Aloe vera is a succulent evergreen with shallow roots. Its origin is uncertain but it was used in traditional medicines in Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and ancient Greece since Antiquity. Through retting, it provides the textile fibres used in Morocco, known as vegetable silk.
Aloe is a Latin blanket-term referring to a succulent plant containing a bitter sap. Vera means “true, authentic” in Latin. Description and flowering period: It is a fleshy, succulent plant (adapted to dry environments) producing offshoots and reaching up to 80 cm in height. It has a tendency to grow in patches or even to from entire colonies. Its roots and stems are both short. Its leaves are persistent, pointing upwards and smooth to the touch. Their shape ranges from linear to lanceolate and their colour ranges from pale green to blue-green, sometimes covered in white spots. Their extremity is pointed while the margins are serrated with tender spines. The leaves contain an abundant, whitish, translucent, gelatinous pulp, containing 98 to 99% water which is protected from herbivores by an external, bitter and fibrous layer. The numerous flowers are grouped in erect flower-spikes with elongated flower-stems appearing between the leaves. The individual flowers, yellow to red in colour, are tubular and pendulous (facing downwards).
It prefers poor, free-draining soils in full sun. It requires a warm and dry climate. It is intolerant to frost as well as excessive humidity.
- Medicinal: Its sap is used for its laxative properties (due to its aloin content) and digestive properties (dried latex).
- Cosmetics industry: Aloe-Gel is used to moisturise the skin, fight skin-ageing, treat burns and skin inflammations and accelerate the skin’s healing process.
- Food and drink: The edible pulp, rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements, is widely used in puddings and drinks, although an overconsumption can be toxic.
In Morocco, fibres are extracted to create a fabric referred to as “vegetable silk”.
Widely known in the Mediterranean basin since antiquity, Aloe vera has quickly spread in cultivation throughout the world up to the point that it became, as early as the tenth century, a staple element of both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. The World Health Organization, however, lists the plant has a carcinogenic when the pulp is consumed (due to the toxic effect of aloin).
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN