While they make an interesting houseplant, many of us don’t just grow Aloe vera (syn. A. barbadensis, A. indica, and A. elongata), just for its ornamental potential. Inside the succulent leaves of this plant is a mesophyll layer that we typically refer to as the gel.
This gel is made up mostly of water, but it also contains useful amino acids, enzymes, minerals, lipids, vitamins, and anti-inflammatory compounds. That’s why this gel has been used for centuries to treat all kinds of skin irritation and other ailments.
Whether you’re looking to ease a burn or bug bite, or to heal a cut, there is more to it than cutting a leaf open and wiping on your skin.
How to Harvest Aloe:
First things first, avoid harvesting leaves from a young plant. Any plant that is smaller than six inches or that has fewer than five leaves isn’t large enough to use, yet. If you remove a leaf from a plant this size, you run the risk of stunting its growth.
When you’re ready to harvest, look for an older leaf on the outside of the plant. Those that are splayed out or growing more horizontally than the other leaves are typically easier to remove, but any outer leaf will work.
The leaves are long, with spiny margins and a pointy tip, so use caution as you work.
Take a sharp knife or a pair of clippers and carefully cut the leaf completely through as close to the base as you can. Take care not to cut any other nearby leaves or to cut into the root system.
After you have removed the leaf, cut off the bottom half inch to expose fresh gel and create a flat surface. Stand the leaf up on a plate, in a bowl, or in a clean sink. Let the yellow latex, which is the part that surrounds the gel and is inside the hard outer rind, drain out for at least 15 minutes.
While we’re talking about latex, be aware that if you have a latex allergy, you shouldn’t use aloe on your skin without testing a small area first. It could cause irritation that could undo all the good work you’re trying to do.
Pick up the leaf, wipe the base, and hold it upright for a few seconds to see if any additional latex drains out. If it does, place the leaf back in its drainage area for another 15 minutes. Check again in 15 minutes to see if the latex has stopped draining.
Once no more latex is running out of the plant, you can shape it and open it up.
First, cut off the top inch of the leaf tip. This step isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps prevent any accidental scrapes or stabbing by the sharp end.
Then, use a sharp knife to slice off the spines from the leaf margin. Again, this helps protect you from unintended damage.
Lay the leaf on a cutting board with the flat side up. Carefully cut the rind off, moving away from yourself, to expose the inner gel layer.
Take a spoon and scrape out the inner gel.
Alternatively, you can cut the leaf in half lengthwise and scoop or squeeze the gel out.
The gel tends to have a different texture depending on what part of the leaf you take it from. You can separate the thicker gel from the thinner gel for use in different circumstances. For instance, thin gel might be better for use on your face, while you might want thicker gel for your feet.
Or you can mix it up to combine the textures into one homogeneous texture.
Place the gel into a small, airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
You can also freeze it for up to a year.
If you’d like, you can add a bit of tea tree oil for additional healing properties. If you’re freezing the gel, add the oil before you freeze it.
Now that you have your gel, you can use it to treat things like seborrheic dermatitis, frostbite, burns, psoriasis, and inflammation, or to speed wound healing.