The Best Guide to Aloe Vera that You’ll Ever See

In this post we’ll share with you the characteristics of aloe vera, its main varieties, properties, history, main exporters and importers, how it is cultivated and some products made from this plant. Don’t miss it!

What is aloe vera and what are its characteristics?     

Scientific name  Aloe
Common nameSábila, aloe vera.
Place if originNorthwest Africa and Arabia.
HabitatSandbanks and places with abundant rocks.
DistributionAsia, Europe, africa y North America

Characteristics of aloe vera 

Aloe, which belongs to the genus Asphodelaceae is formed by elongated, thick, and wide leaves of green color that can measure from 30 to 40 cm high; the entire plant can measure from 50 to 70 cm in length. Its leaves have a series of spines along the edges that are approximately 2mm thick.

As well, these leaves are composed of 3 layers, the first one consisting of a viscous and transparent gel for which this plant is used. This gel is 99% water and the remaining 1% is made up of other nutrients such as lipids, amino acids, and vitamins. The second layer is composed of latex, a type of bitter-yellow sap. The third layer is called the cortex and has 15 to 20 cells, this layer protects the plant and contains compressed proteins and carbohydrates. The bark is very important because it has some tissues that are responsible for transporting water and starch inside the plant.

Its flowers grow in clusters and have a series of capsules that slowly open as the plant grows. Once these capsules are fully open, the plant can be said to be mature. These flowers are red, orange or yellow depending on the species of aloe vera where they are found.

Types of aloe vera 

In general, there are 10 types or varieties of aloe vera, which are:

  1. Aloe Arborescens or krantz
  2. Aloe Ferox
  3. Gonialoe variegata
  4. Aloe Saponaria
  5. Aloe Juvenna
  6. Aloe ciliaris
  7. Aloe brevifolia
  8. Aloe barbadensis miller
  9. Aloe aristata
  10. Aloe striata

Today we’ll look at the first 5 types as they are the main ones.

Aloe arborescens or Aloe krantz 

Aloe krantz is a valuable asset for gardens: it has large, beautiful flowers, attractive foliage, a decorative shape and is easy to grow. It is also a ‘must have’ for anyone who wants to stock their herb gardens with healing plants.

Aloe krantz grows into a multi-headed shrub 2 to 3 m tall with showy gray-green leaves arranged in cute rosettes. The leaf margins have striking pale teeth.

Their large, colorful flower spikes are borne during the cold winter months (May-July), brightening up a drab garden in this season. Intense orange is the commonest color of its flowers, but there are also varieties of pure yellow and an unusual form of intense orange (almost red) and yellow.

In many parts of South Africa, the Aloe arborescens are planted surrounding kraals (domestic livestock enclosures) as a living fence.  The cuttings intended to be used as barrier plants are available in muthi stores.

The Zulu, an African tribe, use the leaves of this plant, dried and pounded to powder, as protection against storms. Leaf decoctions are also used in calving and in the treatment of sick calves.

By Ton Rulkens from Mozambique – Aloe arborescens – Gorongosa 3, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Aloe Ferox 

This is one of the best-known South African plants that have a long history of medicinal use. An attractive form of Aloe ferox is found in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly between the midlands and the coast in the Umkomaas and Umlaas River areas. This used to be known as A. candelabrum. It is also known as red aloe or bitter aloe.

Bitter aloe reaches 2-3 meters in height and the leaves are distributed in a rosette. The old leaves remain after they have dried. The leaves are dull green, sometimes with a slightly bluish appearance; they may also have a reddish tinge. A. candelabrum has an elegant shape with the tips of the leaves slightly curved downward. The spines on the leaf margin have a reddish tinge. They may also have spines on the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves. Young plants tend to be very spiny.

Bitter aloe is most famous for its medicinal qualities. In parts of South Africa, the bitter yellow juice just below the skin is harvested as a renewable resource for two hundred years. The hard, black juice of this aloe is known as cape aloe or aloe clod and is used primarily for its laxative properties, but is also taken for arthritis. “Schwedenbitters”, which is found in many pharmacies, contains bitter aloe. The gelatinous pulp inside the leaves is used in cosmetic products and is reported to have wound-healing properties.

By Berthold Werner – Own work, Public domain,

Gonialoe variegata 

Its name ‘Variegata’ refers to the alternate white and green bands on the leaves. It is an attractive, completely smooth plant generally toothless and without sharp edges, and is well-suited to most window frames. It bears nice orange-red flowers.

It is indigenous to the dry western parts of South Africa (Cape Provinces, Namaqualand, Karoo and Orange Free State) and southern Namibia. It grows in the shade of shrubs on hard or stony ground. The plants are stemless, rarely solitary and almost always form clumps of a few rosettes that rarely exceed 30 to 40 cm in height.

