, but primarily for the liver and the bile. Aloe also has an affinity for the skin, the mucous membranes and epithelial tissues, the blood and circulatory system, the female reproductive system, the intestines, the muscles and tendons, and the bones and joints.

Constituents and Pharmacology: The phytochemistry of Aloe is extremely rich and complex; on the one hand, it is rich in nutrients and tonic constituents, and on the other hand, it contains bitter purgative constituents that are common to many other laxative / purgatives in the herbal kingdom. And so, the de-bittered Aloe juice and gel is generally taken for tonic purposes, while Bitter Aloes or Cape Aloes, made from the whole leaf, is a potent laxative, purgative and aperitif or bitter tonic. Aloe contains a wide assortment of polysaccharides and mucopolysaccharides which it shares with other cacti and succulents of the Lily family; these not only stimulate and regulate immunity, but they also regulate and improve blood sugar metabolism in type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Aloes also contain beta – sitosterol, as well as gamma-linolenic acid, which help improve and regulate the metabolism of fats, cholesterol and triglycerides. Various enzymes and amino acids, as well as vitamins B, C, E and choline, round out the nutritive constituents of Aloe. The bitter purgative principles, which are contained mainly in the outer leaf, consist of various glycosides – anthraquinones, aloe emodins, aloin and barbaloin.

Medicinal Properties: Inner leaf - tonic, restorative, anti-inflammatory, inflammomodulatory, immune stimulant, immunomodulatory, hypolipidemic, antidiabetic. Outer Leaf – aperitif, bitter tonic, hepatic, choleretic, cholagogue, laxative / purgative, alterative, emmenagogue, expectorant, cicatrizant, vulnerary, antifungal, hemostatic (topical), antirheumatic.

Cautions and Contraindications: Due to its purgative constituents, Bitter or Cape Aloes should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation, and not by those with severe or chronic diarrhea or digestive weakness.  Those taking prescription blood thinners should use the Bitter or Cape Aloes with caution internally, especially in large doses.  Cape Aloes, or Aloe Latex, can also increase the potency or effect of antidiabetic drugs and anti-inflammatory medications such as cortisone, while its laxative / purgative action can interfere with the absorption of other medications.  For more details, click on the following link:    How does aloe vera interact with other medications and foods?

Medicinal Uses: The juice of the whole fresh leaf is used topically for cuts and wounds, bruises and contusions, rashes and contact dermatitis from chemical irritants or Poison Oak or Ivy, and for fungal infections. De-bittered Aloe juice or gel is taken internally as a tonic and restorative in inflamed or irritable bowel, intestinal flora problems and compromised intestinal immunity, and to stimulate and regulate immunity and the inflammatory response on a systemic level. The de-bittered juice or gel also makes a great daily tonic for lowering high cholesterol and blood sugar. The Bitter or Cape Aloes are used as a hepatic or liver tonic, as well as a choleretic and cholagogue to stimulate the bile flow in smaller doses, and in larger doses as a laxative / purgative; other uses and applications include as an emmenagogue to procure and/or regulate the menstrual flow with other female tonic herbs; as a blood cleanser and circulatory tonic, with other alterative and blood vitalizing herbs. Bitter or Cape Aloes may also be used topically in combination with other vulnerary and healing herbs in salves and balms.

Preparation and Dosage: Aloe is taken or administered in three main forms or preparations: the juice of the whole fresh leaf; the de-bittered juice or gel; and the bitter powdered resin extract of the whole leaf, which is known as Bitter Aloes or Cape Aloes. The juice of the fresh whole leaf is usually applied topically as a cicatrizant and vulnerary for wounds and bruises, as an anti-inflammatory, as an antifungal, and as an aid for smoothing and beautifying the skin, in liberal doses. A portion of the fresh leaf, usually from one to two inches (2 to 5 cm.) can be eaten directly as a morning tonic on an empty stomach if you are able to stand the bitter taste. The de-bittered juice or gel is similarly taken internally in liberal doses, ranging from a couple of tablespoons to a half cup or more at a time, as a digestive / intestinal, nutritional / metabolic, and immune tonic and restorative. The powdered Bitter Aloes or Cape Aloes, on the other hand, is extremely bitter and potent, and is usually used in very small doses in pills and capsules, alcoholic tinctures and liniments, in formulas, in which the dosage is from .1 to .5 grams, or roughly from one quarter to one tenth the dosage of the other ingredients in the formula, as a catalyst or enhancer of their cleansing, attenuating or purgative action. Bitter or Cape Aloes may also be used as an ingredient in topical balms and salves for its cicatrizant, vulnerary and anti-inflammatory properties, in liberal doses.

