History of Aloe Vera

History of Aloe Vera in the Orient and Africa

Throughout the history of Aloe Vera the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula and the Touaregs of the Sahara know the virtues of Aloe Vera, which they call “the Lily of the Desert”.

In Mesopotamia, the inhabitants decorate their doors with Aloe Vera leaves for a protection.

The Parthes and the Scythes, in times of epidemics or food scarcity, had the habit of eating the Aloe Vera pulp.

The island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean was renowned since the 5th century B.C. for its Aloe Vera plantations.

The inhabitants exported the extracts from this plant as far eastward as China passing through India, Malaysia and Tibet. For many Orientals, the oil based Aloe Vera ointment had the great property of procuring wisdom and immortality.

Aloe Vera is mentioned as a precious foodstuff in the “Jin Ping Mei”, a famous Chinese novel, “The Book of Marvels” by Marco Polo and in the works of Maimonides.

The initiation into the medicinal virtues and powers of Aloe Vera and hemp were a part in the teachings of the Ishmaelite sect. The most illustrious representative was the doctor and philosopher Avicenna.

According to the history of Aloe Vera, Hassan ibn al-Sabah, the old man of the mountain and chief of the brotherhood of “assassins”, was inspired by Avicenna. Their doctrine included the apprenticeship by degree of the secrets of the “seven sebayahs” or “knowledge of the right road” by which the Ismailians conferred magic powers to their adepts. The Aloe Vera plant and hemp grown around the Alamut fortress (northern Persia) were considered by the Ismailians as a kidney vetch, an antidote and an elixir of long life.

The history of Aloe Vera reports that one of the secrets of the longevity of the templar knights was found in the famous Jerusalem elixir composed of hashish, Aloe Vera pulp and palm wine.

Eight centuries later, Dominique Larrey, chief surgeon of Napoleon’s army, was initiated by a marabout, who he had seen miraculously cure the worst wounds inflicted upon his mamelouks. He then learned how to treat the soldiers of Napoleon’s “Grand Armée” with the pulp of Aloe Vera leaves opened with the cut of a saber. That resulted in the new military expression: “to saber Aloe”. (Val-de-Grace archives).

The ayurvedic medicine of India has always held Aloe Vera in high esteem as an integral part of Hindu pharmacopeia. It is considered as a sacred plant and participated in the sacrificial rituals. Certain species were rigorously protected. Even today leaves of aloe are placed upon the funeral pyres as a symbol of eternal rebirth.

History of Aloe Vera in the middle Ages and the Renaissance

In the famous medical work of the school of Salerna, “Constantine the African” and his disciples gave a place to the therapeutic virtues of Aloe Vera.

It was during the Crusades that the Christian warriors from the West discovered the virtues of Aloe Vera which their Moslem adversaries considered as an excellent remedy. During their conquests the Arabs introduced Aloe Vera into Spain.

Thanks to the pulp of Aloe Vera, the Spanish sailors of Columbus’ boat the Santa Maria, even though suffering from malnutrition and diseases, were saved. This incited Columbus to call it “the doctor in a pot”. This encouraged all the sailors to carry Aloe Vera on their ships.

The famous doctor of the Renaissance, Paracelsus, discovered the merits of Aloe Vera when at Salerno, then in Spain and Portugal. In a letter to Amberg, he spoke indirectly of “the mysterious and secret ‘Aloe’ whose golden juice cures burns and blood poisoning”.

But it was especially the Portuguese and Spanish Jesuit fathers who, in the footsteps of the first explorers, cultivated and used Aloe Vera in all their American, African and Middle East colonies for its curative properties. Their converted Indians called it “the tree of Jesus”.

The history of Aloe Vera and the American Indians

The Aloe Vera plant along with the agave was one of the 16 sacred plants of the American Indians. They cooked the leaves over hot coals to eat them; they used the pulp to stop bleeding and to heal wounds. The fermented gel was used to calm stomach pains, to clean the kidneys and the bladder, to dissolve stones, stop coughs, ease pneumonia and induce menstruation.

