Aloe vera belongs to Liliaceae, the family of perennial tropical plants.
These plants have originated from Africa, but are now found across the world. There are more than 400 species of aloes known to us.
Although there are so many species, Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f. dominates.
It is most studied and commercially most used species of Aloes.
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History of Aloe vera
Aloe is not new to mankind. It has been an integral part of folk medicine and ancient medical systems such as Ayurveda since thousands of years.
In countries such as India, China, Egypt, Arabia, Rome, etc. aloe vera is used both as a medicine and cosmetic.
Our ancestors were well aware of its health benefits which included healing of wounds and burns, benefits in other diseases such as hemorrhoids, constipation, skin problems, hair problems, stomach diseases, etc.
As with most herbal medicines, the use of aloe vera decreased with the discovery of modern medicines.
As people started looking for scientific proof and research for herbal medicines (which were not there) the use of aloe vera declined.
But in the last few decades, there is again rise in interest levels in ale vera.
The reason is twofold – 1) scientific studies conducted on aloe vera have shown positive results 2) people have started looking for natural/herbal solutions to stay healthy.
Geographical Distribution of Aloe vera
Aloes are xerophytes, i.e. they have adapted themselves to survive in arid and harsh environments such as a desert (high temperatures and low water supplies).
It is because of this quality, they can be found easily in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and several Indian Ocean islands.
Basically, Aloes are found throughout Africa except in moist regions. Most countries have several species of Aloe's present.
For example, South Africa is known to have close to 120 species of Aloes growing in their country. Madagascar is known to have more than 70.
Today, Aloes are not concentrated on African regions and are cultivated across the world for medicinal and commercial purposes.
Physical Properties of Aloe vera
Aloe is leaf-succulent xerophytes. This means that they use their leaves to store water. It is similar to a cactus which stores water in its stem. The leaves of most aloes are thick and fleshy.
Based on species to species aloes can be acaulescent (having no or very little stem) or caulescent (well-developed stem). The typical height of an aloe plant is 25 inches to 40 inches.
The leaves are generally of pea green colour but can vary from species to species. But there are species such as A. eminens Reynolds which can grow as tall as 15 meters! Thus physical characteristics and physical appearance of aloes vary from one species to another.
Most aloe species have yellow or red flowers. They are unscented, tubular and diurnal (open only during the day).
Chemical Properties of Aloe vera
More than 95% of the aloe vera plant is water. Leaves are the most important part of aloe vera. Aloe vera plant is full of more than 70 health promoting medicinal ingredients.
This includes minerals, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, polysaccharides, etc.
Aloe vera is an amazing plant. Since long it has been providing health benefits to mankind.
Today, even modern science and cosmetics companies are understanding and accepting its benefits.