From Dr. Mercola:
By Dr. Mercola
Aloe vera is one of the world’s most-used natural plants, with a market worth an estimated $13 billion a year.1 It’s also one of the oldest. Historical documents make mention of aloe vera as medicine circa 65 AD, when it was used to treat soldiers’ wounds and bleeding.
Yet by this time in history aloe was already widely cultivated, which suggests its origins date back much further. Working together, researchers from London’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and botanists in Africa and Europe have actually analyzed the DNA of close to 200 aloe species to build a “map” of how they’re related and where they originated.
Aloe is said to be native to Africa, but the new research suggests it actually launched from the Arabian Peninsula and migrated along with traders in the region. Olwen Grace of London’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew told New Scientist:2
“People in the region had probably been using and cultivating it for generations, and traders would have carried it as a sort of living medicine chest,” she says. It helped that the plant is easy to transport.
Cut leaves stay fresh and useful for a long time, and plantlets produced by suckering survive a long time without soil or water – even seemingly dead ones will grow if you plant them. ‘This is the most likely way it spread to Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Rome, then to India and later to the Americas.’”
Today, aloe vera is the only aloe species that isn’t at risk of extinction, simply because it’s so widely cultivated. As for why aloe vera became so popular while other species have dwindled, Nina Rønsted, a specialist in the evolution of medicinal plants at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, suggested to New Scientist:3
“Maybe it had larger leaves, grew closer to town, stayed fresher during transportation, or was easier to cultivate… But once people discovered it had healing properties they stuck with it.”
Aloe’s Been Prized for Its Medicinal Properties Since Ancient Times
Some of the earliest uses of aloe vera involved the use of its sap, which is different from the gel. The sap, found just beneath the leaf’s epidermis, was used as a powerful purgative during the 18th and 19th centuries. This effect might be due to the anthraquinones it contains, which also happen to give rhubarb and senna pods a laxative effect.
The use of aloe vera gel, which is found inside the leaves, surged soon after, first as a skin salve for burned and damaged skin and later as a treatment for cancer and eczema. According to New Scientist:4
“Long before this, however, the Chinese applied Aloe vera gel to clear dermatitis. In India, people have dabbed it on sore eyes and inflamed joints for centuries. The Javanese slathered chopped gel on burns and drank it mixed with rosewater as a treatment for TB [tuberculosis] and gonorrhea.
Malaysians and Mexicans pressed…