One thing missing on my patio garden is aloe vera. I have prided myself on having an herb, medicinal plant and tea garden that is pretty, fragrant and functional. I cannot believe that I overlooked aloe vera! It is a staple plant for any medicinal garden. It’s multi-purpose function for treating skin and dietary conditions have been known for years. Current research also indicates that it is very good for the heart. A short list of some of the wonderful things aloe vera can do:

•    Soothe skin conditions
•    Soothe and cleanse oral irritations
•    Boost immune system
•    Control harmful digestive organisms
•    Improve digestive absorption of nutrients
•    Improve circulation
•    Improve HDL cholesterol counts, lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride counts
•    Natural antiseptic

How does aloe vera improve heart health? By reducing sugar levels in the bloodstream, free radicals are also decreased. This promotes arterial health, helping to prevent heart disease from developing. Aloe vera is also nutrient rich, containing: vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, E, antioxidants, calcium, choline, chromium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, selenium, and zinc. It is a rich source of amino acids which is good news for vegetarians. Non- meat eaters can get about twenty amino acids from aloe vera.

As an adaptogen, aloe vera stimulates the body’s natural defense system, immunity. Regular consumption of aloe vera products helps a body respond with greater resistance to allergens, stress and exposure to pathogens. Polysaccharides found in aloe vera juice increase production of white blood cells, strengthening immune systems. Containing high levels of anti-oxidants, aloe vera can destroy free radicals thus contribute to aging healthier and lowering cancer risk.  Aloe vera also has antipyretic properties which are effective at reducing or preventing fever.

To improve suppleness of skin or treat a variety of skin conditions, aloe vera is a proven remedy. For any number of skin discomforts such as burns, scrapes, sunburn, insect bites and psoriasis, simply apply aloe vera directly. It’s analgesic, vulnerary and antipruritic properties will relieve discomfort and itching while promoting healing. It is also a great hydrator for skin when used as a topical emollient.

Aloe vera is a wonderful choice for natural wound treatment. It serves as a disinfectant with properties that are: anti-bacterial, antiobiotic, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, antiseptic, anti-viral, and germicidal. That’s a lot of “antis”. It so effective at treating wounds because it contains cinnamic acid, lupeol, phenol, salicylic acid, sulphur, and urea nitrogen. These ingredients prevent the growth of bacteria, fungus, and other microorganisms such as viruses.

To enjoy the dietary benefits of aloe vera, drink aloe juice or eat the soft meat inside the leaves. But don’t eat the tough, outer skin. It has a powerful laxative effect. If purchasing food products containing aloe vera, read the label carefully. If it says that it contains “aloin” or the outer or whole leaf, it contains the tough, outer skin.

If you would rather cultivate it yourself, becoming your own natural source of aloe vera, here are some gardening tips to successfully grow aloe vera in a container:

What you need:
•    A mother aloe vera plant, aloe vera pup or single leaf of aloe vera
•    A well draining pot, preferably made of terra cotta
•    Potting soil for cacti or sandy mix you make up yourself
•    Container of water
•    Tools: small garden trowel, spoon, sharp knife or shears

If using a single aloe vera leaf, although it is possible for it to produce a plant, chances of a healthy aloe vera plant are much better if a mother plant or offshoot put is planted in the container.

•    Fill container with soil to about 1/2″ from lip of container
•    Scoop out soil in center of container to create a hole large enough to hold the root ball of the mother plant or pup. If using a single leaf, simply poke into the soil about 1” deep.
•    Place aloe vera in hole and cover, tapping soil firmly around plant
•    Water well

•    Outside, place to receive indirect sunlight (direct sunlight will brown the leaves)
•    Inside, place in a sunny window, always bring indoors during a freeze
•    Requires very little water (less in winter). Allow soil to dry out completely between waterings

•    Grows faster in warmer weather
•    Flat lying leaves mean it’s not getting enough light
•    Thin, curled leaves mean the plant is thirsty

If you begin to use aloe vera for heart health benefits, make sure you are also living a heart healthy lifestyle. That would mean:

•    Exercising regularly because your heart is a muscle, it needs exercise
•    Eating healthy, organic as much as possible
•    Keeping tabs on cholesterol levels and blood pressure
•    Eliminating the smoking habit
•    Minimizing stress and practicing stress management skills such as meditation
•    Supplementing dietary lacks with appropriate vitamins and nutritional supplements

I will soon be enjoying aloe vera benefits from my freshly potted patio plant. So grow some aloe vera and have a virtual pharmacy on your patio or in a sunny window.