Why You Should Grow an Aloe Vera
If you ask a sampling of my friends what is my favorite plant you will get various answers ranging from the classic thyme and basil, to tomatoes and chrysanthemums. However, if you asked what plant I recommend the most you will hear a resounded hum of vera. This plant is cultivated in nearly every room and extra space in my house. It grows inside, outside, in pots, under most of my trees, in my office, on the balcony, you get the idea. It was the only plant I took with me to college and the only one to travel with me from Iowa to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and then onward with me to my years in the nation’s capital. Furthermore, It was the only plant I rehoused with a loving mother when I moved abroad. Aleo and I run deep. This blog will have more Vera love post, today is only the introduction.
They tell us our roots are strong. It may seem strange to say I grew up in Illinois and that aloe vera is the plant I remember most from my days in the rolling cornfields and cold, windswept prairie. Of course, there was also corn, rhubarb, zucchini, lilac and tulips among countless other ferns and flowers. However, Vera was the first plant that was given to me, who sat in my window and who I was responsible to water. Aloe vera is a root that has followed me since childhood, for some reason or another we are connected.
It was my mother who gave me my first vera, a mid sized root shoot from one of her then few plants. That same root grew and grew until she mothered many of her own and made the trip to Iowa for a college education. It wasn’t the original vera who left with me 4 years later, she was far too big at that time but a pot of 5 or so shoots tucked into the trip across the country, over the mountains and into the heart of the Blue Ridge. There vera was my constant companion as I spent hours at a makeshift floor desk working on poems and plays. Slowly those little veras grew up and only the largest and strongest made its way with me on the next jump of my adulthood. We settled into a row house in DC and for 2 years my little vera grew and gave me rhythm and life. I tell you this story so you can see how easy it is to keep aloe vera in your life, she is light and portable. A small plant can always connect your memories back to the original, our roots are strong.
Today, I recommend you get yourself a vera or two. It’s an easy and helpful houseplant. She’s low maintenance and will require little more than 5 minutes weekly of your time. Every one of my busy city friends who have told me they don’t have time (or energy) for plants, certainly, has time enough for an aloe vera.
Incidentally, I introduce you to vera in my second post for another reason, she is so much like it me it is frightening. Since I am new to posting here you probably don’t know me very well, but growing a vera will help you know me more. We both travel easily and adapt quickly to our new surroundings and are very low maintenance. A vera is happy in sun just as much as shade. She may brown a little when getting use to her new home, but she always comes back healthy and happy after she adjusts. Furthermore, vera is a healer. Her presence calms us and her inner gel cools burns and heals cuts. My first profession was in medicine and even though I am not working in that field now, I still consider myself a healer and continue to study nutrition and health. Yet, the most important characteristic is that she likes hot weather just as much as I do.
The Yucatan is where I now find my roots growing and it is the first place I have been able to put veras in the ground. She no longer moves inside and out as the seasons change. I no longer have to calculate the nighttime temperatures of my balcony to prevent her cold shock. She is as happy in the Yucatan as I am, growing more and more family members by the day.
How to grow:
Aleo vera is a noble plant, she requires little from you yet will give you more and more daily. She is low maintenance and will thrive in your Northern windows just as well as your Eastern ones. She likes a pot that is at least as deep as she is tall, but if you plant here in a bigger one she won’t mind and will slowly fill it. The tropical plant is fast growing and self propagates through root shoots that are easy to pull away from the base plant and re-pot. A healthy plant can give more than 20 root shoots a year. Sitting her in any window will promote relaxation and good sleep in that room because she pumps out more oxygen than any other house plant. I suggest you start by filling your sunniest windowsill with two or three (she will quickly grow enough for all the rest). As long as you have some sunlight you can even grow veras in your bathroom.
The only thing aloe does not survive is over watering. Typically you only have to water a vera once during the week, they like to dry out completely between watering. I suggest you push your index finger into the soil an inch deep. If the soil is wet and sticks to you the vera is fine and doesn’t need water. If the soil is dry 1 inch deep then it is time to add some water.
I fertilize my houseplants mostly with period blood, but you can also use compost tea or black dirt tea every few months. I fertilize my veras about 3-4 times in the year.
