March 05, 2021 4 min read
The origin and history of Aloe Vera from its founding in ancient times to the present day is a remarkable story and not one that many have heard despite being familiar with Aloe Vera. The serrated edged, succulent, perennial plant, is part of the lily family (Liliaceac) and specie of the Aloe genus. The full botanical name of the most common and famous variety is Aloe barbadensis miller, and the Latin translation for Aloe Vera literally means “true aloe”. It is unique from many of the other varieties of Aloe and distinguishable from most of the 500 or so species found in the lily family. The Aloe vera genus evolutionary history in general is not that well understood and, until recently, Aloe Vera’s actual origins were viewed as somewhat mysterious and often a source of debate among researchers.
Historically, we may never know when Aloe Vera’s wellness applications were first discovered as they likely predate written history. We do know of the 6000 years old carvings of the plant discovered in Egypt and, at some point after, became a common burial offering or gift to deceased pharaohs and its remnants are found tombs. The first written record of Aloe Vera’s usage for medicinal purposes appeared in Sumerian hieroglyphic tablets circa 2200 BC, during the Mesopotamia civilization. That record described its use as a laxative.
Aloe Vera's mysterious origin persisted until recently. This was due in large part to its widespread trade early on. Everywhere Aloe Vera appeared traditional herbal medicine practitioners and ancient physicians considered it a “miracle plant” esteemed for its many health benefits. The oldest mention of the plant’s medical properties in Mesopotamia added to the confusion. It was likely transplanted there as it was along the trade routes throughout the Middle East, Coastal Africa, and Mediterranean regions. From there, it spread along the Silk Road to Asia, India, and the Far East.
Though many thought it originated in the Sudan or Arabian Peninsula, or possibly the Canary Islands. It was only in 2015 that a coalition of international scientists conducted an exhaustive study on the plant and finally determined Aloe Vera originated in the Arabian Peninsula.
Everywhere Aloe Vera appeared healers and ancient physicians considered it a “miracle plant” esteemed for its many health benefits.
It’s no wonder or secret. Aloe Vera leaves consist of anywhere from 99% to 99.5% water with the remaining .5–1.0% consisting of solids that together form an inner gel and a harder outer rind. The latter is a source of continuing debate among researchers in the medical community. All agree on the plant's numerous potentially active compounds and constituents that are loaded with nutrients and have wellness benefits. The inner gel of each leaf contains antioxidants vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E, vitamin B12, folic acid, and choline. The gel also has important enzymes, is loaded with minerals, and contains sugars, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids and amino acids.
Because of its medicinal properties, Aloe Vera has been thought of as a true gift from nature for centuries in many cultures:
Considered the “Plant of immortality” in ancient Egypt, Aloe Vera's use and application is found in written records throughout history. The Papyrus Ebers, an Egyptian document from circa 1550 B.C., is considered to be the first detailed written record of Aloe Vera’s medicinal value. Egyptian Queens such as Nefertiti and Cleopatra regularly used it as part of their beauty regimes.
By 600 B.C., Arab traders had brought Aloe Vera to Persia and India. Hindus believed the plant grew in the Garden of Eden and dubbed it the “silent healer.”
The use of Aloe Vera is mentioned five times in the Bible. King Solomon highly valued the plant (Psalm 45:8) and, most notably, Christ’s body was wrapped in aloes and myrrh (John 19:39). Perhaps that relates to Aloe Vera’s usage to treat wounds in ancient times, as both Alexander the Great and Christopher Columbus mention its use to treat the wounds of soldiers.
Over time, Aloe Vera’s adaptability contributed to its widespread production worldwide. It was first introduced in the Americas by the Spanish and then the Dutch. Many point to Jesuit priests from Spain playing a leading role in introducing Aloe Vera to the New World (as the Jesuits called it at the time). They were certainly instrumental in bringing the plant to West Indies, and then Central America, California, Florida and Texas. In any event, Europeans brought Aloe Vera to the islands of Barbados and Curacao in the Caribbean to cultivate. West Indian Aloe Vera was sold and traded in different parts of Europe from the 16th and 17th centuries onward. It was first referenced in English by John Goodyew in his 1655 translation of Dioscorides medical treatise, De Materia Medica. U.S. commercial cultivation of Aloe Vera started in Florida in the 1920s.
However, it was not until new found processing techniques were developed in the 1960s and 1970s that the new market for Aloe Vera began to expand. With the stabilization of the gel and better technology for processing the desired inner gel and also isolatingAcemannan from the plant, it's use cases have grown.
Throughout recorded history Aloe Vera has known for its wellness properties. Today, continuing research and studies support its effectiveness in everything from helping stomach acid to moisturizing skin and as part of a beauty routine!
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