Aloe vera is a small succulent with spiky grey-green leaves. It originated in northern Africa and has naturalised through much of Africa and around the Mediterranean.
It’s very easy to grow as it readily produces “pups”, or small oﬀsets.
Just one plant can quickly lead to having many plants to share.
Individual plants grow to around 60cm tall and wide. The narrow, thick, serrated leaves are green to grey-green, often with white mottling. In summer, the plants have flower spikes of yellow bells. While it’s easy to grow, that’s not the reason aloe vera has been so successful at conquering the world.
It’s the cooling gel inside the thick leaves that makes aloe vera appealing and has led to its spread around the globe. It’s used to treat burns, including sunburn. The leaves of older plants contain more gel and are best selected when the sap is required.
Its ease of propagation and its perceived medicinal benefits have seen it cultivated for centuries. It can be bought at most garden centres but also makes a frequent appearance at fetes and markets. If a friend has a plant, ask for a piece to grow.
Aloe Vera Label
Common name: Aloe vera
Botanical name: Aloe vera (syn. A. barbadensis)
Family: Liliaceae (lily family)
Aspect and soil: Full sun to light shade; well-drained soil
Best climate: All
Habit: Small spiky succulent
Propagation: Oﬀsets (also called pups)
Aloe vera grows well in pots in a coarse potting mix (look for one blended for cactus and succulents) or a well-drained garden bed. In cold areas, move pots into a sheltered spot to protect the plants from frosts.
As the leaves are spiky, keep plants away from pathways. Remove any weeds as soon as they are seen, as weeding among spiky plants like aloes is always tricky and requires protective gloves.
Many medicinal claims are made for aloe vera, which has also found its way into commercial cosmetics, shampoos, sunburn salves and even tissues.
Despite the long association between aloe vera and herbal medicine, particularly as a treatment for burns, there is little scientific evidence that backs up traditional claims for easing the severity of burns, removing stretch marks in skin or fighting disease.
Nonetheless, the gel that flows straight from the leaf is cool and can lessen the pain of sunburn and minor burns.
To apply, just break oﬀ a leaf and snap it in half to release the cooling sap. It shouldn’t be relied on alone to treat burns, however. Where possible, apply cool water to reduce burning and always seek medical attention for bad burns.