History

The topical and internal effects of aloes have been known since ancient times. Nefertite and Cleopatra, two Egyptian queens, used aloes as a beauty aid. The drug was used by Dioscorides to heal skin ailments and haemorrhoids. Aloes were used by Pliny the Elder, Celsus, Galen and other famous physicians to treat wounds and gastrointestinal disturbances, but no mention of aloes was made by either Hippocrates or Theophrastus (Shelton, 1991; Hennessee, 1998). Aloe was largely prescribed by Arabian physicians and was one of the drugs-the others were balsam, scammony, tragacanth and galbanum-recommended to Alfred the Great by Helias, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (Wheelwright, 1974). Aloe's use was first discovered on a Mesopotamian clay tablet dating from 2100 B.C. Later, in 1862, a German egyptologist, George Ebers, discovered that a papyrus found in a sarcophagus near Thebes mentioned at least twelve preparations for preparing aloe to treat external and internal ailments (Atherton, 1997; Hennessee, 1998).

Aloe was considered by the ancient Greeks to be an exclusive production of the island of Socotra, in the Indian Ocean. This is why Alexander the Great, persuaded by Aristotle, his mentor, captured the island of Socotra and sent to it Greek colonists solely to preserve and cultivate the aloe plant (Evans, 1989). The drug was included in the Egyptian Book of Remedies (about 1500 B.C.), as well as in that of the Hebrews, as a laxative and dermatologic preparation. Mesopotamians were also aware of its medicinal properties by that time (Swanson, 1995). Aloe was first reported in Greek literature as a laxative before the first century (Hennessee, 1998). In the first century Dioscorides wrote of its use in treating wounds, chapping, hair loss, genital ulcers, haemorrhoids, boils, mouth irritation and inflammation (Shelton, 1991; Hennessee, 1998). In the seventh century, aloe was also used in the Orient for eczema and sinusitis (Shelton, 1991).

Aloe, when introduced into Europe, was used for constipation and skin ailments and later, in the 1930s, was used to treat radiation burns (Tyler etal, 1981). From the ancient times to the seventeenth century the Socotrine aloe was the only official aloe. This vegetable remedy was imported into Europe by way of the Red Sea and Alexandria; there was a direct trade in aloes between Socotra and some medieval towns like Venice, which by the fifteenth century became the greatest trading centre of Europe. At the end of the seventeenth century it was possible to find aloes from the Barbados in Europe, and later, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Cape Aloe too. The drug was included as a laxative in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1820, in the Italian Pharmacopoeia in 1892 and in the European Pharmacopoeia in 1969. Today Socotrine aloes are very rare, while Barbados and Cape aloes are the most common.

In addition to its medicinal virtues, aloe was believed to be endowed with power against evil spirits. On this account, it was carefully planted in the neighbourhood of Mecca and hung by Mussulmans who visited the shrine of the Prophet, and hung over doorways as a religious symbol. The Mussulman name of aloe is saber and signifies patience, referred to the waiting-time between the burial and the resurrection morning (Grieve, 1998).

Aloe and Your Health

Aloe and Your Health

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