The gel found inside the leaves of an aloe vera plant soothes scrapes and burns and reduces inflammation.
If you’ve ever had a bad sunburn, chances are you applied a cooling gel that contained aloe in it.
But the plant’s benefits extend beyond topical uses. If you check out Desert Harvest, a company that sells high-quality aloe vera capsules, you’ll find an A-Z list of both topical and digestive benefits to using aloe vera: from acid indigestion to yeast infections.
You’ll also find a customer testimonial from Nikki, who writes that after three years of enduring Interstitial Cystitis, a chronic bladder problem, a nurse practitioner recommended Desert Harvest’s products.
“I was in such misery for a few months, and then when I started taking the aloe vera, it just resolved the issue,” she said.
Today, aloe vera can be found in a variety of household and hygiene products like Public Goods’ castile soap and shampoo bar. But did you know that you could harvest your own aloe vera from a household plant? Applying aloe vera to your hair or skin or adding aloe to your juices and smoothies are just some of the ways you can benefit from this superfood.
When Should You Harvest Your Aloe Vera Plant?
Aloe plants are tropical, stemless, slow-growing succulents that require little maintenance. The plant’s green, plump leaves, shaped like serrated blades, are packed with aloe vera gel, and grow in a beautiful rosette pattern of rotational symmetry.
These natural, aesthetic wonders are great to add in the decor of your home. According to NASA, aloe vera is ideal for air purification because it continuously releases oxygen at night time.
Mature aloe vera plants typically take three years to grow. At this point their full-grown leaves are about the length of a ruler and weigh about two pounds.
These succulents thrive in the sun, like their cacti kin, and can suffice on little rainfall. The plump leaves store the plant’s water supply, enabling them to survive arid and dry climates where vegetation and rainfall are sparse.
Though many recommend planting your aloe vera plant outdoors, you can very well keep it indoors. The reason is perhaps that indoor plants take longer to mature. Because immature aloe vera lacks the proper chemical potency, harvesting and consuming too soon could lead to digestive problems.
Another reason has to do with the way you pot your plant. Outdoor aloe vera plants in the ground benefit from the nutrients in the soil and the natural air pockets that develop. An indoor potted plant, conversely, can become oversaturated if you water it too frequently, causing it to rot.
As long as you put your aloe vera in a pot with a drainage hole, place it in a sunny spot and water it once every three weeks (fewer times in the winter), you’re good to go. I’ve had an aloe plant on my bedroom windowsill for the past three years, and it is thriving.
The Almanac, North America’s longest-running periodical dedicated to gardening, astrological events and weather patterns, recommended harvesting aloe leaves from mature plants. Older, riper leaves appear at the base of the plant. These leaves are plump with aloe vera gel, while the newer, thin leaves need time to ripen.
When you notice the bottom leaves taking on a rosy, mauve hue, it is time to harvest. But remember: Aloe vera plants take a significant amount of time to grow, so if you want your plant to last, you should refrain from frequent harvesting.
How to Cut an Aloe Vera Plant
Because aloe vera leaves are serrated, it is important to learn the proper steps in cutting this plant to avoid pricking yourself.
Harvesting the Leaves
Once you cut off the leaf from the plant, you’ll notice a yellowish sap called aloin start to ooze. Aloin, both pungent and bitter, is potentially toxic with side effects that include diarrhea and complications in pregnancies. However, some believe this natural laxative to remedy constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
The majority of experts recommend completely removing aloin from the leaves. After cutting, place the harvested aloe leaf on a bowl or raised surface and let the aloin drip out onto a plate underneath. After an hour of letting the aloin drip out, wash the leaf under cool, running water.
Cutting Open the Leaves
Lay the leaf flat on a cutting board in the same position it was on the plant. The top side of the leaf is flatter than the rounded bottom and easier to cut.
Cut off the sharp, serrated edges on either side. Toss in the trash or add to your compost.
Next, gently remove the leaf’s skin with a sharp knife, similarly to how you’d remove the skin from a filet of fish. Or imagine eating a stuffed artichoke: through clenched teeth, you strip the edible meat of the plant.
Beginning with the end closest to you, place the knife at a slight angle directly under the leaf’s top skin, as close to the skin as possible.
It is important to place the knife as close to the skin because what you want is to have all the gel on one side of the leaf as opposed to both. In the latter case you’ll have to spend more time extracting the gel.
Extracting the Gel
Gently slide the knife between the skin and the gel in a slow motion, away from you. Once the top of the leaf has been removed, place it aside.
If any gel remains on the leaf, use a spoon to scoop it out and place in a bowl. With a spoon, scoop out the gel from the bottom side of the leaf.
Trim away any yellowish, aloin layers until a clear, translucent pulp is completely revealed. Give it a quick rinse and you are ready to use your fresh aloe vera gel.
