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Look no further than the humble aloe. There are about 180 species of aloe, but the most popular one is aloe vera (technically known as Aloe barbadensis), shown above.
Despite its appearance, this succulent is actually part of the lily family and is native to the Mediterranean and northern Africa.
Aloe is a first aid kit inside a plant! When I was younger we lived in Florida, and aloe vera grew rampantly in my parents’ garden. If we had an insect bite, scratch or sunburn, my mother would slice off a leaf, cut it inside and slather the clear juice onto our skin. The aloe provided instant relief, and had natural bactericidal properties. No wonder aloe’s medicinal qualities have been cherished since at least Ancient Greece.
When you cut the leaf, it will eventually grow a callus, as you can see on the right of this plant. It won’t grow back completely, however. If you don’t like the way this looks, prune the leaf back to the base. New leaves will grow from the center of the plant.
To grow aloe in your home, keep in mind these points:
- Aloe grows year-round in zones 9 to 11. If you live in a colder climate, however, move the plant to a sunny window indoors when temperatures drop in the fall.
- Aloe thrives in sun and partial sun in well-drained soil. Overwatering and poor drainage have killed many an aloe plant.
- Consider planting your aloe in a cactus/succulent potting mixture, so it has excellent drainage. Terra cotta pots are ideal, because they dry out quickly. You can then place the pot into a more decorative container, and take it out when you water so it drains properly. That’s what I often do.
- Allow the soil to dry completely before watering your aloe again.
- Aloe doesn’t mind being a bit being root bound in a container. If you repot your aloe, use a container that’s only slightly larger than the last pot.
You can also find more unusual aloes for sale at local nurseries and garden centers. In my nursery, I spotted rare aloes, such as ‘Green Warts’, which are worth growing as well.
Whichever aloe you decide to grow, give it plenty of sun and drainage. You’ll be rewarded with a medicinal plant that’s been famous for centuries and a pleasure to have in the garden.