The first record of human use of Aloe vera is in Sumerian hieroglyphics engraved on clay tablets during the Mesopotamia civilization circa 2200 BC, in which it is described as a laxative. Use of aloe in ancient times is also documented in Egypt, Greece, and China. Aloe vera was cultivated on the islands of Barbados and Curacao in the Caribbean by Spain and the Netherlands, and was sold in various parts of Europe during the 17th century (Park & Jo, 2006). Commercial cultivation of Aloe vera in the USA began in the 1920s in Florida (Grindlay & Reynolds, 1986). Although Aloe vera originated in the warm, dry climates of Africa, the plant is readily adaptable and grows worldwide (Steenkamp & Stewart, 2007).
Use of Aloe vera gel extracts in health foods and beverages, and moisturizing cosmetics, began during the 1970s, starting in the USA and parts of Europe (Park & Jo, 2006). Historically, Aloe vera was used topically to heal wounds and for various skin conditions, and orally as a laxative (Steenkamp & Stewart, 2007). The dried latex of other Aloe species, such as Aloe ferox Miller (Cape aloe or bitter aloe) has also been used as a laxative (EMA, 2006). Today, Aloe vera is also used as a folk or traditional remedy for a variety of conditions and is found in some dietary supplements and food products. Aloe vera gel can be found in hundreds of skin products, including lotions and sunblocks (NCCAM, 2012).
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Aloes are perennial succulents or xerophytes; they can adapt to habitats with low or erratic water availability, are characterized by the capacity to store large volumes of water in their tissue, and are able to use crassulacean acid metabolism, an adaptation to the photosynthetic pathway that involves the formation of malic acid (Boudreau et al., 2013a). Aloe plants, such as Aloe vera (Fig. 1.1), all have green fleshy leaves covered by a thick cuticle or rind, under which is a thin vascular layer covering an inner clear pulp (Boudreau et al., 2013a; Fig. 1.2) The leaves are 30–50 cm in length and 10 cm in width at the base, pea-green in colour (when young spotted with white), and with bright yellow tubular flowers 25–35 cm in length arranged in a slender loose spike (WHO, 1999).
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