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Aloe vera, the ‘plant of immortality’ according to Ancient Egyptians, is said to have been used by Cleopatra as part of her beauty regime more than 2,000 years ago.
Today, the gel inside Aloe vera leaves is the magic ingredient behind many sunburn remedies, cosmetic products, and tonics that aid digestion. Aloe vera is one of the most used plants in the world.
Aloe vera has special water-storing tissues called parenchyma in its leaves that help it survive drought.
Aloe vera is a herb with succulent leaves that are arranged in a rosette. The leaves are grey to green and sometimes have white spots on their surfaces. They have sharp, pinkish spines along their edges and are the source of the colourless gel found in many commercial and medicinal products. Aloe vera has yellow, tube-like flowers that cluster on a stem.
Beauty and cosmetics
The gel from the leaves of Aloe vera is a common ingredient in many beauty products as it hydrates and soothes hair and skin.
Food and drink
The gel from the leaves of Aloe vera is consumed as a juice or tonic that helps aid digestion.
The Aloe vera gel has been used traditionally on the skin to treat psoriasis, burns, and sores caused by the Herpes simplex virus.
Research has shown that when taken orally, aloe gel can regulate blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels, but care should be taken when taking Aloe products.
The green outer layer of Aloe vera leaves secrete a bitter, yellow fluid that has traditionally been used as a laxative. However, research has shown that this could interact negatively with other medicines and herbal remedies, so should be taken with care and avoided by children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
The term ‘aloe’ is commonly applied to a group of over 500 species of plants native to Africa, Madagascar, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Rocky and exposed areas in dry climates at an altitude of 1300 to 2600m.
Scientists at Kew carry out research on Aloe vera and its close relatives.
This research delves into aloe gel chemistry, leaf shape, genetics, and evolutionary relationships among Aloe species.
Investigating the water-storing gel in Aloe vera leaves that is an adaptation to droughts, could revolutionise how we use aloes in the future to adapt to life on a warmer planet as a result of climate change.
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Looking into the genes in aloes and other desert plants could help us secure the future of our food by producing crops that are adapted to growing in increasingly hot, dry places.
Scientists at Kew are also exploring why Aloe vera, out of all 500 species of Aloe, dominates the natural products industry, and how aloes are related to each other.
They do this by extracting the DNA from plant cells and creating a tree of life which is a bit like a family tree.
This tree of life provides insights into the evolutionary history of Aloe vera, including where it originated from and which plants it is closely related to that could share this superstar succulent’s useful properties.