Aloe vera is way more than just a modern day sunburn remedy.
For thousands of years, aloe vera has been one of the most common medicinal plants to stand the test of time.
Historians have found evidence of aloe vera use dating back as far as 2200 BC in Mesopotamia, where clay tablets carved with Sumerian hieroglyphics mentioned using the plant medicinally. It’s also believed that aloe was a staple in ancient Egypt, Greece and China.
Today aloe vera remains popular, mostly for topical use. Who hasn’t used aloe vera gel after having a nasty sunburn?
While using aloe for burns is the most common use, there are plenty more uses for it topically — ranging from using the gel to soothe cold sores or for easing psoriasis.
However, some people don’t know that aloe vera is actually edible. So, can you eat aloe vera? Yes, but there are some safety stipulations you need to be aware of before you dig in.
Is Aloe Vera Safe to Eat?
First, let’s break down the parts of the aloe plant’s leaves so you can understand how to consume aloe vera in a safe way.
When people wonder, “Is aloe vera edible?,” they are most likely wondering about the gel. Eating aloe vera gel is safe, and it comes along with multiple health benefits, too. According to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Amanda Nicole, aloe vera gel is packed with antioxidants as well as vitamins A, B12, C and E. It also contains folic acid and choline.
There isn’t too much concrete research on eating the aloe vera plant’s skin, but it is considered relatively safe to consume.
What you should consider is where and how the plant was grown. It’s possible the skin of the leaf is contaminated with sprays and pesticides, according to Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN, doctor of public health and nutritionist. If you are going to eat the skin, she advises you to wash it well.
Wondering what eating aloe vera skin is like?
“[It’s] crunchy and mild – sort of like a firm cucumber skin and a bit less firm than crunchy celery,” Bazilian said.
The Latex Layer Between the Skin and the Gel
While we usually think of latex as a synthetic material used in consumer goods, latex can actually exist in nature, and is produced by many different types of plants — including the aloe vera plant. Both experts told Public Goods that the layer of aloe latex in aloe is not edible or safe to consume. The substance contains aloin, a chemical that can cause upset stomach and diarrhea. In large amounts, it can be very dangerous.
This latex layer must be removed if you are going to eat the aloe vera plant’s skin or gel. Nicole describes aloin as a bitter yellow sap.
Because you can eat the gel and skin of the plant, can you eat aloe vera gel that you buy at the pharmacy, for example?
Nicole said cosmetic aloe vera for topical use should never be consumed.
“Preservatives and other ingredients to lengthen shelf life, enhance smell, texture, and color are not safe for human consumption,” she said. People should only consume food grade aloe vera from a grocery store, or fresh from the leaf.
Bazilian recommends the brand Aloe Life for high quality food grade aloe for eating and drinking, and says it’s a favorite amongst her clients. You can also find pre-made aloe vera juice at grocery stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
How to Prepare and Eat Aloe Vera
Here are the steps to prepare your aloe so you can safely enjoy eating aloe vera.
1. Thoroughly rinse the leaves
2. Cut off the sharp tip and the spiky sides of each leaf
3. Cut the leaf into sections, if they’re long, to make them more manageable. You might see some yellow sap-like substance oozing out. This is the aloin we were talking about.
4. Soak the leaves in a bowl of water for 10-20 minutes. This bath can help soften the skin if you plan on eating it, and also helps remove the aloin.
5. Drain the water out of the bowl and then give the leaf a rinse.
6. Slide your knife down the flat side of the leaf to remove the gel, which will be clear.
7. Once you have the gel by itself out of the leaves, rinse it again to ensure the aloin is off.
Then, your gel is ready to be used in whatever way you choose to prepare it!
According to Nicole, eating the gel raw is the way to receive the most health benefits. One of her favorite ways to consume aloe is in a juice or smoothie.
Below is her recipe for a refreshing aloe smoothie. Just put the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- 1⁄4 cup aloe vera gel
- 1⁄2 cup frozen pineapple
- 1⁄2 cup frozen mango
- 1⁄2 cup spinach
- 1 cup coconut water
Bazilian said fresh aloe gel is mild, refreshing and cooling in flavor. You can get creative in adding it to recipes like salsas or dressings. Or simply juice it into small servings of “shots” like you would consume wheatgrass shots, for example.
As for eating aloe leaves, Bazilian recommended working with their crunchy nature to add texture to salads, or even adding some crunch to a yogurt or bean based dip.
Health Benefits of Eating Aloe Vera
There are many benefits of ingesting aloe vera. Here are a few of them, which have been backed by science.
Bazilian told Public Goods that some people who suffer from heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) find some relief from their symptoms by ingesting aloe vera juice in small amounts. A 2015 study showed that aloe reduced GERD symptom frequency without adverse effects.
Studies show that ingesting aloe vera can lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and increase HDL (“good” cholesterol). According to Nicole, this effect is because components of aloe vera gel can bind to cholesterol in the intestines. This fortification prevents the cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
Helps Control Blood Sugar
A 2016 meta analysis of studies regarding diabetes and aloe determined that aloe can help with blood sugar regulation, lowering fasting blood glucose levels.
Boosts Immune System
Research has found that aloe vera can improve the body’s immune system response, which can make you more able to fight off infections.
Risks of Eating Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is refreshing and great for your health, but there are potential risks. If you are pregnant you should not ingest aloe, as it might result in uterine contractions. Eating or drinking aloe is also advised against if you are breastfeeding.
Again, the aloin found in the latex layer of the plant is dangerous to eat, no matter the circumstances. The diarrhea that it can cause may result in dehydration and electrolyte loss.
If you don’t feel confident in your ability to remove the aloin yourself, you should opt for store-bought food grade aloe. Bazilian claimed this type of product can make you feel more comfortable and reduce your risks. Plus, you will know more about its origin, whether it’s organic, and so on.
As long as you’re preparing fresh aloe vera leaves the correct way or consuming food-grade high quality aloe vera that is meant for eating or drinking, you’ll be safe and ready to reap the benefits of the plant.
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