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Aloe Vera History — Part 1

Painting of Cleopatra

Aloe is an ancient remedy

Practitioners of the healing arts have turned to the inner gel of the Aloe vera plant as a first-choice natural medicine for  wounds and skin infections for a long, long time.

Aloe was one of the most popular medicines in the physician’s bag, during the 18th and 19th centuries. That seems long ago today, but Aloe has been prized for not just hundreds — but thousands of years.

  • Ancient stone carvings and Egyptian pottery designs depict the Aloe plant (perhaps into prehistory)
  • The Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian book of remedies, describes many uses for Aloe vera — including the treatment of burns, skin disorders, and intestinal problems (some say as early as 3000 BC)
  • The Sumerians referred to their use of Aloe (as recorded on clay tablets, circa 2100 BC)
  • Nefertiti (“The beauty has come”) included Aloe in her daily skincare regimen (circa 1350 BC)
  • Pliny the Elder complained that unscrupulous dealers were selling a type of false Aloe (circa 50 AD)

Aloe appears in mythology and legends

The ancient Egyptians knew Aloe vera as the “plant of immortality.” It was buried with the pharaohs, and legend has it that Aloe vera surrounded the pyramids and was planted alongside the road to the Valley of the Kings. Aloe flowers, when they came into bloom, testified that the pharaoh had “reached the other side.”

In addition to its popularity as a natural healing agent, Aloe vera (also called the “Lily of the desert,” “Elephant’s gall,” and the “Burn plant”), is renowned for its cosmetic abilities. It is even said that Cleopatra, a woman praised for both wisdom and beauty, relied on the Aloe vera plant to maintain the youthful appearance of her skin.

Aloe vera is referenced multiple times in the Bible for its beneficial properties. The Aloe barbadensis miller-stockton species of Aloe vera is known as the “Virgin Trinity” plant, because it is said to be a descendant of the Aloe variety Nicodemus used to anoint Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (John 19:39).

Aloe’s fame spread throughout the world

Documents dating back to 40 A.D. show the ancient Greeks and Romans also used the Aloe vera plant. Greek physicians, like Dioscorides and Hippocrates, touted the curative effect of Aloe vera for stomach ailments and open wounds. Dioscorides, a doctor who served in the Roman army, noted that Aloe vera juice treats issues of the gums and mouth and “loosens the belly, cleansing the stomach.”

The Phoenicians dried Aloe pulp and exported it throughout the Greco-Roman empire, exposing more people to its benefits. And Alexander the Great carried Aloe on his many expeditions, as a balm for the wounds suffered by his soldiers.

Other cultures, including China, the Philippines, and India, recorded the many uses of Aloe for healing. According to Chopra’s Indigenous Drugs of India, “The uses of Aloe … for external application to inflamed painful parts of the body, and for causing purgation [internal cleansing], are too well known in India to need any special mention.”

Aloe vera was brought to the new world by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries during the colonization of South America and the Caribbean (1600 A.D.). In 1720, Carl Von Linne, a Swedish physician known as the “Father of modern taxonomy,” gave the the plant its scientific title—Aloe (vera), with “vera” designating the “true” variety of the extensive Aloe family.

Aloe vera remains a mystery to the drug-sellers

Scientists still seek to understand the healing properties of the Aloe vera plant.

That the plant does exhibit certain medicinal qualities is well known. How it works, though, is a subject of much debate. Even though more than 200 bioactive substances have been found in Aloe vera gel, their identification and chemical description have yet to be ascertained.  The scientific community seeks to isolate and synthesize the beneficial substances in herbal remedies — and the pharmaceutical companies (who pay for much of the research) love to patent them.

At Stockton Aloe, we opt to provide 100% natural, nothing added inner leaf gel. Our belief is that the benefits of Aloe have greater overall potential in the whole, raw form than could be realized from any single part.

go to Aloe Modern History (Part II)

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