The aloe vera plant (Aloe barbadensis) is the source of two very different herbal products: aloe gel and aloe juice (also called aloe latex). Although you may hear the terms juice and gel used interchangeably, it’s important to know the difference. Aloe gel, the clear, jellylike stuff that oozes from a torn leaf, is renowned as a save for burns and wounds and is also the key ingredient in many cosmetic products; it has also been used orally for ulcers, diabetes, and asthma, among other things.
In contrast, aloe juice (usually sold in dry form as a powder that can be reconstituted) is useless against burns and wounds but has long been used as a laxative. Some people have also used the juice for health problems ranging from seizures, colds, ulcers, and colitis to depression, glaucoma, arthritis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and multiple sclerosis.
Does aloe really work?
If you keep an aloe vera plant in your kitchen for this purpose, you probably already know how soothing the gel feels on a burn. You may have also noticed that it can ease the itching and inflammation that go along with minor wounds.
There is evidence that aloe vera gel can help to alleviate psoriasis. It may also be effective on burns, frostbite, and herpes simplex outbreaks, although more research is needed to confirm these findings.
A 2008 study of burns found that although the aloe helped to reduce skin temperature, it did not aid in healing the burn. Very little study has been done on the use of aloe on actual human wounds, and the results of existing research are contradictory. While some studies have found that aloe can facilitate wound healing, more recent studies have found little benefit.
And at least one study found that applying aloe gel to surgical wounds can actually delay healing. A small study in England in 2004 found aloe vera gel to be effective at improving symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, but more research is needed in this area as well.
As for aloe juice, it seems to live up to its billing as an effective (although risky) laxative. According to the Complete German Commission E Monographs, a comprehensive source of information on herbs, aloe juice encourages bowel movements by triggering small contractions in the colon.
Is aloe safe?
Applying aloe gel to the skin appears to be safe even during pregnancy and lactation, although the maximum length of treatment hasn’t been