One of the plants you may want to keep around your home this coming winter could turn out to be more beneficial than beautiful.

The true aloe (aloe vera) has been around at least as long as the days of the Roman Empire, and in those ancient days, it was cultivated for its healing properties. In fact, today many people keep an aloe in the house for all kinds of minor irritations. Some use it for just about everything.

Our family’s first exposure to the aloe was several years ago during a trip to visit friends in New Mexico. There on the kitchen counter stood a somewhat disreputable looking cactus with the tips of its thick leaves broken off.

It turns out the aloe is not a cactus, but does thrive in the Southwestern U.S. Our friends learned about it through a simple mimeographed sheet that was being passed around the neighborhood, outlining the curative properties of the aloe according to a Mrs. Brandstrom of Anthony, New Mexico.

We brought home a plant or two, but soon found many people in the Mille Lacs area well-aware of its virtues. So popular has the aloe become, you can even buy liquid concentration of its gel-like pulp in both Isle and Onamia, most recently from the Sunshine Flower Shoppes.

The aloe vera, the most often used of at least four household varieties, is usually kept in the kitchen, where clumsy cooks and skun-up kids can break off a small leaf portion and rub its soothing gel on minor burns, cuts and scratches. In a matter of minutes, the sore is healing and not hurting.

Obviously, before synthetic and compounded medicines, people had to cure themselves with something, and most often it what they had close on hand. If they had aloe close at hand, they had a great deal. In fact, it is said that Aristotle, who was the principle teacher or Alexander the Great, among other things, urged the young conqueror to take over the island of Socotra, simply because it was well-known for its aloe agriculture.

The medicinal properties of the plant were known in England on 1693 and first exported to America in 1780.

The newest edition of the “Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism” says the aloe is one of the most important crude drugs of history and is still extensively used in medicine,

What makes aloe almost a cure-all for less serious ailments is too extensive a topic to explore here; however, an analysis of aloe vera shows it is a comparison of barbaloins and isobarbaloins, which form crystalline aloins, amorphous aloins, aloin-emodin, resin and volatile oil. The recommended uses are in the crystalline form as a purgative and the gel to heal burns. But aloe users have compiled an almost endless lists of uses, which at the very least apparently appear to do no harm.

Burns and scalds lead the list, the aloe lovers also list: insect bites, poison ivy, acne, purification of drinking water, general tonic, cathartic, ulcers and stubborn sores, rheumatism, dermatitis, baldness, ringworm, boils, certain cosmetic compounds, allergies, kidney problems, psoriasis and eczema, stomach ulcers, colitis, hemorrhoids and even some stages of cancer.

Obviously, with some of these, the temporary relief brought about by the soothing aloe plant may mask more deep-seated problems, and you might end up worse off than better. As with all home care remedies, one needs a commitment to that sort of thing, not just an aversion to doctor bills and medical insurance. For example, even though I knew a man who cured his stomach ulcers with aloe and lived to be seventy-some years old, there is no guarantee that if he’d used more conventional methods, he would have lived to his eighties.

The true aloe have pale green, spiky leaves, toothed along the edge. They grow in rosettes and easily transplanted. There is never any need to be out of aloe. They can even live for a time on their own gel, much the same as a human can keep from starving because their body will use up excess fat while waiting for food.

Aloes do best where they can get four or more hours of sunlight a day. The more direct the sunlight, the better. Night temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees and daytime temps of 68 to 70 are best for the aloe vera. You should allow the soil to become moderately dry between waterings, and do not fertilize the newly potted plants for the first year. When the aloe is an established houseplant in your home, then feed it once each fall with a standard houseplant fertilizer diluted to half the recommended minimum strength.

Re-potting can take place anytime the aloe pot becomes crowded with little aloes. You should use any general purpose potting soil in equal parts to sharp sand. For each gallon of soil mixture, add a tablespoon of limestone and another of bone meal.

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