How to Store Aloe Vera
Whether using fresh aloe vera in a skin treatment or fruit smoothie, chances are you won’t be using the entire leaf that you pruned from the plant. To store the remaining leaf, make sure it stays as fresh and moist as possible — or it will shrivel and rot. The cool temperatures of the refrigerator are ideal and slow down the enzymatic breakdown of the aloe, providing you with a longer window to reap its benefits.
To preserve the plant this way, cover the cut end in tin foil and tightly wrap a rubberband around it. Next, place it in an air-tight bag like Stasher bags to ensure no oxygen enters. Exposure to oxygen creates a breeding ground for bacteria.
Store aloe leaves in the fridge for up to two weeks.
You could also freeze aloe for a longer shelf life. On the other hand, freezing aloe leaves doesn’t seem to render the best results. The aloe becomes watery.
For best results, use extracted aloe vera gel immediately. If you have leftover gel, however, you can store it in an airtight container for up to
How to Use Fresh Aloe Gel
With various applications, be it topical or digestive, incorporating fresh aloe vera gel into your beauty regimen and diet is a healthy alternative. Loaded in vitamins and essential amino acids, aloe vera, the “plant of immortality,” is one you’ll want in your home or garden. If it was good enough for Aristotle — the great ancient Greek philosopher — it’s good enough for me.
Like aloe vera, raw, unpasteurized honey has long been lauded for its benefits to health and beauty. Honey, a humectant, retains and preserves moisture, and soothes and softens skin, ultimately improving the appearance of wrinkles. Try this natural DIY face mask using raw honey and fresh aloe vera gel for a refreshing, inexpensive skin treatment.
What You’ll Need
- 1 tablespoon of raw honey. Be sure to use raw honey to ensure no artificial chemicals were added.
- 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel extracted from a section of a freshly cut leaf (about 2 inches)
- Spoon or mask applicator
- Small blender or food processor
1. Add aloe vera gel to a small food processor like Black & Decker’s Handy Chopper and pulse until the aloe is no longer a solid clump. Attempting this with just a spoon or fork is incredibly difficult because of the stickiness of the aloe. Also, it’s best to use a small appliance so it’s easier to remove the pulsed aloe.
2. Place pulsed aloe into a bowl, add the honey and mix with a spoon until both are evenly dispersed.
3. To avoid sticky hair, place hair in a bun or tie back in a ponytail.
4. Using a spoon or mask applicator, apply a thin layer to your face and let sit for 15 minutes. Do not attempt to do chores during this time. Having to clean up sticky honey off your kitchen floor is an unnecessary, daunting task.
5. Remove with warm water and enjoy your nourished skin.
Larry Plesent, of Vermont Soap, where we source our shampoo bar from, recommended I make my own natural hair gel using aloe vera as opposed to the bottle of convenient store hair mousse that contained strange ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. Packed with vitamins A, C, E, and B12, and copper and zinc, aloe vera makes for an ideal, natural hair product that promotes hair growth. Works best for oily, brittle and curly hair.
What You’ll Need
- 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel extracted from 1 freshly cut leaf
- teaspoon of coconut oil
- rosemary essential oil
- blender or food processor
- cheesecloth (optional)
- spray bottle (optional)
1. Extract the gel from a freshly cut aloe leaf from a mature plant into a bowl.
2. Add in a teaspoon of coconut oil, 2-3 drops of your favorite essential oil (rosemary works great for hair growth) and place in a blender or food processor. Blend until the pulp is pulverized into a liquid. At this point some prefer to use a cheesecloth to squeeze the liquid from the pulp that clumped up because the appearance of clumps in your hair is not a good look.
3. Next, apply directly to your hair for a natural, lightweight way to keep frizz and flyaways at bay.
You may come across DIY recipes that have you pouring the blended pulp in a spray bottle, but note that the sticky pulp will clog the spray nozzle.
This recipe can also be used as a hair mask. Repeat the steps, whip in egg whites and apply directly to your scalp for an hour. Rinse with shampoo after.
Even after the aloin drips out of the aloe leaves, the plant still has a bitter taste. Adding sweet fruits from your extracted aloe vera to a smoothie masks the bitterness and allows you to get all the benefits of the plant. Being that aloe vera is a tropical fruit, pairing it with pineapple, coconut, banana and orange will have you dreaming of white sand beaches and swaying palm trees.
What You’ll Need
- 1 banana
- ½ cup pineapple
- 1 orange
- 1 cup coconut water or coconut milk
*for a creamier smoothie, choose coconut milk
- 3-4 ice cubes
- ¼ cup of fresh aloe vera gel extracted from a mature plant
*Frozen fruit works well too, just skip the ice cubes
1. Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high until the ingredients are evenly dispersed. If the consistency is too thick, add more coconut water or coconut milk.
2. Pour into your favorite glass and garnish with a wedge of pineapple and orange on the rim of the glass and enjoy!
The beauty of a smoothie lies in its diversity. Have fun playing around with different fruit flavors. I have a strawberry banana aloe vera smoothie with almond milk on my mind for lunch now.
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