It has a flowering stem about 30 cm high and a single or 1-2-branched, cylindrical 10-20 cm long raceme with 10 to 30 flowers.

It was first found near Copperberg in the Springbok District in Northern Cape by Simon Van Der Stel’s expedition in 1685 and has had a long cultivation record ever since.

Gonialoe variegata
De Karelj – Own work, Public domain,

Aloe Saponaria 

Aloe Saponaria, commonly known as Aloe Coral Groundcover or aloe maculata, has beautiful striations that form horizontal color patterns on flattened leaves that lie close to the ground in tight rosettes. This plant is a great surprise in the fall when hundreds of 2 cm tall flower stalks emerge, full of bright coral-colored flowers. These stems make great flowers for bouquets because they last a long time in the arrangements. It has good quality when left in full sun, yet it should be balanced with plenty of shade at the same time. It should have regular watering of the garden being prudent not to give it too much water.

Aloe Saponaria, commonly known as Aloe Coral Groundcover or aloe maculata, has beautiful striations that form horizontal color patterns on flattened leaves that lie close to the ground in tight rosettes. A great surprise occurs with this plant in the fall when hundreds of 2-centimeter-tall flower stalks emerge, filled with bright coral-colored flowers. These stems represent very good flowers for bouquets because they last a long time in arrangements. It has a good quality when left in full sun, but at the same time should be balanced with plenty of shade. It should have regular watering the garden being cautious not to give it too much water.

From Karelj – Own work, Public domain,

Aloe Juvenna 

Aloe juvenna or tiger’s tooth aloe is a beautiful aloe with white spots. its pointed leaves are piled up forming a rosette. Sometimes these green leaves turn reddish brown.

Aloe juvenna has become very popular because of its distinctive spiny edges, but this plant is still rare in its natural habitat in the jungles of Kenya.  It belongs to the same genus as Aloe Vera and is a low-maintenance plant perfect for all beginning gardeners.

It remains dormant during the summer and begins to grow again in the winter months. This plant is also called Aloe Zanzibari.

Aloe Juvenna grows in small rocky areas in the mountainous jungles of Kenya. It can grow up to 12 inches tall and up to 24 inches wide. It has slender, straight stems packed with compact, triangular leaves. The stems can grow up to 2 feet long and are not visible since they are covered with leaves from top to bottom.

During the first few years of growth, the stems remain erect before arching. Aloe Juvenna is often confused with Aloe Squarrosa, but Aloe Squarrosa has longer, curved leaves.

aloe juvenna
From KENPEI – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Properties and benefits of aloe 

Aloe nutritional profile 

We invite you to see the nutritional table of aloe per 100g, taken from FatSecret.

Energy222 kj53 kcal
Saturated fat0,008g
Polyunsaturated fat0,042g
Monounsaturated fat0,014g

5 properties of aloe vera that you must take advantage of 

It has laxative properties 

The laxative properties of aloe are attributable to its content of anthraquinones, such as aloin A (barbaloin), aloin B (isobarbaloin), and aloe-emodin.

More specifically, these aloe components act directly on the intestinal mucosa, increasing motility in the last part of the intestine and decreasing transit time in the colon. The part of the plant with high concentrations of anthraquinones is the juice, which is also attributed to purgative properties.

It is an antibacterial and antiviral 

Studies with aloe-emodin have shown that it can inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori in a dose-dependent manner and it appears that this molecule is also capable of exerting an antibacterial action against methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA). In addition, aloe-emodin can exert antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2, varicella-zoster virus and influenza virus.

It has antitumor properties 

According to some, aloe has antitumor properties; however, such a claim is quite misleading. In fact, it is not so much the plant itself or its portions that exhibit potential antitumor activity, but some of its chemical components, conveniently isolated and purified and tested in the laboratory under certain controlled conditions. To be more specific, we are talking about some anthraquinone derivatives and, in particular, aloe-emodin.

It is anticarcinogenic in some cases 

Some studies have also been carried out on this molecule to investigate its possible anticarcinogenic properties. From the research conducted so far, it seems that it is capable of exerting antitumor activity against various malignant cells belonging to different types of diseases, such as breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and lung cancer.

According to a fairly recent systematic review (2017), if the research were confirmed by clinical studies, aloe-emodin could become in the future a therapeutic approach for some patients with malignant diseases.

Skin healing 

Aloe vera gel and juice are, on the other hand, rich in mucilage and are used externally for the treatment of various dermatological and oral cavity problems and, internally, for gastric disorders.

For topical use, one can take advantage of the properties of aloe vera for the skin, which includes anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, refreshing, and healing action.

WARNING: do not consume aloe vera if you have diarrhea or kidney failure.