Aleo Vera has stayed with me through all of my moves not only because she grows so easily, but because she is a food and medicine. Most everyone knows that kitchen burns and cuts begone with a bit of her gooey center. However Aleo isn’t only good for the skin and hair it can be eaten to heal the stomach as well.
In 2013 I was in the middle of what would be 2 years of working at Georgetown Hospital. I was surrounded by amazing minds but the stress of patient care and the loss of some was causing an ever pressing wear on my stomach. Eventually they would give me the diagnosis of IBS and send me home with a bag of prescription medication. Ever critical and assured that I had spun out and hit rock bottom in my health, I began to research about IBS for the first time. Turns out my irritability wasn’t alone in the world and in fact a strong majority was forming for people with various pains, symptoms and intolerantes. I was already eating a lot better than most of the sufferers who repented about cheeses and meats, but I headed the advice to cut back my caffeine intake. I was a 2 cup of coffee and 2 cups of tea drinker at that time. Now I am proudly a 2 cups daily of either, usually one coffee and one tea. Sometimes, even more frequently these days, a 1 cup daily person. Caffeine is our friend, but it is also our worst enemy, we should all use it with a bit more caution and clarity. Finally, other than diet choices I decided to self medicate and starting to eat fresh aloe vera gel regularly. These steps helped soothe my tummy troubles, but I am ever cautious and always looking for warning signs of a flair up. Prevention is always the best medicine.
I’ll admit the pills are a good stop over action, if you are doubled in pain and can’t tolerate even the simplest of foods (like rice, bananas and toast) you need to take some prescribed medication so that you can eat some regular food. Aleo vera is my long term treatment plan, but if you are in crisis, triage. Please. We can only heal if we are eating well, and the irritating side effect of an irritated stomach is that you just can’t eat right. So once you medicate, are past the crisis you can pick up with what I am about to recommend. All natural treatments are much slower than anything packaged or purchased, you need to be patient with yourself and with the medicine. This patience is a recurrent theme with me and part of my own daily meditation practice but in 2013 it was the first time I took seriously the idea of slow food and slow living.
How to prepare aloe vera for use.
1. Choose a large arm of a mature plant and cut it off at the base. Wash if dirty.
2. Stand the stem upright in a jar with the cut side down.
3. Wait 1 hour up to overnight while all the sap drains off.
The sap isn’t bad for you, but it is a laxative and mildly irritated.
I find it’s best to work with vera that has been desapped.
However if you need a laxative for any reason, use at your own risk and caution.
4. There is a flat side and a round side to every aleo branch. Cut along the outside of the flat side of each stem. Cut off the skin only using a flat blade.
5. The vera is now ready for use.
Use 1: Stomach
For the stomach I usually eat the gel fresh and without anything else. I fill a regular kitchen spoon with the gel and swallow it whole once a day
If you would prefer you can blend the spoonful in a blender with water. You will barely be able to taste anything either way you choose to eat it.
Use 2: first aid
Prepare the gel as above and puree in a blender. Freeze some of the gel like ice cubes. Anytime you have a kitchen burn or sunburn use this ice cube vera to rub on the area.
For cuts or scrapes, after you have washed and dried the area cover it in room temperature, fresh, gel puree.
Use 3: beauty products
Other uses for vera include your skin and hair. I will end today’s post with me two favorite recipes.
Aleo Cream (aka Mike’s beard cream)
Blend 1 cup of aloe vera gel with ½ cup of coconut oil, and a few drops of lavender extract.
This cream can be rubbed into elbows, knees, hands, beards, faces and any other area that has dry and flaky skin. I avoid using it around me eyes, but do use a puree of only aloe vera in this area.
Dry scalp shampoo:
1/2 cup aloe vera gel
1 cup distilled water
1 tablespoon Dr. Bronners liquid soap of choice.
Blend the vera gel in the water, after finished pour into prepared bottle. Add the liquid soap. Close and gently turn the bottle a few times to combine all ingredients. No need to shake. Use once or twice a week as you would normal shampoo.
Note: If my scalp has a lot of build up, I sometimes ad 1 teaspoon of baking soda to help break through the build up.
I hope everyone in the city finds the 5 minutes weekly and medium sized pot to grow an aloe vera. They won’t be disappointed by the extra oxygen they give off as well as the many household uses.
If you have any other questions about aloe vera, ask them in the comments.