Using aloe vera gel

Aloe vera has been used for centuries in many different cultures. When researching our community gardens book, Pam Vardy and I spoke to people from more than 20 different cultures and found that nearly all grew aloe vera, using it in similar ways.

For example, one El Salvadorian woman rubbed fresh gel on her face saying that ‘It improves your skin so that you look lovely.’ Tai from Vietnam used aloe vera to treat itchy skin, while Maria who immigrated from Greece, smoothed the gel over minor scratches and grazes.

More generally you can gently rub it onto bites and stings to relieve pain and reduce swelling. As well as helping to heal minor scratches and grazes, it also eases fungal infections like athletes foot.

Smooth it onto dry skin to soothe and moisturize, and on varicose veins and hemorrhoids to reduce painful swelling.

But aloe vera is most useful for treating minor burns including sunburn. With any burn, I always reduce the heat by soaking in cold water first. If the burn is serious, seek medical help.

If minor, then after soaking, rub a thin layer of aloe vera gel over the reddened skin. Leave on for an hour, then wipe off gently with a clean wet cloth and reapply more aloe if needed.

Other herbs that are good for the skin.

Dried flowers from both annual and perennial chamomiles (Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum Nobile) made into a cool wash can be used to lessen the pain of sunburn, added to bathwater to soothe itchy skin and used to wash and soothe a graze.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) petals are rubbed directly onto a bite to soothe the pain or made into a cool wash for red, dry or irritated skin. The wash applied to sores, cuts, and grazes will improve healing, but always make sure the wound is clean before applying.

To make a wash, put 2-3 teaspoons of petals or flowers into a bowl and pour one cup of boiling water over the top. Cover, cool and strain. Use within a few hours.

For information on how to grow and harvest aloe vera and the gel buy the most recent edition of Organic Gardener magazine here