Scientific name: Aloe vera

This small, suckering species has been cultivated for medicine for thousands of years, so long in fact, and so widely planted has this precious species been over the centuries, that it is uncertain where its original, wild, habitat is, although research points to Arabia and the Horn of Africa. Regarded as one of the most precious medicinal plants of antiquity, with uses ranging from treating soldiers' wounds, in the preparation of precious perfumes, to treating burns, use in the beauty regimes of queens, as a laxative and to the embalming and preparation of Egyptian mummies. Aloe was considered the "plant of eternal life" in ancient Egypt, and a cure-all in ancient Greece. Aloe is even mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Torah and Bible more than once, an example being Nicodemus anointing the body of Jesus in a mixture of myrrh and aloes in accordance with Jewish burial customs of the time. Contrast this to the Song of Solomon 4:14 - "Spikenard and saffron, calamus, and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices" or Proverbs 7:17 - "I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon," to see how highly respected aloe was regarded in all aspects of the life of the times.

Aloe vera is widely regarded as a miracle skin treatment and medicinal plant in modern times and is found in products as diverse as shampoos to toothpastes, skin creams and preparations most of all. There are also health drinks containing aloe gel, and of course aloe bitters are still used as a stomach cleanser and laxative.

Indigenous aloe species that can be used in a similar way to Aloe vera are Aloe ferox (a thriving industry is built around this species in the Eastern Cape) and Aloe arborescens, but not all aloe species are medicinal. Aloe is a big genus, and some members are toxic, be sure of the identity of any plant you use as medicine.