History and origin of aloe vera 

It may be that aloe vera has become important in our society only in recent times, but the history of this plant goes back thousands of years. It all started in what we now call Africa with its ancient civilizations.

Aloe vera was first written down on clay tablets in Babylon more than 6,000 years ago. In an archaeological find, aloe vera was mentioned as a medicinal plant on fragments. The Sumerians used it around 4200 BC, probably both aloe vera juice and aloe vera gel obtained from the leaves. Interestingly, the Assyrians and Babylonians combined the plant with absinthe to create an aid against gastrointestinal diseases. At that time, people still believed that illness meant that demons had invaded the body. Aloe vera was considered the plant of the gods and its juice was said to cure ailments.

The ancient Egyptians from 3000 BC were also aware of the benefits of aloe. They not only expected a natural healing power but also assumed that it would rejuvenate them and help them live longer or even eternally. Nefertiti and Cleopatra relied on this precious juice for their daily skincare. That is why aloe vera appeared as a “plant of immortality” even for embalming the dead because the substance was supposed to reverse the decomposition process. Today it is assumed that this has to do with the fungicidal and bactericidal effects of aloe. Experts categorized them as analgesic and anti-inflammatory as early as 1550 B.C. in the “Eber Papyrus”. At that time, the symbol of beauty and immortality with its magical effect was reserved for the elite such as the pharaohs.  However, the secret recipes with the “Blood of the Gods” were passed on, so that today we have at least some ancient records as evidence; hieroglyphic writings and wall paintings in the tombs of the pharaohs mention the revered aloe vera.

Aloe vera was highly prized by the ancient civilizations of present-day Africa. What began in Babylon and was continued by the pharaohs in Egypt until it gradually evolved from a purely medicinal product to a product of the pharaohs.

Global aloe vera industry 

Discover the main exporters and importers of aloe vera in the world.  

Top aloe vera exporters in the world in 2020 

In the following chart, you’ll find the 10 countries that exported the most aloe vera by 2020 according to FAO. A chart that provides information on the monetary volume of exports from these countries, specifically in U.S. dollars in 2020. Let’s take a look at them:

Top importers of aloe vera in the world in 2020 

The top importers of aloe vera according to FAO for the year 2020 were the ones that you see in the following chart. On the other hand, it also provides information on the monetary volume of imports from these countries, specifically in U.S. dollars in 2020. Let’s see what they are:

How is aloe cultivated? 

To cultivate this plant there are a series of requirements that must be taken into account. Below, we’ll show you what they are:   


Well-drained soil is particularly important, Aloe vera doesn’t like waterlogging! For this reason, the soil must be permeable so that excess water can drain away. Good drainage layer, gravel, and sand are important. Aloe vera soil should have pH levels that are between 6.5 and 7.


Aloe vera is comfortable at temperatures of 20-25° Celsius. It thrives best in warm, dry places all the time.

Aloe planting method 

Care for aloe vera 

  • Light: Aloe vera needs bright, natural light to thrive. When outdoors, it needs up to six hours of full sun, with a small break in the shade during the afternoon. When grown indoors, aloe should be placed in a window with both direct and indirect sunlight. Direct sun can burn its tender skin but lack of light will cause the plant to grow long stems and weaken its leaves, causing them to shrivel.
  • Water: Aloe prefers regular watering, as long as the soil dries out completely between waterings. If the soil remains dry for long periods, the leaves will wilt and shrivel slightly. The plant should recover when watered, however, prolonged periods of stress, either prolonged drought or too much water, cause the leaves to turn yellow and die. Outdoor plants should not be watered during rainy periods. Aloe vera doesn’t need water at all in winter, as long as it has received sufficient water during its growing season. If the weather is rainy during the winter, consider planting aloe in gravel or stones. This will allow water to run off and prevent rotting.
  • Moisture: Aloe can handle dry air very well and requires no additional moisture.
  • Fertilizer: Aloe vera grows best in poor soils (this plant is adapted to nutritionally poor desert soil) and requires no fertilization at all. That said, feeding potted aloe once a year each spring can help maintain its growth.


  1. The first thing to do to plant aloe is to get a cutting from the mature plant. However, if you don’t have a root or seeds it will not be possible to flower another crop. The seeds of this plant are difficult to find, for this reason, the best option is to grow the plant from cuttings. To do this, put gravel drainage at the base of the pot measuring 2 fingers long to make sure that the crop will grow in the best possible conditions.
  2. After that, add common garden soil and organic matter, which should never be chemical.
  3. When you have a mature plant to take cuttings from, the first thing to do is to identify them. The cuttings are the ones that grow in the surroundings of the mature plant, these have a smaller size (from 15 to 20 cm). Remove the plant from the pot and choose one of the cuttings, then take all its leaves and start cutting the cutting carefully with the help of a spreading knife.
  4. Be careful not to damage the root of the cutting because this is the most important part for a new crop to grow. Once you have the cutting, just put it in the pot and add soil to the plant up to the part where the leaves grow. It is recommended to water the plant 2 weeks after it has been planted.
  5. Make sure that the mature plant is aloe vera and not another type of aloe. If this is the case, it won’t have the same medicinal and cosmetic benefits of aloe vera. It is suggested to place the new crop where it can have contact with sunlight and have at least a little humidity when possible. In the first phase of planting, its growth is stimulated by the level of humidity, which is why the plant should not be left in cold places.