In pre-Columbian America, the young Mayan girls smeared their faces with Aloe Vera juice to attract the boys (and chase the parasites) as the beauties had already done in antiquity.

The history of Aloe Vera reports that before leaving to hunt or for battle, the warriors rubbed their bodies with the pulp of Aloe Vera.

For the Mazahuas, the Aloe Vera was a magic plant, because it healed he who ate it when he was sick, gave him strength by “inducing God in him” and cleared the mind of insanity, the drunk and the deranged.

A curious Maya tradition claimed that if the pulque, (wine of the agave) made one crazy, that “a wine of Aloe” cured it.

The Jivaro Indians had named it “the doctor from heaven” for they believed that the sacred plant rendered the warriors invulnerable.

The healer or “ticitl” of the Nahuas knew well the plants which gave power and those which healed. He treated wounds, insect bites as well as snake bites by using the “blood” of Aloe Vera.

The Indians cured migraine by binding the head with a poultice of Aloe Vera. But, as we have seen, it was the Spanish Jesuits who really revived the use of Aloe Vera in the American colonies. They already knew the medicinal virtues of this plant long grown in the Andalusian monasteries.

The history of Aloe Vera and the Far East

In Japan, the aloe is a royal plant. Dozens of species are grown for multiple uses.

The juice is drunk and the Aloe Vera plant is eaten and used in many ways.

In ancient times, the samurais smeared their bodies with the pulp of Aloe Vera to chase away the demons and to render themselves immortal.

The Chinese are as fond of Aloe Vera as their Japanese cousins. They use it in many forms. Since many centuries, Aloe Vera has been considered as a specific medicine for the treatment of burns and skin ailments.

The poet Lui Yu Xi (8th century) recounted how as a child he was healed of a persistent eczema by a traveling herb seller. He prepared a mixture of two thirds Aloe Vera and one thirds liquorice which cured him very quickly. Aloe Vera was included in the medicinal plants reserved for the imperial family. It was included in the Ben Cao (1505), a work ordered by the emperor Xiao Zong.

The Chinese pharmacopeia of Li Shih-Shen (1518-1593) cites Aloe Vera among the plants with major therapeutic virtues and named it “the harmonious remedy”. The spines of Aloe ferox were used as acupuncture needles by the famous itinerant therapists, the “barefoot doctors”. Traditional Chinese medicine, always very precise in its pharmaceutical indications and formulations, prescribes very strict rules for the use of medicines. The phases of the moon, the height of the sun and the exact time of day when what part of the prescription is taken are a part of the indications. Today this concept is used by adepts of alternative medicine and even by some general practitioners.

History of Aloe Vera - from Legend to Science

In numerous countries where modern western medicine has not completely replaced traditional medicine, Aloe Vera is still the excellent medicinal plant. Local traditions often attribute protective and healing virtues to this magic plant.

Upon their return from their pilgrimage to Mecca, the Muslims hang leaves of Aloe Vera, which they had brought back from Mecca over their doors. It was supposed to be proof of their visit with the hope that the prophet would one day visit them.

For the African Zulus, Aloe Vera is “the plant that cures all”. Certain desert tribesmen made a liquid soap of Aloe Vera, which they used on their body and hair; this gave them a resplendent skin and abundant and luxuriant hair.

Carol Miller Kent, in his book “Aloe Vera” claims that a salve made of Aloe Vera for burn treatment was part of the pharmacy carried on the space capsule which landed on the moon in 1969.

The work of the Soviet biologist Israel Brekhman, long kept secret, proved the efficacy of Aloe Vera in treating atomic irradiation. It is Brekhman who proposed the concept of “adaptogene” to explain its regulatory effect on the organism.

The secular reputation in history of Aloe Vera and the renown of its legendary virtues have of course incited numerous scientists to study its medicinal properties and therapeutic effects. In spite of their bias against the “old ladies” remedy, they had to admit that many of the legendary virtues were not at all just imaginary, and moreover, they had found new applications. The history of Aloe Vera is still being written and researching Aloe Vera is an important part of writing history.

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