Herbal Formulation: The juice of the whole fresh Aloe leaf is usually used by itself. Similarly, the de-bittered juice and gel are usually taken internally, unmixed and undiluted. The great potency and bitterness of the Bitter Aloes or Cape Aloes, on the other hand, demands that it be taken internally in minute doses only, and then only mixed with other herbs that balance and complement its potent laxative / purgative action. Being a universal attenuant and purgative for all four humors, Cape Aloes is extremely versatile when it comes to formulation, and mixes well for many purposes, usually with pungent, sweet or aromatic herbs that complement or counterbalance its sharp bitterness. As a cleanser, attenuant and purgative, Cape Aloes combines well with other liver tonics and cleansers in chronic liver disorders; with other emmenagogue herbs in formulas to stimulate and regulate the female cycle; in formulas that heal, disinfect, cleanse or purge, depending on its dosage and formulation. Because Bitter or Cape Aloes is a universal attenuant and purgative for all four humors, its attenuant and purgative action can be directed towards virtually any excessive, aggravated or morbid humor desired, depending on which herbs you combine it with: hot and dry herbs that are pungent and spicy for purging phlegm; alterative and blood vitalizing herbs for cleansing the blood, improving its circulation, and thinning congelation or clotting of blood; with other herbs that stimulate the flow of bile to cleanse the Choleric humor and the hepato-biliary system, etc… A well known Western herbal formula that makes full use of this humoral versatility of Aloe is Swedish Bitters.

Classic Combinations: With Madder root as a blood cleanser and vulnerary, and in chronic liver disease and enlargement. With Myrrh and/or Propolis in topical liniments to dress and disinfect wounds, and to accelerate their healing. With Turmeric or Zedoary root to vitalize and thin the blood, and to improve its circulation. With Rhubarb root and/or Senna as a laxative / purgative, as a cleanser and detoxifier of the whole pelvic area, for gynecological cysts and growths, and to cleanse the blood of morbid residues and accumulations of Black Bile. With Camphor to open up the vessels, channels and orifices, both subtle and gross. A good study of these classic combinations of Aloe in action can be seen in the famous Western herbal elixir, Swedish Bitters. Dissolving small doses of Cape Aloes in an alcoholic medium or tincture enhances the circulating, penetrating and dispersing ability of the Aloe in its attenuant and purgative / cleansing action. When it comes to herbal combinations and formulations, we are talking almost exclusively of the Bitter / Cape Aloes.

Description:

Aloe is one of the most famous and esteemed healing herbs that there is, and its history is very ancient. The Egyptians used it, and Aloe is mentioned in the Bible. Aloe is a succulent or inwardly juicy plant like cactus, and like the latter, it is a member of the Lily family. In the Gospel of John, after Jesus is taken down from the cross, his body is anointed with a mixture of Myrrh and Aloes, which any good herbalist knows is one of the best mixtures for accelerating the healing of wounds and stopping bleeding. But if Jesus was already dead when they took him down from the cross, then all vital processes, including bleeding and wound healing and regeneration, would have stopped, making the application of Myrrh and Aloes pointless. This has led to persistent speculations that Jesus may have survived the crucifixion.

Aloe is one of the most healing substances known; it has the power to contract living tissue, and to draw the edges of wounds together to facilitate healing as a cicatrizant and vulnerary. The topical application of the juice of the fresh leaf is great for bruises, wounds and contusions, and to soothe inflammation in the muscles and tendons. Aloe can be applied topically to beautify the skin, as well as to treat rashes, itching, eczema, contact dermatitis and fungal infections. The bitter Cape Aloes has been a key ingredient in many liniments for external use, either to accelerate the healing of wounds and traumatic injuries, or as a dressing and disinfectant for wounds. And so, Aloe is a key ingredient in medicinal Dit Da liniments used by Chinese martial artists as first aid for sparring injuries, and it is also a key ingredient, perhaps the most important ingredient, in the famous Western herb formula of Swedish Bitters.

The Bitter or Cape Aloes is a hepatic herb or liver tonic, and one of the most potent healing herbs known for the liver; it is used to treat jaundice, hepatitis and enlargement of the liver and spleen. For this purpose, it is often used in combination with Madder root. In tiny or minute doses, Cape Aloes is an aperitif or bitter tonic that cleanses the liver and stimulates the appetite, promoting the generation and flow of bile. Since bile, or Yellow Bile, is the body’s own natural laxative, larger doses of Cape Aloes acts as a laxative, and larger doses still act as a vigorous purgative. Although its primary purgative action is on Yellow Bile, or the Choleric humor, Cape Aloes is a universal attenuant and purgative for all four humors. Cape Aloes is a powerful catalyst for cleansing and purging, and which humor you fluidify and purge from the body depends, to a very large measure, upon which other herbs you mix it with. Due to its potency, Cape Aloes is usually used in minute doses in pills and alcoholic liniments, with the larger dose producing the stronger laxative or purging effect; however, in an alcoholic medium, Cape Aloes’ purging effects are greatly softened or diminished into dispersing and cleansing effects.

