Aloe Vera

By Erikka

As the first official Herb of the Month, I decided to choose an herb emblematic of my childhood: aloe vera

If you’ve met me, you might be thinking, “Oh, right: this is because Erikka burns at the mere thought of sunlight” and, to be perfectly honest, you’re partially right. (There was one particularly hot summer day where my dear Greek friend and business partner Chryssa and I went to the beach; when we meandered our way to the pharmacy to pick up a bottle of aloe, the gentleman who owned the place shook his head at me and said, “You’re gonna need more than that.” And guys: it was a big bottle! And guys: he was right….)

But like I said, it’s more than that. My love for aloe vera runs deeper than my 2nd degree burns; in fact, it goes all the way back to the Salton Sea in the California Desert and in there, it finds its way to my heart.

My great-grandmother Sarah used to babysit me for long stretches of time. She lived near the Salton Sea (for you East Coasters, I’ll put it this way: desert for days and days, as far as the eye can see) so for a little kid, it could be boreds-ville. There were no neighbors for miles, no shops of any kind - not even for food - and no friends my age. It was just me, my hamster Jo-Jo, and my Grandma Sarah, driving her old Cadillac like the freakin’ Mexican boss she was.

It was during one of my summer visits in the desert where I had no choice but to hone my (now stellar) observational skills (hey, they say it’s good for kids to be bored; I guess they’re on to something). I noticed she had a bandage on her left hand. This was strange, because I never thought of Grandma Sarah as the kind of woman to hurt herself. I asked her what happened and she nonchalantly replied, “I got bit by a snake.” Obviously, Grandma. Obviously.

I was a bit of an outdoorsy little lady, so this totally piqued my interest: “What kind of snake?” I asked, the enthusiasm evident from my sudden demeanor change.

“A rattlesnake.” Again: classic Grandma nonchalance.  

Did she go to the hospital?

Nope.

Did she seek medical attention?

Of course not.

Instead, she slathered the wound with fresh aloe vera gel, every few hours, for days. It took months for her hand to heal and it was not pretty while it was healing, but it healed. And she never had an issue with it after that.

Fast forward 20 years and there I was, sitting in an herbal class in Chinese medical school. I know I just boasted of my deftly honed observational skills, but this was an evening class and my attention span was waning. The conversation in class turned to aloe vera though, and my attention once again piqued: did someone say rattlesnake antidote??

Turns out, no, they didn’t. And no one - not me, not any other Chinese medical practitioner - is recommending aloe vera as a course of treatment for a snake bite or any other serious ailment!

I gotta say, though, Sarah knew her stuff and in a pinch, it worked for her. Here's what I DO recommend aloe vera for in your every day life:

  • Aloe is great for clearing heat: think sunburn heat (some people require more than others…)

  • It’s really good at clearing that crazy toxic-style heat, too (like, say, a rattlesnake bite)

  • When taken internally it can help soothe a tummy after a crazy night out on the town, an extra spicy dinner, or the side effects of some medications, such as chemotherapy.

  • It’s literally cooling to the skin

  • It speeds up the healing of superficial burns

  • It has an alkalizing effect on the body and works and an anti-inflammatory agent

  • Aloe is anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial

How to Use:

  • Use on MINOR burns and scrapes

  • Aloe works great as a moisturizer and bug repellant

  • Drink aloe juice to help with hangover

  • Drink aloe juice to move bowels and clear constipation

  • Use fresh aloe as a face mask for hydration

  • Ingesting aloe helps with detoxification of the organs

  • May aid in weight loss because it helps digestion

As wonderful as aloe is, and as fierce and fearless as my Grandma Sarah was, please do not use aloe for snake bites… we in the Chinese medical community reserve such moments for emergency medicine!

(This is medicine and should be treated as such. As always, use your judgement. More is not always better, especially when it comes to herbs. Always take herbs under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.)