Aloe Vera is a medicinal plant that has its origin in northern Africa. This plant has been used for centuries in different parts of the world for its health, beauty, medicinal, and skin care properties. The name Aloe Vera comes from two words: one Arabic ‘Alloeh’, which means ‘a shining bitter substance’, while the word ‘Vera’ is a Latin word, which means 'true'. Other people, e.g. the Egyptians, call aloe the plant of immortality. Aloe vera is a very short or stemless plant that is succulent, which grows to a height of 80-100 cm in height (Marschner, 2011). This plant originated in favorable warm climate of Africa according botanists' suggestion. Due to its medicinal benefits this plant has greatly contributed to its spread from country to country and region to region. This plant has been grown in many civilizations, which include civilizations of Persia and also the civilization of Egypt. In countries such as Greece, Italy, India, and parts of Africa aloe vera plant has also gained recognition. It was also found in other countries like Japan and Philippines. Spanish people used aloe vera plant. During their colonization era they also managed to carry this plant to their colonies mostly in South America and Caribbean states. It has now spread almost to all warm and dry regions across the globe, including the United States, where it is grown for commercial purposes in the areas such as Rio Grande valley in Texas, in California, and Florida. In these states it is grown in natural conditions, but others are grown in greenhouses in Oklahoma (Balick & Mendelsohn, 1992).
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Aloe vera is typically a tropical plant that does not need much rainfall or ground water. It can also survive in the freezing air temperature, but this is only if the ground is not frozen. This is an explanation why this plant originates from northern Africa with its prevailing arid and semi-arid temperatures that are preferable for this plant. This plant can grow at a severe temperature of 104 Fahrenheit. And can also withstand temperatures even higher and severe droughts. Aloe vera is widely used in the United States for treatment of severe burns and bruises. It does not, however, have an official standing and recognition in medical community. In the United States this plant is also used in cosmetics and is also consumed as a healthy drink. This plant had its earliest proponents in the field of medicine. As it is widely recorded, the plant originates from the earliest civilization in Greece, the earliest medical proponent of aloe vera medicinal plant was a Greek physician Dioscorides. Aloe vera has also drawn attention of the most sophisticated minds on each continent in each age and culture.
The earliest detailed discussion about medicinal value of aloe is found in the papyrus ebers. The papyrus ebers is a document written about BCE 1550 in Egypt. Twelve formulas of mixing aloe with other supportive medicinal agents are given in this document. These formulas help in the treatment of both inner and outer human ailments. The work of Hippocrates (460 BC – 375 BC), the pioneer of contemporary medicine in the western world, did not mention aloe but Copra’s Indigenous Drugs of India had come into use and mentioned aloe’s therapeutic value in treatment of various diseases. That happened nearly the same time. Copra wrote about the use of aloe in treatment of common exterior application to swollen excruciating parts of the body andforinternal cleaning of the body.
This plant also gained early recognition in Greece, especially in pharmacology of Greece aloe plant was originally mentioned by Celsius. Celsius’s comments were only restricted to aloe’s qualities as a medicine, which clears the waste matter from the body (purgative). In early times, Greek herbal master Dioscorides, who was also a Roman pharmacologist, gave the first detailed description and he basically attributed healing properties of aloe vera to its juice, which was said to have the power of binding and probably the power to induce sleep. He further noted that the juice of aloe vera also loosens the belly by cleaning the stomach. The bitter sap also treated boils, aided in healing bruises, and was good for treating tonsils, gums, and all other mouth irritations. Aloe vera is also a medicine for eyes. The entire leaf when minced could stop severe bleeding wounds.
Cultural Importance of Aloe Vera
The use of aloe vera plant’s sap to treat many diseases and disorders has been widespread in many cultures across the globe for many years. Medicinal properties of aloe vera include antiseptics property, which enables a wound to heal faster by cleansing off the pathogens around. It also has the pain-killing property, which enables an individual to get relieve of the pain in a damaged tissue and other body parts that are aching. Aloe has anti-inflammatory acids, which help heal burned places. It also has immune stimulators property, which helps boost the immune system of an individual. All these properties are still used today to treat various internal and external ailments. Aloe is originally a native to Africa but due to its high adaptability in dry and warm climates, it has managed to be transported and planted to thrive throughout the globe (Simpson & Oqorzaly, 2001).
In ancient Egypt, Egyptians used aloe vera concoctions and other medicinal agents mixed with these concoctions to heal both interior and external human disorders. Treated disorders are not clearly known but other cultures that took over from Egyptians continued with the boiling method to treat ailments found on the skin (skin diseases/infections) and it was also used to treat stomachache and stomach ulcers. In India there are recorded documents of the use of aloe as early as 2200 BC. Indians learned this healing power of Aloe from Egyptians. Indians started using aloe for treatment of internal and external diseases, stomach cleansing, and bodily inflammations. In India this plant was planted and even exported. Dr. O.P Agarwal recorded the healing effect aloe had on patients of diabetes, stress, and anxiety disorders and, more so, heart diseases.
