The plant of this month at the CFI Greenhouse is aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis miller). Head over to the Greenhouse to see the aloe vera plants growing there and explore the sprawling greenery on display.
From your garden to moisturizing products lining the shelves of shops across the world, aloe vera has incredibly extensive uses across geographical locations and human cultures. Despite the over 500 species of plants in the aloe genus with similar purposes, aloe vera has taken root as a staple in traditional medicine, permeating the globe due to a collection of fortunate historical circumstances.
To investigate the origin of aloe for human use, in 2015, researchers sought to determine if there was a connection between the evolutionary background of aloe vera and its longstanding relationship with humanity. What they found was that, rather than aloe vera having inherent properties that made it more useful than other species of aloe, it was populous near early trade routes between Asia and the Mediterranean. The ways in which aloe vera had adapted to thrive in its natural environment serendipitously lent themselves to remedies for a variety of ailments.
Hailed as a panacea by the Greeks and deemed the ‘plant of immortality’ by Egyptians, aloe vera has been intertwined with human life for centuries. What makes this connection so intriguing is that, in the modern day, aloe vera has managed to bridge a gap between research-based practices and traditional medicine. At first, many of the uses of aloe were implemented due to anecdotal evidence. Tradition and experience led to its integration into numerous facets of culture. These beliefs stood the test of time upon closer scientific examination that identified the chemical constituents that led to aloe vera’s nickname of the ‘miracle plant.’
Today, aloe vera is most commonly used as a topical agent for sunburns, acne, and general skin moisturizing. The plant contains six antiseptics, with additional medical applications due to the potential antiviral, antitumor, and immune boosting properties of this fresh green succulent. Due to the hot, arid climate of the Arabian peninsula, where aloe vera likely originated, the plant developed a rich succulent leaf mesophyll tissue, an adaptation that benefited the plant during drought. Infused with numerous bioactive properties, the gel of this tissue has become a mainstay for its medicinal capabilities that extend beyond skincare.
Aloe vera is just one example of how science and tradition are often inextricably connected, and of how indigenous experience may inspire a pursuit of empirical knowledge. While this context may not seem pertinent to our daily lives, it’s something worth considering the next time you slather some aloe gel on over a sunburn.
Asha is Editor-in-Chief.
Edited by Aryaman.