In Mzansi, the aloe plant is a true jack-of-all-trades. It can be found in many homes, both in the city and the countryside, where its medicinal properties are well-known. From soothing sunburns to purifying water, aloe is an indispensable part of life.
It is not uncommon to see aloe used as both a household remedy and a stylish decorative element.
According to Babalwa Mpambani, an agronomist from Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape, there are approximately 150 aloe species in South Africa that belong to the Aloaceae family and can be found in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and some parts of the Free State, as well as to a lesser extent in other South African provinces.
Cultivation and sustainable harvesting
Although the nation has numerous species, only a handful are commercially important and are propagated in commercial farms throughout the country. These are aloe ferox and aloe vera, both of which are economically significant, Mpambani says.
Traditionally, aloes are recognised for numerous medical capabilities among their species, ranging from human problems to animal diseases. This helped them gain the reputation of “magical plant” from various places of the world, explains Thembelani Mthoko, a horticulturist from Alice, Eastern Cape. He adds that aloe species differ in terms of medical characteristics, making them appealing to diverse sectors.
Mpambani tells Health For Mzansi that aloe ferox is propagated from seeds sown from spring through summer. To avoid damping off, seeds are often treated with a fungicide prior to sowing.
Germination is predicted to begin three weeks after planting. She states that transplanting into containers may be done after a year, and transplanting onto a field or garden can be done after three years.
“Although aloe ferox is grown from the seed, there are research trials that are being done to assess tissue culture production; while the aloe vera is largely mainly produced using vegetative means.”
Only a percentage of the lower leaves of each plant are clipped during harvesting to protect the plant’s growth point in the crown. This will ensure the aloe’s survival and future harvests.
Mpambani adds that while harvesting in the wild, veld management practices and the preservation of younger plants are urged to guarantee the conservation and sustainability of aloe forex plants.
Medicinal benefits of aloe
Agronomist Mandisa Mazibuko from Mafikeng, North West, says that she could identify a few medical advantages of aloe species based on her research.
Aloe maculata: Also known as aloe saponaria, is most commonly prescribed as a pain reliever. It is used to treat skin conditions caused by infections. Aloe Maculata uses fresh leaves for its fluid, which, according to some studies, has antibacterial properties.
“Some people use the leaf sap as a substitute for body soap. It’s also used for protection from solar radiation and inhibition of tumour cell growth.”
Aloe Africana: This aloe’s fluid contains anthraquinones, which are compounds with medicinal properties including laxatives. Due to its genotoxic potential, excessive use at high doses may result in obstruction and colorectal cancer.
Aloe vera: The leaf fluid of aloe vera is used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. It is used to treat wounds and injuries, and its therapeutic properties include anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and antihyperlipidemic. And it contains more than 75 distinct compounds, enzymes, and vitamins.
She adds that aloe vera is also used by village farmers to treat bird flu by combining water with the sap and giving drops to poultry, and as a hair conditioner to strengthen the hair’s texture.
Aloe marlotthi: The roots and leaf sap are commonly used for roundworm infestation, and horse illness It is used to treat both external and internal parasites, as its juice contains anthraquinones with medicinal properties for animals. Traditional uses include treating chest pain, malaria, and sore throat.
Aloe arborescens: The fresh leaves of this aloe are used to treat ulcers. It is administered to women during childbirth to ease labour pains. This aloe contains throne 10-C glucosides, including hydroxylations, and aloin, the compound responsible for its cathartic properties.
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