We always have a few Aloe vera plants growing in our house. They are easy to look after, drought tolerant succulents that do best in a sunny window but are surprisingly adaptable to lower light levels too.
Aloe is often touted for it’s health and beauty functions, from skin cleansing to collagen support when ingested. However, the stand out function, and the reason I make sure I always have a plant in my house, is for treating burns.
When it comes to first aid when someone has been burned or scalded, nothing beats Aloe vera. The standard hospital treatment for burns is silver sulfadiazine cream. Indeed medical students are taught that silver sulfadiazine is the most effective treatment for minor burns, but this is simply not true. Another common burns treatment is Nitrofurazone, but again this standard of care is beaten hands down by aloe vera. The published literature shows that there are many superior treatments, and aloe vera frequently comes out top. Here is what just a small selection of such studies found:
- These results clearly demonstrated the greater efficacy of aloe cream over silver sulfadiazine cream for treating second-degree burns. [Khorasani, 2009]
- Thermal burns patients dressed with Aloe Vera gel showed advantage compared to those dressed with silver sulfadiazine regarding early wound epithelialization, earlier pain relief and cost-effectiveness. [Shahzad, 2013]
- Speed of healing was better in aloe vera group than silver sulfadiazine… In terms of wound surface area maximal improvement was observed… in the second degree wound of aloe vera. [Akhoondinasab, 2015]
- In patients treated with Aloe Vera gel, epithelialization and granulation tissue of burn wounds were remarkably earlier than those patients treated with nitrofurazone [Irani, 2016]
So, how would I use Aloe vera with a burn?
It depends on the severity of the burn, but essentially I always try to cool down the site first, with cold water if available, for a good few seconds/minute then I find my Aloe plant and with a clean damp cloth I clean a leaf to remove dust, which can easily be present, then I either cut just the tip off the leaf and dab the cut end on the burn to get some of the clear gelatinous contents of the leaf directly on it, or, if the burn is more extensive I will cut the whole leaf off the plant near the base, with a clean sharp knife. I then lie the leaf on a chopping board and cut off the tooth-like serrations down both edges. Then I slit the whole leaf open, revealing a trove of cool, kind, healing jelly which can be removed with the knife or a spoon and applied directly to the burn or scald.
Scalds: an accidental n=1 trial
On one occasion I poured boiling water onto three fingers of one hand and was convinced I would have very serious and painful blisters the next day. However, I quickly took three finger length leaves off a plant, cut them in half lengthwise and encasing each of my very painful and hurt fingers in a leaf, like three finger puppets, lightly fixing them in place with elastic bands. I kept them on over night (a bit awkward, but I managed). Incredibly, in the morning my fingers were very nearly normal! This astonished me as I had on a previous occasion, some years earlier, managed to similarly scald a finger with boiling water and even though I kept it in cold water all day, I didn’t use aloe. On that occasion my finger was extremely painful for many days afterwards, and it resulted in my nail growing deformed for a time. The Aloe vera was SO much more effective, and the pain vastly reduced.
For sunburn Aloe is a real workhorse. Try not to get sunburnt in the first place, but if you do, simply prepare a leaf as I have described above, trimming off the sharp thorns first, cutting the leaf in half lengthwise, and rubbing the opened up gel onto the shoulders/forehead/thighs or wherever is sore. It works as an ‘after sun’ treatment even if you have not burnt. Skin just loves Aloe vera!
Coffee too hot? Soup scalded your tongue? Aloe vera to the rescue! A burnt tongue can interfere with eating for days afterwards, so the quicker you can heal it the better. Just wipe any dust off your chosen Aloe vera leaf, cut the tip off, or the next bit down if you have already used the tip, and dab the jelly onto your poor tongue. Hold it outside your mouth for as many seconds as you can manage (which won’t be many) and then carry on, swallow it, re-apply a couple of times if you can, then try to forget the burn. Although you might be aware of the tender area for the rest of that day, it will have resolved by the next day. I am not sure how that happens, but I can assure you that is the pattern I have seen, many times.
Internally this ancient healing plant is wonderful for soothing the digestive tract when inflammation occurs for any reason. It speeds up healing, soothes, cools, and restores. You can eat the gel straight from the leaf, with a spoon, or purchase the many refined versions found in health food shops. They will have varying degrees of preservative in, but seek out the most pure. The taste is rather bitter, but if a comfortable stomach is what you are looking for, the taste will be the least of your concern. Obviously, cereal grains are by far the main cause of inflammation in the digestive tract, but this gel is really helpful for all causes of gut inflammation.
In the inner leaf area of the plant, is the ‘latex’ or aloin. This contains high levels of a chemical called anthraquinone, which is a pretty powerful laxative, causing greater peristaltic acton of the colon. Some commercial Aloe vera juices contain this portion as well as the jelly, and others have this part removed. If you are seeking a laxative effect along with the soothing healing properties then seek out a product that contains the latex. Pregnant women, however, should not use this as the action on the colon can also activate the uterus, which is, of course, undesirable. Instead they should seek aloe gels that have had the latex/aloin/anthraquinones removed if they wish to use them internally. Of course externally all versions are safe and excellent on burns.
Every household should ensure they have one of these superb plants at hand, because accidents will happen! Quick, safe, cheap and reliable solutions like having fresh Aloe vera on the spot are invaluable. They look nice too.
Thanks for reading. Give me your comments and Aloe vera experiences below!