Aloe vera only needs to be pruned if the leaves are wilted and dead. The leaves that have been damaged by environmental factors can also be pruned. If the outer leaves of the aloe vera plant turning brown at the tips, they should also be cut off. To do so, use clean garden shears and cut off only the affected tip or prune the entire leaf at its base. Pruning the leaves at the base, whether dead or alive, will encourage new growth and make the plant aesthetically pleasing at the same time. Never cut an aloe leaf in the middle.

Aloe Harvesting 

Be aware that once the plant reaches maturity (2 to 5 years after planting) you’ll have to separate the mature plant from the cuttings and repeat all the steps to propagate it. If you want to plant aloe in the garden instead of in a pot, the plants should be spaced 2m apart to prevent their roots from intertwining.

Post-harvest of aloe vera 

There are several ways to store this plant. The first is to store a whole leaf for 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator. If you want to store aloe in the long term you can put the leaves directly in the freezer and cover with plastic wrap the part from where it was extracted as the pulp is exposed in this part and this can cause it to be damaged faster. By freezing it, aloe can last from 6 to 8 months.

Another way to preserve aloe vera is to use its gel. The first thing to do is to cut the bottom and the top of the leaf, and then cut the left and right edges where the thorns are. After that, peel the remaining peel using a knife or a vegetable peeler; once all the peel is removed, the pulp can be cut into small cubes. The pulp can be stored in the refrigerator for about 10 days once the pulp has been cut. If you want to freeze the pulp, you can put the previously cut cubes in plastic bags so that they can be stored in the freezer. When the pulp is stored in the freezer it can last up to 8 months.

Uses and products made from aloe vera 

Aloe is often used as a cosmetic or homemade medicine. People usually consume it in these presentations, however, there are other industrial products made from this plant, so it can be said that it is used fresh or processed. Certain products made from aloe vera have also been launched to the market, such as the ones we’ll show you below.

Handmade aloe vera products 

Aloe vera gel 

This gel is obtained by cutting the plant or squeezing it. It is said that applying fresh gel to the skin is even more effective than processed aloe vera gel. However, several experts believe that when aloe vera is processed, its properties are better stabilized and preserved in actual proportional doses.

Aloe insideImage by Franziska Ingold at Pixabay

Aloe juice 

This juice can be consumed alone or mixed with other juices such as orange juice to give it a healthier touch. When this juice is mixed with other juices, it is necessary to keep more aloe vera than the other ingredients. Also, make sure that the juice is free of the latex of the plant or as little as possible; otherwise, a considerable amount of latex can cause diarrhea, which is why you should only leave the latex in when you want to treat constipation.

Aloe juice can also be used externally to treat skin problems such as psoriasis or acne. You can add 2 cups of aloe vera juice to warm water in the shower to keep your skin in good health and enjoy its soothing properties.

Industrial products made from aloe vera 

Aloe vera tablets and capsules 

These products are used for their purgative and laxative effects, so they are consumed to treat conditions such as constipation. They have a rather bitter taste and should be used in moderation and under a doctor’s prescription.

There are also capsules with soft gelatin inside where the aloe vera gel is preserved.

Aloe balm 

This balm is special for moisturizing the skin and soothing it in case of sun damage. This product also has emollient properties that help the skin retain its natural moisture to keep it soft and clean. This is also achieved because this balm has glycerin in its composition.

Aloe Vera body lotion 

This lotion has pure aloe vera from the Canary Islands and can be used either as a moisturizing cream or as a way to soothe the skin when it is irritated, burned or stung. If this was not enough, this product also has antibacterial properties with which you can fight acne and skin redness.

Below, you’ll find a list of other products that are also made from aloe vera:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioners
  • Soft drinks
  • Rinses
  • Lotions
  • Styling creams
  • Suntan lotions
  • Hair food
  • Cleansing gel
  • Essential oils
  • Exfoliators
  • Deodorants
  • Micellar water


Aloe is a very important plant. It is widely consumed for its many benefits, including skin and hair care, and for the variety of products that can be made with it. We hope that this blog has helped you know more about aloe vera and that you don’t hesitate to consume it in all its presentations in order to enjoy its benefits firsthand.