As an herb enthusiast I value and grow plants useful for food, fragrance, and medicine. Among the dozens I grow in my garden is aloe vera, a desert succulent. Sometimes called “true aloe” or “medicinal aloe,” aloe vera is valued for its clear gelatinous sap that is an effective first aid for skin damage, especially burns. This is why cooks will sometimes keep an aloe plant in the kitchen window for quick access.
The light green, stemless, sword shaped leaves of aloe vera are 6-18 inches long, depending on the age of the plant. It forms an ever expanding whorl of toothed leaves. Mature plants may send up a two foot flower stalk with tubular shaped drooping orange flowers.
Aloes generally prefer full sun and relatively low water conditions throughout the growing season. When frost threatens, bring them indoors or provide a cover. During the winter, resist the urge to water or fertilize container grown aloes as you would other houseplants. Keep the soil on the dry side and watch out for mealy bugs which tend to attack them when grown indoors. In spring move the aloes outdoors and resume regular watering and light fertilization.
Aloe vera propagates very easily by producing offshoots (sometimes called pups) close to the base of the parent plant. These can be easily removed with a sharp knife and planted in another container. If left with the parent plant the ever-increasing offshoots will crowd the pot to the point it can be hard to see where one plant starts and another ends. For this reason, those who want to grow a large specimen plant should quickly remove offshoots.
To use aloe vera on burned or scraped skin, simply break of a leaf, spilt it in half, and apply the clear, gelatinous sap to the skin. The sap will help soothe the damaged area and encourage healing. Do not use aloe vera in deep cuts or large wounds. For these, seek a medical professional.