Despite its cactus-like
appearance, the Aloe Vera is in fact a member
of the lily family - lilacae - which includes garlic.
There are over 400 species of Aloe Vera but the species which
has the almost magical healing qualities is ALOE
VERA BARBADENSIS which is the type most prevalent
It is not known for sure how the plant arrived in the Canary
Islands, although it is widely believed it came from Africa
originally, but what has been known for centuries by the island's
people is the healing properties
of the juice of the Aloe Vera plant. The island's people refer
to the Aloe Vera gel as Savia.
Even Christopher Columbus was
aware of the myriad uses of the Aloe Vera gel, and whilst in
the Canary Islands he stocked up his vessels with the Aloe Vera
plant. It is generally accepted that the
American plantations are descended from the Canary Islands.
A hardy plant, Aloe Vera needs little water and plenty of light,
which makes Fuerteventura an ideal place to grow Aloe Vera
Barbadensis, and over recent years the plant is becoming
as important a crop to the island's economy as the tomato
- especially now that natural medicine is becoming more popular
and often more effective. Indeed, recently the Canary Island's
Government have announced financial aid
of up to 50% to encourage the cultivation of the plant on Fuerteventura.
Currently the main Aloe Vera plantations are in Tiscamanita
and Valles de Ortega - between
Antigua and Pájara.
ALOE VERA BARBADENSIS looks like a small agave plant,
and when adult grows to about 60-70 cm. Small plants often have
white marks on the leaf which disappear as the plant grows.
When the plant is about 2 or 3 years old a leaf grows in springtime
which then stems off into one or two smaller branches which
produce yellow flowers.
It is from the inside of the leaf that the most important part
of the Aloe Vera plant is extracted - the gel. The skin, or
outer leaf is of no use and should be removed. It is also important
to drain off the juice "aloin" which lies between
the skin and the gel. This is a yellow/red sap which keeps the
gel of the plant cool, therefore protecting the valuable minerals
and vitamins within. Even on the hottest of days if you cut
open the leaf of an Aloe Vera plant the
gel will be quite cold. Aloin, however, will stain skin
and clothing, it is bitter and should not be taken internally
- it used to be marketed as a laxative
(You have been warned !)
Research into the Aloe Vera gel continues and some element
of mystery remains, although most research agrees that Aloe
Vera is particularly effective in the treatment
of burns, cuts, grazes, bruises, allergic reactions and dermatological
conditions. This is due in part to the fact that the
Aloe Vera gel acts as a natural anti-histamine
and contains an aspirin like compound called Salicylic
Aloe Vera also speeds up the healing process (some studies show
healing is increased to eight times the
normal rate), which is attributed to the fact that Aloe Vera
gel provides 20 of the 22 amino acids
required by humans, including 7 of the 8 essential ones which
are not produced by the body itself.
Aloe Vera gel contains Vitamins A,C,E
(antioxidants), B12, Choline and Folic Acid, all in a
completely natural form, plus 9 minerals
including Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, Sodium and Potassium.
The cosmetic industry is well aware of the healing properties
of the Aloe Vera gel, and with its antioxidants and increased
cell-regenerating properties it is reputed to be an effective
anti-ageing aid and is often an
important ingredient in cosmetic products.