Kathalai is a popular herb grown in houses. It has a long history of being a medical plant. Aloe vera – as this plant is popularly known – is referred to as “lily of desert”, “the plant of immortality” and “the medicinal plant”. The herb belongs to the family Asphodelaceae and the synonyms of Kathalai are Aloe barbadensis, Aloe indica and Aloe vulgaris.
It is used for the treatment of various diseases related to skin, for curing diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, osteoarthritis, burns, sunburns and many more.
This plant is also called as Sothu kathalai, burn plant and medical aloe. It is called as Ghee Kunwar in Hindi, Ghritkumari in Sanskrit, Khorpad in Marathi and Kattar vazha in Malayalam.
PLACE OF ORIGIN
Aloe vera is native to the African continent and Mediterranean countries. The species of this variety A.barbadensis is naturalized in India. It is found in semi-wild state in many parts of India and is grown in drier parts of India. This plant grows in places with desiccate climates and it is widely distributed in Africa, India and other arid areas.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant with fleshy leaves containing sharp spikes at their end. The leaves can be yielded after three months of plantation. Leaf collection can be started by cutting the leaves at the base and it contain the gel, which is bitter in taste.
The main rosette of the plant grows up to 2 feet high and the plant continually produces offspring rosettes. In winter and spring, the plant bears yellow flowers. The original Kathalai herb bears only yellow flowers, whereas the hybrid varieties yield orange flowers.
Aloe is the genus that contains about 500 species of flowering succulent plants. Most varieties have rosette of large, thick leaves with succulent flesh inside it. Few of the varieties are:
Aloe arborescens – It is a multi-headed succulent plant, sometimes reaching the size of a tree. It is distributed in the south-east part of Southern Africa, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This variety has the medical properties similar to that of Aloe vera and is commonly used to treat burn wounds.
Aloe striatula – It is one of the varieties of Aloe that grows on the summits of mountains along the south of the Karoo region of South Africa. It looks like the rarest variety, Aloe commixta and it is part of a whole group that grow throughout Southern Africa.
Aloe rauhii – This variety is less than 15cm in height, whose leaf rosettes are approximately 12cm in diameter. The leaves have white oval shaped spots with tiny white marginal teeth.
Aloe aristata – This variety is indigenous to South Africa and surrounding countries. It is grown in garden as an ornamental plant.
Aloe peglerae – It is a small, stemless South African aloe growing up to 300-400 mm in height and the visible portions of the filaments are deep purple in color.
Aloe parvula – This species remains dormant during winter. It can be watered once a month and can be kept around 50°F (10°C). The origin of this species is Madagascar and this is drought resistant.
Aloe hereroensis – It is an African Aloe native to Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
Other varieties are Aloe tormentorii, Aloe thompsoniae, Aloe maculata, Aloe niebuhriana, Aloe glabrescens, Aloe wollastonii and Aloe zombitsiensis.
Aloe vera contains various minerals that are required for the human body. 22 amino acids are required for the human body to grow healthy. Among the 22 amino acids, 8 amino acids are “essential amino acids” that should be supplemented through diet. Aloe vera contains all these 8 amino acids and 11 of the 14 “secondary amino acids” that are required for a healthy life. The vitamins like A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E are available in this plant and it is believed that this herb can sustain the youth due to its positive effects on the skin.
The effectiveness of the gel in this plant lengthens up to hair and face. It is used as a hair care and as a facial cleanser. The gel is also used to cure tissue damage. It is used to cure the burned skin and it is also used to soften the skin. The gel helps in keeping the skin healthy and glowing, sustaining the youth look. It also acts as natural moisturizer to the skin. It also shows effect on general itching, acne, psoriasis & eczema.
The gel is also used for hair growth. It promotes the growth of new hair and it prevents the hair loss. The gel is also used as a topical ointment that is effective in curing genital herpes, Sebaceous cyst and psoriasis.
The raw juice of aloe is taken traditionally to cure fever and it also acts as a purgative. It is used in the treatment of bleeding gums and its inflammatory properties helps to reduce swelling, gingivitis and plaque. It is also used for curing diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, osteoarthritis, burns and sunburns. Evidences have been founded in some people drinking aloe juice that it reduces the blood sugar level. The positive effects are due to the presence of polysaccharides, mannans, anthraquinones and lectins.
A chemical compound called saponin present in aloe vera acts as an anti-microbial agent. Researches have shown that it also has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activity. The external application of the gel penetrates the skin directly, soothes and relieves the pain.
Despite the number of uses, aloe vera has some toxicity due to the presence of a compound called aloin. When Aloin is removed by processing, the side-effects becomes less.
Aloe vera is one of the most popular herbs that is used as medicine. Ancient literature of India, China and Egypt have records of the medical benefits of aloe.
It is used in the manufacture of cosmetic products like moisturizers that promotes and improvises the elasticity of the skin. It is also used as an ingredient in commercially available products such as lotion, yogurt, beverages and some desserts.
Most of the varieties of aloe are used as ornamental plants in pots and also decorates the gardens.