Perhaps one of the most medicinally valuable succulents, aloe vera plants are easy to grow and thrive on neglect. Learn how to grow, harvest and preserve fresh aloe vera gel for minor burns and wounds!
Aloe vera was probably one of the first “plant remedies” that I experienced in my childhood. My aunt was a hair stylist and worked in a salon which carried a multitude of skin and hair care products, among them aloe vera gel. I distinctly remember a mustard colored squeeze bottle of this viscous gel that we would apply generously to the battle wounds of childhood like skinned knees and sun reddened noses. The first time I used the gel directly from the leaf was on a terrible second degree sunburn in my early teen years. It brought me the cooling relief when nothing else would.
Aloe has been around homes for a great many years and is one of the most common herbal remedies endorsed by herbalists, medical professionals, and parents alike. So why not learn how to grow aloe vera in your own home or garden, then how to harvest the leaves and extract the gel for present and future uses?!
How To Grow Aloe Vera
Aloe vera (one of the very few botanicals referenced by its proper scientific name), is native to arid regions of Africa. It is hardy to zone 10, meaning that the plant can typically tolerate winter lows around 30-35 degrees Fahrenheit. As such one can conceivably grow aloe vera outdoors year-round in full sun to partial shade in the southwestern states of the US. Please note the high country areas of these states may get too cold during the winter months for the plant to thrive. For those of us that live elsewhere, you can grow aloe vera very easily as an attractive house plant that can even “summer” outdoors!
Aloe vera prefers lean, well draining soils. Choose pots with adequate drainage and potting mixes appropriate for cactus and succulents for a happy, healthy plant. Aloe vera likes lots of natural light and does best placed near sunny windows, although the plant may scorch if placed close to a window that receives harsh, unfiltered midday sun. Water your aloe very sparingly, waiting until the soil feels dry to the depth of at least one inch before watering again. I like to water my aloe that sits in near a west facing , but filtered light window about once every ten or so days. I water just enough to thoroughly dampen the top layer of soil, but not enough to collect in the saucer below.
In the most ideal conditions such as warm sunny days ranging from 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit, your aloe may send up a stiff spike bearing yellow to orange tubular flowers looking similar to a red hot poker. To encourage blooms, you may want to use a fertilizer specifically for succulents and cactus; avoid high phosphorous fertilizers.
Happy aloes may also produce baby plants called “pups.” To re-pot aloe vera pups, remove the parent plant from the pot and brush the potting mix away from the root system. Find the pup’s root system and gently tug it away from the parent plant and pot separately. This is good opportunity to refresh the soil of the parent plant; otherwise re-pot with new soil every two years.
How to Harvest Fresh Aloe Vera
Now that you know how to grow aloe vera, let’s figure how to harvest aloe vera gel from the leaves! Harvest aloe leaves from reasonably mature plants with many sizable leaves growing from the base rosette.
To harvest aloe vera leaves, it is advisable to use sharp, clean kitchen shears or a knife, cutting a bottom most leaf close to the base of the plant. Smaller aloe leaves can sometimes be harvested by pinching and twisting the leaf — however if done improperly this method can damage the plant. Place the cut side of the aloe leaf into a small cup or saucer, allowing the yellowish sap to drain away from the leaf. Discard this sap.
How to Extract Aloe Vera Gel
To extract the aloe vera gel, trim the top, bottom and sides of the fleshy leaves. Using a clean sharp knife, slice the leaf horizontally, as you would fillet a fish. Using a large spoon or a knife, gently scrape the mucilaginous gel into a container. As you scrape, you may find the gel getting thinner; the two textures of the dinner can be mixed by hand or in a blender for a homogeneous substance.
How to Preserve & Store Allow Vera Gel
Once you have extracted the cooling plant mucilage, the question come of how to preserve and store your fresh aloe vera gel. Your options may include:
- store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days
- store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks
- freeze gel in ice cube trays then pack into labeled plastic bags or resuable containers; freeze for up to a year
- make shelf stable for up to one year by adding 1000mg (0.2 teaspoons or a scant quarter teaspoon) of citric acid per 118mls (1/2 cup) fresh aloe vera gel; store out of sunlight in an airtight container.
How to Use Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel can be used to address minor burns and wounds due to its cooling mucilage and antimicrobial properties. Taken internally, aloe can arrest the sensation of gastric heat and soothe a peptic ulcer. Please note that while external use is generally considered safe, do not use aloe for more than a few days internally as it can have a purgative effect on the gastrointestinal tract.
For more information on how to use aloe vera, consider enrolling my my forthcoming e-course Cool Herbs for Warm Months (coming late June 2019). With this fun and informative e-course, l will be teaching you the herbal energetics, therapeutic action, medicinal uses and remedy recipes for TEN herbs that will keep you cool, calm and collected during the summer months! Drop your email here to learn the details and be the first to be notified when the course launches!
Ahlawat, K. S., & Khatkar, B. S. (2011). Processing, food applications and safety of aloe vera products: A review. Journal of Food Science and Technology,48(5), 525-533. doi:10.1007/s13197-011-0229-z