Thursday, December 4, 2014

Aloe - The Medicine Plant - Junior Master Gardener Activity

At the December 4-H meeting, Sophia and Olivia participated in a Junior Master Gardener activity that focused on aloe vera. This activity is from the first chapter in the curriculum that is focused on plant growth and development.

The group lesson looks at the aloe vera plant and its medicinal properties.

Aloe vera is a succulent plant that has been used for thousands of years to heal a variety of conditions, most notably burns, wounds, and skin irritations.

It is grown in subtropical and tropical locations, including Latin America, South Africa, and the Caribbean.

Aloe was one of the most frequently prescribed medicines throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries and it remains one of the most commonly used herbs in the United States today.

Extracts from aloe vera are widely used in the cosmetics and alternative medicine industries, being marketed as variously having healing, rejuvenating, or soothing properties.

In pots, aloe vera requires well-drained, sandy potting soil and bright, sunny conditions. However, aloe vera plants can burn under too much sun or shrivel when the pot does not drain the rain.

The use of a good-quality commercial propagation mix or packaged "cacti and succulent mix" is recommended, as they allow good drainage.

Terra cotta pots are preferable as they are porous.

Potted plants should be allowed to completely dry prior to re-watering.

When potted, aloe vera can become crowded with "pups" growing from the sides of the "mother plant." If this is the case, they should be divided and re-potted so the pups can further grow.  This also helps prevent pest infestations.

At the 4-H meeting, the youth had heard about using aloe vera for its soothing, moisturizing, and healing properties.  Many of the youth had aloe vera plants at home and used them for burns - especially ones from cooking or baking.

We had examples of products containing aloe vera, and most were for sunburns and moisturizers. There were also products for hand sanitizing that contained aloe vera.

When one of the leaves were cut from the plant, the youth squeezed a bit out and noticed that the gel was a pale yellow and sticky.

When the leaf is cut open and the gel removed from the inside, it is clear and sticky. This plant gel was mixed with a commercially-purchased aloe vera gel for moisturizing purposes. Mixed together, it would seem that it would be even more effective since there is a higher concentration of gel in the product.

Interestingly, aloe vera contains active compounds that may reduce pain and inflammation and stimulate skin growth and repair. For this reason, is has gained popularity for relief of burns. In one study, burn sites treated with aloe vera healed completely in less than 16 days compared to 19 days for sites treated with silver sulfadiazine.

In a review of scientific literature, researchers found that patients who were treated with aloe vera healed an average of almost nine days sooner than those who weren't treated with the medicinal plant.

Aloe vera is best used for minor burns and skin irritations and should never be applied to an open wound.

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