As a blood herb, Cape Aloes is a great purifier of the blood, which also enhances the vital and immune functions of the blood as well as lowering blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides. This makes it very useful not only in treating immune deficiency conditions, but also in managing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Cape Aloes is also an emmenagogue, which can stimulate or procure the flow of a woman’s menses where it is blocked, especially in combination with other female tonic herbs. Like Rhubarb root, Cape Aloes is a wonderful cleanser of the whole pelvic area, and can even treat gynecological growths or tumors. The immune stimulating constituents of Aloe, in all its forms, are special polysaccharides, which Aloe shares in common with other cacti or succulents. Being cooling and moistening, the de-bittered Aloe juice or gel is also a great tonic for reducing chronic or pathological inflammation levels in the body. The Bitter or Cape Aloes has also been studied for its anti-tumor properties, and one of the key constituents in this is its high content of Aloe emodins.

Digestively speaking, the de-bittered Aloe juice or gel is a very useful tonic in chronic irritability and inflammation of the GI tract and bowels, and its rich polysaccharide content encourages the growth of friendly probiotic flora in the intestines as well as having a stimulating or enhancing effect on intestinal immunity in general. When using the Bitter or Cape Aloes in treating digestive disorders, great care must be taken, not only not to exceed the right dosage, but also to blend it with other digestive herbs that complement it. Too great of a dosage of the Bitter Aloe can not only provoke giddiness and nausea due to its intense bitterness, but its purgative constituents may also weaken one’s powers of digestion and assimilation. But in the right dosage, and blended judiciously in with the right herbs, Bitter Aloes can cleanse and stimulate a torpid liver and a sluggish digestion, and even promote the appetite. Of all the strong stimulant laxative / purgative herbs, Bitter or Cape Aloes is probably the least likely to foster dependency, mainly due to its moistening properties, which make it smoother and gentler in its action.

Because of its unique and distinctive healing properties, especially in formulas with other herbs, the Bitter or Cape Aloes is used to great effect in various herbal formulas from the world’s great traditional healing systems. In addition to the celebrated Western healing elixir, Swedish Bitters, there is a whole class of medicinal formulas in Unani Medicine called Ayarij, such as Habb-e-Ayarij, which utilize Aloe to open up the various subtle channels and orifices of the body and purge them of superfluous humors. In the case of Habb-e-Ayarij, the internal channels and orifices of the brain are cleansed and purged of toxic and morbid humors in order to treat chronic headaches, epilepsy and related conditions. Here’s the link: Habbe Ayarij

In Ayurvedic Medicine, there is a famous medicinal wine made with Aloe called Kumari Asava, which utilizes the emmenagogue properties of Aloe in combination with other female tonics to make a fine blood cleanser and menstrual tonic medicine for women. In addition to menstrual disorders and premenstrual syndrome, Kumari Asava treats certain forms of anemia and toxic, tired blood, as well as chronic constipation, poor appetite and digestive disturbances due to a blocked or deranged bile flow. Here are the links: Bazaar of India Kumari Asava Aloe Vera Tonic for Women and Kumari Asava

In a similar vein to the above, Chinese herbal medicine has its own pills of Dong Quai and Aloe, called Dang Gui Lu Hui Wan, which are used to treat chronic constipation, bilious disorders and headaches due to excess fire and heat from the liver ascending to the head. Bitter Aloe, in combination with Rhubarb root in this formula, as the main downwards purging herbs not only purge the bowels in constipation, but also purge the liver fire downwards from the head – which is kind of like what we saw in Habb-e-Ayarij, although the latter is not used to treat constipation, but just to purge the head. Containing the famed women’s tonic Dong Quai, these pills also have applications for treating menstrual and female disorders.

Related Species: Although not really related to Aloe in a botanical sense, there is an herb with which it is often conflated or confused: Aloes Wood, which is Aquillaria agallocha. Aloes Wood is a fragrant, resinous wood from Southeast Asia that is so called because, in overall form and appearance, the whole living plant resembles the true Aloe. In herbal medicine, Aloes Wood is used as an aromatic stomachic and carminative. Its other uses are mainly for incense and perfumery, and its pleasant aroma is somewhat like a blend of Fennel and Sandalwood. Although its fragrance seems distinctly Oriental, and is a favorite in Oriental incense blends, it was also known in the Holy Land, and was used as incense in Judaism. Generally, in the Bible, Aloes Wood is referred to as Fragrant Aloes, to distinguish it from regular Aloes. And so, what Jesus’ body was anointed with could conceivably have been Myrrh and Aloes Wood – which would have been nothing more than fragrant spices with which to embalm his body and prepare it for burial, with no particular medicinal or healing virtues.

Sources:

The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, Volume 2, pp. 26 – 31. Compiled and edited by Laleh Bakhtiar, @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar. Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications, Inc., Chicago, IL USA.

Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice by Sebastian Pole, pp. 124 – 125. @2006 by Elsevier Ltd.

A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, Volume 1, pp. 26 – 29. Published in 1971 by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY USA.

DISCLAIMER:  The information contained on this page is intended for educational purposes only, to inform the reader as to the traditional uses of the herb or medicinal substance, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or medical condition.  The author advises the reader to consult with his or her physician before use.