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From Cleopatra to Hiroshima: The Astonishing History of Aloe Plants

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Publisher: Bloombox Club
Bloombox Club



Aloes are well-known wonders among succulents. Inside their fronds is a gel that has been used in treatments and medicines for millennia. This sap is around 95% water, and the remaining 5% contains healthy enzymes that are difficult to find elsewhere. The Ancient Egyptians called it the ‘blood’ of the plant, and while she may not have bathed in milk, Cleopatra is said to have used aloe gel in her skincare regime. Supposedly, Aristotle convinced Alexander the Great to conquer the Island of Socotra (now a part of Yemen) because of its large population of Aloes. The military titan brought back masses of the plant genus and it was used to treat the wounds of his army – a surprisingly hippy move.

Stone carvings, found in the Iraqi city of Nippur, describe the harvesting Aloe skin and using it as treatment for digestive disorders. These carvings date back as far as 2,200 BC. Illness, for these craftsmen, was the result of something demonic: because Aloes were considered divine, they were administered for all number of afflictions (some are poisonous when ingested so don’t try this at home without prior research!).

But even as we move towards an understanding of the body that resembles our own, Aloes continue to be recognised for their immense healing properties. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, incorporates aloe gel numerous times in his ‘Canon of Medicines,’ an early encyclopaedia of drug treatments and remedies. Aloes come up as treatments for burns, wounds, infections and insect bites.  

The Aloe Arborescens played a pivotal role in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, one of the most devastating events in human history. With the the cities' medical supplies decimated and survivors suffering from violent radiation burns, the sap of the arborescens provided vital and immediate pain relief. 

Today, aloes are used to soothe and heal skin after sunburn, to prevent acne, as a non-irritating shaving balm and to add moisture to skin. Check back soon to learn about harvesting the gel for all of the above!

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