Western society also discovered the healing power of aloe. This was done by the earliest physicians such as Dioscorides, a Greek physician who discovered aloe’s healing power/effects on stomach/belly aches, boils, bruises, tonsils, extreme mouth irritations and smell, hemorrhoids, checks hair loss, treating sore eyes, bleeding gum in the mouth, and other wounds. Today, aloe vera is used in western world in different skin ointments that treat skin ailments, bruises, burns, and other skin irritations. In Russian culture, aloe was boiled to treat lung diseases and skin disorders that resulted from parasite infections. In Russia, aloe vera was later used by being consumed or applied to skin to prevent radiation burns and at the same time treat existing burns (Daily, 1997). Researchers in Russia also conducted their study on aloe vera and discovered that aloe vera could cut in half the healing time/duration of fire burns and frostbite due to extreme low temperatures. In the United States, aloe vera is widely used in cosmetics to fight skin irritation, sunburns, and other ointments that can be treated with medicinal properties of aloe vera.
Botanical name of aloe vera plant is aloe barbadensis. It belongs to a family known as Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae). Aloe Vera has roots, which tend to grow wide, but does not grow and penetrate deep into the soil. The plant (aloe) has serrated leave edges, which are fleshy and triangular in shape. These leaves are fleshy to keep the water, which is scarce in the arid and semi-arid areas where the plant mostly grows in natural conditions with minimal amounts of water (Myers, 1983). The leaves are also serrated with thorn-like edges to avoid leaves from being consumed by some animals in their habitats. The leaves contain a thick sap which is water storage and is less vulnerable to evaporation because of its thick and mucus-like nature. This thick sap is the one that contains medicinal content along the green membrane of the leaf. The sap also protects the plant from animals as it is thick and bitter in taste. The aloe leaf is composed of three layers: the first layer composes of inner clear gel which is made up of 99% water. This layer also contains glucomannans, lipids (fats), amino acids, which human body needs but cannot manufacture, vitamins, and sterols. The second layer is the middle layer, which is latex and contains the bitter sap that is yellow in color.
This bitter yellow sap contains anthraquinones and glycosides. The final layer is the outer thick layer, which covers approximately 15-20 cells, which are known as rind. These cells (rind) have protective functions and also synthesize or break down proteins and carbohydrates. In the interior of cells (rind) are vascular bundles. The xylem and phloem, which are responsible for transportation of substances such as water carried or transported in the xylem and starch, which is transported in the phloem. Mucilage gel, which is the inner part of the leaf, is important as it is filtered out to obtain gel used in the manufacture of aloe vera gel. Aloe plant has yellow tubular flowers, which are so attractive. It is this value in them that makes aloe vera plant to be grown not only as a medicinal plant, but also as an attractive flower in the flower garden. The aloe vera plant has got tubular fruits that contain numerous seeds.
Aloe vera plant has got roots, leaves, stem, flowers, and seed,s which play a vital role in survival and multiplication of this plant species. Aloe has roots, which support the plant in the ground firmly. The roots also help in absorbing water and other mineral salts from the soil for plant use. The leaf of an aloe vera plant is thick in size to enable good storage of water for a longer period of time. Leaves have the sap and are serrated with thorn-like edges to make it gain good protection against animals, which intends to destroy the plant (Mendelsohn & Balick, 1995). The stem is short to enable the plant have good stability in the soil/ground as the leaves are heavy due to a thick cuticle. The other part of this plant that serves a vital purpose are brightly colored flowers (yellow in color) to attract insects for pollination and enable fertilization. After the flower has played its role in pollination, the flower then turns into a fruit bearing seeds, which will eventually aid in the multiplication of more plants. Physiology of this plant ideally helps in protection and multiplication of more plants.
Aloe vera plant belongs in the plant kingdom known as plantae- plantes, planta. This is the kingdom that includes all common plants. It is further divided into subkingdoms known as viridaeplantae, which is composed of all green plants. This aloe subkingdom is then further classified in the infrakingdom. The infrakingdom of aloe vera plant is Streptophyta, which encompasses all land plants or plants that grow o land. The division of aloe vera plant is tracheophyta- vascular or tracheophytes and in the aloe vera plants they have vascular bundles, the xylem, and phloem. Aloe vera plant division is further classified into subdivision known as spermatophytina- these are spermatophytes or seed plants. Aloe vera plant produces tubular seeds, which give it a suiting in this subdivision. The subdivision is again subdivided further into infradivision, and the aloe plant is found in the infradivision known as angiospermae - these are flowering plants. The aloe vera plant is a flowering plant producing yellow tubular flowers, which are attractive in color (Taiz & Zeiger, 2010).
From the infradivision classification, aloe vera is again further divided into the class manoliopsida. Apart from the classification of class, aloe vera plant is still classified into superorder, this superorder of aloe is called Lilianae – monocots, monocotyledons. These are plants that have seeds with individual seed having a single cotyledon, which sores food for the seed and which is used during germination and early growth of a plant. Superorder is above the order of an aloe vera plant, which is Asparagales. The third last taxonomy of an aloe vera plant is the family, which is called Xanthorrhoeaceae. Aloe is the genus and lastly the species is Aloe Vera. Aloe vera plant is, therefore, rich in classification, which gives it its space among other plant species. Scientific names used in its classification symbolize a thorough research done and established in the field of medicinal plants with aloe vera being at the center stage.
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