When travelling in the southern Caribbean islands, Aruba and Curacao, one can easily lose themselves in the tradewinds that take you to the beautiful blue beaches. However, there is another venue well worth exploring beyond the touristy areas: the aloe vera plantations. As an East Asian Medicine Practitioner, I am aware of aloe vera’s healing properties as defined in the Chinese Materia Medica of Herbal Medicine. When I visited the Curaloe store in Curacao, I felt caught up in their store’s healing message and impelled to visit their plantation, just 30 minutes outside of Curacao. In my travels, I love discovering sustainable companies that promote health for people and our planet.
Curaloe seems to uphold these principles as a 12-acre organic plantation with manual harvesting and weeding, along with Dutch engineering that includes solar power and the stabilization process to ensure a high quality end product. Aloe leaves are processed within 2 hours of harvesting to preserve the bioactive components. Curaloe cultivates over 100,000 specimens of the aloe vera plant and creates high-quality product that contain a high concentration of aloe vera as the first ingredient listed on labels. It has a sister company in South Africa, of which I will have to visit eventually to conclude this blog.
My travels to the plantation piqued my interests to delve into the history and healing benefits of aloe vera. Native to Africa, the earliest known record of aloe vera is in Egypt on their temple walls, hailing it the “Plant of Immortality.” It was spread to Greece by Alexander the Great and on to China, probably through the Silk Road, where it became a part of the renowned Chinese Materia Medica, calling it “The Method of Harmony.” Native Americans called it the “Wand of Heaven.” The Dutch were responsible for bringing this plant to Curacao around 1600, proliferating this medicine throughout the Caribbean.
What makes this herb so unique for its healing properties? The answer lies in its high number of nutrients with 75 bio-active components including the following: vitamins A, C, E, B-1,2,3,6,12, folic acid and choline; minerals include calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, sodium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese; amino acids are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, valine, and tryptophan; enzymes include amylase, bradykinase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, carboxypeptidase, oxidase, creatine phosphokinase, and proteolytiase.
Aloe vera gel is the leaf pulp–the thin, clear, jelly-like substance that makes up the inner portion of the leaves. Aloe juice is a bitter yellow liquid extracted from just inside the leaves. Both the gel and juice are used externally for skin discomforts and internally as a laxative.
According to the Chinese Materia Medica, aloe is bitter in flavor and cold in properties and goes to meridians of liver and large intestine. Its main indications are purgation, removing heat from the liver, and killing parasites. Aloe vera gel uses include constipation caused by heat accumulation, headache due to liver-fire, bloodshot eyes, parasites causing abdominal pain, scabies and hemorrhoids.
The following 3 classic Chinese herbal formulas include aloe vera:
1. Fei Er Wan- It is formulated with Ren Shen (Ginseng), Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes), etc. for the treatment of abdominal pain due to parasites, sallow complexion, and debility.
2. Geng Yi Wan- It is coupled with Zhu Sha (Cinnabar) to treat heat causing constipation accompanied with hyperactivity of fire in heart and liver, irritability, and insomnia.
3. Dang Gui Lu Hui Wan- It is combined with Long Dan Cao (Gentian Root), Zhi Zi (Cape Jasmine Fruit), Qing Dai (Indigo), etc. to cure constipation, dark urine, dizziness, headache, restlessness, irritability, convulsions, epilepsy due to hyperactivity of fire in liver.
In modern times, the healing spectrum from which aloe vera can be effective has dramatically expanded. A component of the aloe vera, aloe-emodin, has shown to inhibit the skin cancer cell proliferation process. Aloe has also shown to regulate blood sugar of diabetics. It also can reduce inflammation in arthritic individuals due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Interestingly, glucosamine is a component of aloe and cartilage, known for its treatment of arthritis. Aloe has also shown to be beneficial for asthma, with its anti-inflammatory properties and as a natural steroid containing bradykinase. Aloe’s benefits for digestion and constipation, along with its properties to detoxify the liver, make it helpful to lose weight and detox the body. With its ancient mystique as a skin panacea, its anti-inflammatory powers can treat first-and second-degree burns, sunburns, wounds, acne, eczema, psoriasis, poison ivy or oak, and itching. Modern research is finding also that aloe is effective for dental issues due to its antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. It is effective as a mouthwash to treat periodontal disease and gingivitis. It is also shown to help mouth sores, ulcers and herpes to accelerate healing and recovery.
The benefits of Aloe for the skin and beauty go back to the ancient times of Cleopatra in Egypt. This anti-aging powerhouse contains the antioxidants, vitamins C & E. Other antioxidants are the vitamins, phenolic compounds and peroxidases, plus, aloe activates the enzymes that naturally resolve free radicals, such as, glutathione and superoxide dismutase. It’s component of vitamin e helps to protect skin from uv radiation with moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. The vitamin c stimulates the collagen production and decreases premature aging of skin.
What to look for in choosing a high quality aloe product is vital to ensure you are investing in a pure product. Firstly, make sure the aloe is one of the first ingredients listed on the label and it’s organically sealed. In addition, look for a manufacturing process that uses stabilization, not boiling or pasteurization.
Here is an Aloe Vera Health drink recipe that I received from the Curaloe site. 1.Remove the gel from the rind (if no leaves, substitute with an organic aloe vera juice
2. Place the slice of clear aloe vera gel into a blender immediately
3. Add 1 cup of any citrus-based juice
5. Blend until you get a smooth appearance
I will conclude with a poem that I wrote about the plant wisdom of the quintessential Aloe Vera….
Deep in the green
Infinity of life, I feel
a cool inspiration, cleanse
my soul with longevity,
absorbing moisture from
the air like an emerald cloud,
glistening translucent gel
for the essence of health.
The Plant of Immortality
from the Egyptian Temples,
finds golden mean, as leaves
sprouting like the sun’s rays.
The wellspring of Earth, grown in
crystal sands above
a desert bloom with
yellow-green sap in veins
reflecting a water mirage
on the winds of a dark