Said in a mock cockney accent, Aloe vera is one plant name which always makes me laugh. It’s also one of my desert island plants…beautiful, tough, reliable and above all, useful.
Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always kept a pot of Aloe vera in the kitchen. It’s a great first aid plant – it’ll soothe any kind of burn, including sunburn, so it’s ideal to have around if you’re a little clumsy in the kitchen and prone to forgetting to put suncream on when gardening (I’m guilty on both counts).
Simply break off a leaf and squeeze it – a clear sticky gel is instantly produced. Apply this to the affected area and allow to dry. It forms a protective coating which, in my experience, not only helps calm the pain, but can help heal the burn itself too.
If you use it to treat large areas (e.g. for sunburn), best thing to do is pick a whole leaf off. If it’s big enough, take a vegetable peeler and peel down the leaf to reveal its gooey insides. You can then scrape out the contents and apply to your skin. Smaller leaves I just slice in half lengthwise and rub over the affected area. Just remember – it won’t protect against sunburn happening in the first place.
Be kind to your Vera…if you’re good to her she’ll produce big leaves (and may even give spikes of yellow flowers (as you can see at the bottom of the photo below) that look a bit like red hot pokers. Aloe vera is a great houseplant, needing just a sunny spot and the occasional watering…it’s actually quite difficult to kill!
The plant tends to give you plenty of warning if something’s wrong. If the leaves turn reddish-grey and become very convex then you need to give more water (and if you’re feeling kind then also liquid feed in the summer). However, if the leaves go very pale green-yellow, the plant is either too cold or getting not enough sunlight. Think of where the plant is grown – my allusion to Aloe vera as a desert island plant is actually pretty close to the mark. It’s cultivated outdoors in warm, dry places like the Canary Islands, where it’s grown as an ornamental plant on roadsides, and as a commercial crop. Oh for a bit of Canarian sunshine today!