Among the dozens of herbs I grow in my garden is a desert succulent called aloe vera. What is that succulent doing in an herb garden? Well, it’s there because of its first aid value.
Sometimes called “true aloe” or “medicinal aloe,” aloe vera produces a clear gelatinous sap that appears whenever you snap off a portion of the leaf. This sap is used as a first aid for skin damage, especially burns. Southwest gardeners will benefit from growing one of these plants in their garden.
The light green sword-shaped leaves of aloe vera are 6 to 18 inches long, depending on the age of the plant. It forms an ever-expanding whorl of leaves around a central core. The long leaves are a gray-green color with spine-like teeth along the edge.
Aloes generally prefer full sun and relatively low water conditions throughout the growing season. When frost threatens, the plant needs some form of protection. Like all succulents, aloe vera may survive brief periods of cold but sustained temperatures below freezing will definitely kill it. This is why most gardeners grow aloe vera in a container.
If you bring your aloe vera in during the winter, keep the potting soil on the dry side and watch out for mealy bugs, which tend to attack them when grown indoors. In spring, move the aloe back outdoors and resume regular watering and light fertilization.
Aloe vera propagates very easily by producing offshoots (sometimes called pups) close to the base of the parent plant. These can be quickly removed with a sharp knife and planted in another container. If left with the parent plant the ever-increasing offshoots will crowd the pot to the point it can be hard to see where one plant ends and another begins. When that happens it’s best to lift the whole mass out of the pot, divide the individuals with a sharp knife, repot the ones you want to keep, and pass the rest to friends.
When buying aloe vera, look closely at the plant to see that it has the characteristic smooth gray -green colored leaves with no markings. I recently learned that the plant I had been growing for years and passing off as aloe vera was a close cousin (Aloe saponaria) and not the real thing. There are more than 300 members in the aloe family but only one is used for its medicinal value.
Want to add an easy-care succulent to your garden that can be used for first aid? Get some aloe vera today. You can grow that!
If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20 years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. Ann is a feature writer for The Dallas Morning News.The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a speaker and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 35 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl visit her at www.herbncowgirl.com.