Aloe vera is a commonly-grown succulent, both for its spiky appearance and the gel in its leaves. There are over 300 aloe vera species in the world, and if cared for properly all year long, they can grow tall stalks with flowers in orange, red, and yellow colors. Aloe veras take about three to four years to reach their mature size. If you’re interested in the benefits they have to offer, you need only harvest their leaves.
Aside from being a gorgeous succulent, aloe vera plants have a variety of health benefits and uses that make them an ideal plant to have around the house. It’s been used medicinally for thousands of years, and you may have even seen it contained in modern-day skincare products. But why not have the fresh stuff right at home?
Uses for aloe vera
Aloe vera can be used at home with a variety of benefits, including:
- Clearing acne
- Healing burns
- Improving digestive health
For some things, you can simply use the fresh gel that you get from the aloe leaves; however, some (like aloe juice) will require a recipe. If you’re planning on using aloe vera for anything other than a topical salve, you should talk with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.
An important note: Not everyone can use the gel of the aloe vera plant. For some people, it causes irritation and discomfort. If you’ve never used aloe vera gel or leaves in any form, test it on a small part of your skin before applying to the afflicted area to see if there are any adverse effects.
Are there side effects to consuming aloe?
Yes, which is why it’s important to research and speak with your healthcare provider before orally taking aloe. Some side effects include:
- Low potassium
- Muscle weakness
- Stomach pain
If you’re perfectly healthy and have no underlying conditions, though, aloe is a great plant to grow at home and harvest.
Aloe vera plants are a beautiful member of the succulent family that aren’t too difficult to care for, which makes their benefits easy to obtain. When growing your aloe vera indoors — it can only be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12 — you should make sure it’s kept in an environment consistently between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keeping your aloe vera plant happy and healthy is not only an essential part of making sure you have some to harvest but also in keeping pests away. Aloe vera plants commonly attract mealybugs, mites, and scale, which can be successfully removed if caught early enough; however, pests are most attracted to weaker plants. Keep your aloe strong, and you should have minimal problems.
Light needs: Bright, indirect sunlight; easily burned by direct sun
Water needs: Prefers regular watering but can handle droughts
Soil needs: Well-draining soil
When can I start cutting my aloe vera plant?
Aloe vera plants shouldn’t be cut or harvested until they’ve reached their mature size and are a few years old. That way, the plant will have time to grow healthy and strong before having pieces taken off. It’s also important to wait a few weeks between cutting leaves from a single plant to give it time to heal from the stress. Because of this, some gardeners choose to have a few plants they can harvest from.
Caring for aloe vera plants is easy. But cutting them? Also easy! As long as you’re harvesting from a mature plant, you shouldn’t have many issues when you follow the process properly. Here are the steps to cut and harvest your aloe vera successfully:
- Start by choosing thick leaves from the outer section of your plant. Check them to make sure they’re free of any damage or disease.
- Grab a sterilized pair of scissors or shears and remove no more than three or four leaves by cutting them close to the stem. Take care not to damage the stem or roots of the plant.
- After harvesting, wash and dry the leaves, then trim the prickly edges with a knife.
- With the knife or your hands, gently (and safely!) separate the outside of the leaf from the inner gel. Discard the outer layers.
- Cut the aloe gel into slices.
The gel can either be used fresh by applying directly to your skin, made into a recipe, or stored in the fridge for a few days for later use; however, fresh aloe should always be used as quickly as possible.
Does aloe vera grow back after cutting it?
Yes and no. The leaves that were cut won’t regenerate, which is why it’s important to make the cuts as close to the stem as possible without harming the plant. That said, your aloe will work to grow new leaves to replace the old ones, so harvesting your aloe doesn’t mean that it’s the end for your plant.
Yes! Because aloe vera plants propagate primarily from offshoots (though they can be propagated by seed) that grow up from the base of the mother plant, you don’t have to worry about the harvesting interfering too much. Plants need energy to do things, and so depending on how much you cut off, it may take a bit longer for an offshoot to grow to a size where it can be separated; however, with patience, you’ll be able to grow a collection of aloe vera plants that you can harvest from and care for.
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