We have all heard of the magic of aloe and its ability to heal wounds and even remove parasites in the human body. The majestic succulent is praised for its health benefits globally and locally, says Cape Town bush doctor and indigenous healthcare practitioner Carlo Randall. But we wondered how well do you really know your aloe?
Mzansi has been in love affair with the Cape or bitter aloe for many moons. The plant native to southern Africa is thick and fleshy, and its leaves are commonly harvested for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes.
Bongani Ndlovu from Mpumalanga is no stranger to the cosmetic benefits of the Cape aloe. He tells Health For Mzansi, “My parents had always used it on me growing up and it is good for a lot of things.
“Where I come from, we have a lot of aloe plants. I have planted a few of them at my plant nursery and at the garden at home.”
How does Mzansi use aloe?
Refiloe Kuzwayo from Bloemfontein says she has used the bare-stemmed aloe for digestive problems such as constipation and indigestion.
“It has been our generational remedy,” she says. “It has no preservatives or any artificial ingredient in it, and it works far better than modern medication.”
When her son once had a pimple on his eyelid, his grandmother recommended she apply Aloe Brevifolia, or crocodile aloe.
“It was something like a boil. What I did was cut it open in the middle and apply its gel for two to three days on the pimple. Then the pimple ripped, the puss came out and the pimple never grew back again,” she explains.
She believes that different aloes can also be used for spiritual cleansing. “This is also to remove any bad cloud or omen, for instance if someone was held captive in a jail cell. The uncle normally use it to cleanse that particular person to prevent him or her from going back to jail,” says Kuzwayo.
Mapaballo Borotho from Johannesburg uses the aloe plant for her face whenever she has an aggressive acne breakout.
Different types and uses
The first record of an aloe ferox (Cape aloe) is the rock art image discovered in Nsangwini by Bob Forrester dated 4 000 years old, notes Randall.
“I first learned of aloe vera as a garden plant, which some people use as an infusion to lower blood pressure, cleanse the blood, regulate diabetes, alleviate bloatedness, and externally for some skin problems,” he says. “I later learned it was used as a shampoo to wash hair, help against dry scalp, and sunburn.”
Aloes come in a variety of growth forms, from small miniatures to tall single-stemmed or branched trees.
“Aloe ferox comes to mind as an African species more commonly used and better known to the generation well versed in the uses of African plant medicine. Aloe vera is commonly mistaken as aloe ferox, because both are bitter in taste,” he says.
Randall says aloe vera is commonly used as blood cleanser to detox the digestive tract. With regards to aloe vera being used as a hair product, he says most Rastafarians will use it to knot the hair speeding up the process of forming dreadlocks.
“In combination with other herbs, it can be used to regenerate the skin and prevent scarring. Skin uses should be cautioned, as it can literally burn the skin off some people if used raw or applied directly to the skin. Other people have used or applied raw aloe to sunburnt skin with cooling, soothing results. For severe skin problems, aloe ferox works best as a soak in the bath,” he adds.
Randall explains that aloes are also used as a laxative, it helps against arthritis, heal wounds and it is used in hair and skin products. The gel-like flesh of the leaves is used in cosmetic products.
“For drinking purposes, I prefer aloe ferox which has better results against high blood pressure, diabetes and cleansing the blood and digestive tract. Everything in moderation.
“Used in different quantities or dosages aloe vera will have a different effect on the body. Although there are people who would drink a particular plant tea religiously, daily, I wouldn’t see the need to make such a recommendation,” says Randall.