Aloe vera leaves contain a gel which is used externally to treat skin irritation, minor burns, sunburn, itching due to allergies and insect bites, sores, skin ulcers and many other conditions. The edible variety, Aloe vera barbadensis miller, is also used to make Aloe vera juice.
This useful plant has a been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years, and it’s still very widely used currently for its healing and restorative properties, in fact, it’s one of the most used medicinal plant worldwide. Aloe Vera is used extensively in the food, health care and cosmetic industries. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) where it is known as lú huì 蘆薈.
Aloe Vera Gel and Aloin
Aloe vera plants have thick green leaves which contain gel and latex.
- The gel is viscous, colourless and transparent, and is the therapeutic part of the Aloe vera leaf.
- The latex is a thick yellow liquid that is found between the gel and the inner rind of the leaf.
It’s important to separate the latex from the gel, because the latex contains the bitter, yellow-brown coloured compound aloin (also known as barbaloin), which is a powerful laxative that can cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea if taken orally.
Aloin was once used as a stimulant-laxative for treating constipation by inducing bowel movements, but it’s no longer considered safe by conservative western medical authorities, and they have expressed concerns that it may be carcinogenic (from experiments carried out on on rats). Curiously, in mainstream medical research, there is a significant amount of studies into the anti-tumour properties of aloin and its potential use as an anti-cancer medication. In some of those experiments, rats which were given synthetic chemical cancer-causing substances had significantly less cancer when treated with Aloe extracts.
The main medical concern of the US FDA is that aloe latex is considered harmful if consumed in large quantities. According to information from Mayo Clinic, taking 1 gram a day of aloe latex (the yellow bitter laxative substance) for several days can cause kidney damage and might be fatal. This is a ridiculous claim as that quantity would be regarded as an overdose or laxative abuse, as the recommended dosage listed on the WebMD website and many others for constipation is only 100-200 mg of aloe or 50 mg of aloe extract taken in the evening.
Germany’s regulatory agency for herbs, Commission E, approved the use of Aloe vera for the treatment of constipation, with dosages of 50-200 milligrams of aloe latex commonly taken in liquid or capsule form once daily for up to 10 days.
Thankfully most people consuming Aloe vera won’t be consumed at 5-20 times the recommended dosage of latex as a laxative, and most just want the pure gel for it’s therapeutic effects.
This is what the aloin-containing latex looks like as it drips from the end of a freshly cut Aloe vera leaf, it’s normally allowed to drain out before the gel is extracted from the leaf. The harvested solid pieces of gel can also be gently rinsed with water to wash away any traces of latex if desired.
How to Extract Aloe Vera Gel from Leaves
It’s easy to make your own homemade Aloe vera gel, and the process is explained below in 10 simple steps.
To extract Aloe vera gel from the leaves of the plant, you will need the following items:
- Fresh Aloe vera leaves
- Sharp kitchen knife
- Cutting board
- Paper towels
- Clean glass jar with lid
Step 1. Harvest the larger 2-3 year old outer leaves, cut the leaves at the base, cutting the leaf at a slight angle. Select only firm, green healthy, undamaged leaves.
Step 2. First wash your hands, then wash the Aloe vera leaves and dry them with a paper towel. Wash the cutting board you will use to do the cutting on also. This is done to keep everything clean as you don’t want to contaminate the Aloe vera gel, it’s a plant product that needs to be treated much like a food in terms of hygiene.
Step 3. To remove the latex from the Aloe vera leaf, place the leaf upright at an angle to allow the inedible dark yellow bitter latex to drain out for 10-15 minutes. The angled cut at the base of the leaf helps the latex drain out more easily, as only the one side rests with the plate. After the latex has drained out, wash the cut end of the leaf to remove any remaining latex, and pat gently with a clean paper towel to dry.
Step 4. Cut off approximately 10cm (4″) of the tip, as this part of the leaf contains very little gel and lots more latex.
Step 5. Cut long leaves in half to make them easier to process. You just want to cut them to lengths that will sit easily on your cutting board.
Step 6. Cut off the serrated edges with a sharp knife
Step 7. Remove the outer green skin layer with a knife, filleting the skin away from the gel inside. With the knife turned on its side, slide the blade under the skin along the whole length of the leaf, much like filleting a fish, trying to stay close to the skin as possible to separate as much gel from the skin as possible. You can also use a vegetable peeler for this task but make sure there is no green skin left behind in the gel though.
Skin removed from one side of Aloe vera leaf, showing the clear-coloured gel inside.
Note: If the leaves are a bit too wide, making them difficult to fillet, then split them lengthwise first to make the task much easier.
Step 8. When the skin has been removed from one side, carefully turn the leaf over and remove skin from the other side, leaving the clear gel.
The clear gel strips can also be gently washed under cold running water if you want to remove any remaining latex.
Step 9. Cut Aloe vera gel strips into cubes for storage or processing. The cubes can be placed into a blender and blended into a gel, or they can be placed on a tray covered with non-stick baking paper, put into the freezer and frozen, then put into a tightly sealed freezer bag for storage, where they can be kept for up to six months
If using a blender to liquefy the gel, it will froth up quite a bit, so just let the gel settle and it will return to the correct consistency on its own.
Step 10. Store Aloe vera gel in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the fridge, where it can be kept for up to a week. Just spoon out as much as you need to use at any time, it’s always ready to use when kept this way.
It’s possible to extend the shelf-life of home-made Aloe vera gel by adding various antioxidants such as Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and Tocopherol (Vitamin E), but finding the exact proportions to use and the expected shelf-life from reliable sources is rather difficult.
In the book How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life? by Isabell Shipard, she suggests adding 1 teaspoon of Vitamin C powder to 3 cups of Aloe vera gel and blending at low speed.
One large leaf will fill up a decent cup-sized sized jar with home-made Aloe vera gel, and it’s a fairly quick and easy process which only takes about 15 minutes!
The leftover green Aloe vera leaf skins can be put into the compost or buried in the garden to recycle the nutrients, so nothing goes to waste.
You might also like these other articles on Aloe vera plants: