ALOE VERA: An Ancient Ally
Returning to the earth in sacred ceremony is part of the life/death cycle and honors our bodies and feeds the body of Earth. The spiritual communion is not left only for the end of life, but can be shared in the beginning of life as well by burying the placenta of your newly born child. Witches, pagans and Goddess worshippers around the world practice this sacred ritual – and for centuries it has been a tradition among many people of the First Nations. When I decided to plant my son Kobe’s placenta under a plant, my friend Jimi Castillo, an elder of the Tongva Natives in Southern California, looked at me intensely and said with assurance and bit of pride that my Native blood was coming through, outshining my Spanish stock.
I smiled, grateful that my connection to the earth remains strong, whatever the lineage. I wanted the placenta under a healing plant that would be with me for a long time. Aloe Vera was the obvious choice.
The Story of Aloe
Aloe has been an ancient ally for humans from antiquity to the present day, without lapse. Aloe is believed to be the only plant in the Garden of Eden, and is included in both the Papyrus Ebers (1500 BC) and Dioscorides’ Greek Herbal (first century AD). It is also mentioned extensively in the Bible, including as part of the wrappings of Christ’s body. According to several accounts, Cleopatra attributed her irresistible charm and beauty to her use of Aloe gel. Historians state that Aristotle persuaded Alexander the Great to conquer the island of Socroto for the sole purpose of obtaining Aloe as a wound ointment for his soldiers, which in turn healed a badly infected wound Alexander the Great earned during the siege of Gaza.
The word aloe is associated with the word “root” and “guru.” Aloe is known as the Medicine Plant, Burn Plant, First Aid Plant or Miracle Plant. In Spanish its name is Sa’vila. In Sankrit it is Ghrita-kumari. Is is Jadam in Malaysia, Lu-hui in Chinese, Erva Babosa in Portuguese, Panini O‘awa‘awa on Hawaii, but in Greek, Latina, German, Italian, Russian and French, it is Aloe with the “e” being pronounced as a long “a.”
Aloe Vera is used as a soothing salve for burns, cuts and wounds and internally as a purgative and for insomnia, stomach disorders, constipation, headaches, loss of hair and kidney ailments. Aloe Vera has numerous health benefits including:
- More than 20 amino acids that can help with the formation of bone, organ tissue and skin.
- Three different plant sterols or fatty acids that protect the blood, particularly HCL, which is a good cholesterol that reduces the amount of fat within the blood and the effects of some allergies.
- As an adaptogen, it relieves irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diarrhea. It is incredibly effective at managing digestion and helping regularity in much the same way as fiber.
- Improves the effectiveness of a detox via its gelatinous nature, which means that it is able to move through your intestines and gut more slowly and along the way it absorbs toxins.
- Improves oxygen transportation throughout the body.
- Helps the body avoid infections internally and externally thanks to its antibacterial qualities.
- As an anti-viral, it can reduce inflammation of the tissue and joints
When preparing any of the recipes below take a moment to connect with the Aloe. If possible make your own gel from a plant that you grow. Take several deep breaths and allow for a mindful meditation to infuse your being and relax into the presence. Feel the primordial power of Aloe respond to your needs. The plant can be very direct about what it wants in return and what it can offer you. The sensation I get from Aloe is a powerful ally; nurturing, generous giver with discernment and not inclined to over-giving. Aloe knows how to hold onto her water and can teach you how to heal and yet hold onto your most precious resources.
Facial Toner: Mix equal parts Aloe vera juice with lemon juice and use as a spritzer to tone the skin. As you prepare the dish, include an intention to either have courage to face the day, the situation, aging or evoke a bright outlook.
Burn Salve: Mix ¼ cup Aloe gel with one tablespoon of olive, jojoba, almond, avocado, hemp, sunflower, or coconut oil. Add one tablespoon of grated beeswax. Sit the bowl of ingredients in a pot of simmering hot water. After the wax has melted, mix all ingredients and pour into a container. Alternatively you can use ¼ cup honey instead of beeswax and skip the heating up process. As you prepare this ointment, ask that any unbalanced feelings associated with anger, being burned or incensed rise to the surface so that you can begin to look at the situation or people, including yourself, involved with soothing compassion and let it all go.
Shampoo: Mix ½ cup of Aloe vera gel, ½ cup of castile soap, 2 teaspoons of glycerin, ½ teaspoon of coconut oil, and 5 drops each of rosemary and lavender essential oils. This shampoo works as an excellent astringent to pick up the unnecessary oils and dirt, so as you prepare it and especially when you lather it into your hair, visualize yourself cleansed and refreshed, clear of what no longer serves you.
Aloe Vera contains an immense amount of vitamins including vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and E. It’s also rich in choline and folic acid, all of which help the skin regenerate and stay healthy and strengthens hair. The minerals in Aloe vera are abundant as well, with calcium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, sodium and chromium.
There are 200 species in the Aloe family which grow in the dry regions of Asia, African, Europe and the Americas. Although one might think of Aloe as a cactus, it is a perennial succulent belonging to the Lily (Liliaceae) family and the larger class of plants known as the “Xeroids,” so called because they possess the ability to close their stomata completely to avoid loss of water and can tolerate long drought periods. Aloe can be grown in almost any soil. Symptoms of a sad aloe plant include:
- Leaves lie flat instead of upright: Usually caused by insufficient light.
- Leaves are thin and curled: Needs to be watered more (it’s using up its own liquid)
- Brown leaves: too much direct sunlight
- Slow growth: Probable causes include water or soil has too much alkaline or the soil became saturated
When a plant gets root-bound, it will send out new pups or shoots. If these are not taken out for replanting, when they are 3-4 inches high, they will suck the life from the mother plant. After repotting, water well and then no water for about 3 weeks, forcing new roots to grow stronger as they seek water. The transplanted pup may turn grey or brown for a short while, but this is normal.
Through 14 years I nurtured the Grandmother Aloe that had my son’s placenta buried underneath Her and in turn She was our family’s number one healer. She produced many babies that I replanted in other pots and my friends’ and relatives’ homes as a way to spread out the nature-based safety net for my son. The Grandmother Aloe moved with me three times before She finally ended up in a pot on my patio, and so root-bound that my lovely plant had turned yellowish and dried up.
As plants are sentient beings, I sat with my Aloe and asked Her what to do. She told me She was tired and wanted to return to earth. I wrestled with the idea, feeling it sacrilegious to not try and extend Her life, but kept hearing She wanted rest.
I smudged my kitchen knife and spoke to the plants of my patio community about what I was doing and why. This is so important to truly honor our plant kin-dom. Think about it. You would never simply pull the plug on your grandmother in the presence of your relatives without talking with them first. With much reverence I cut at the packed dirt to loosen Her. I composted the leaves and roots. I took my blessed Grandmother Aloe, which now resembled a dried up jelly fish, to the bluffs overlooking a river that were home to the Tongva Native people and part of a Spanish landgrant given to my ancestors more than 200 years ago. When the last bit of dirt covered the Grandmother Aloe, I felt a sense of peace infuse my entire body. I then turned my attention to the green baby aloes on my patio and an Aloe Novena ritual.
A novena is a series of prayers that are said for nine straight days. The novena is used in Catholic religion as a prayer of petition or thanksgiving, which isn’t much different than a magickal ritual. The novena should begin with an intention and ceremonial preparation. It is wise to begin your Aloe Novena with an intention that in some way matches the qualities or characteristics of the plant, such as resiliency, cleansing, restructuring, soothing, releasing, protection or simply a commitment to strengthen the bond with the plant kin-dom and Aloe in particular, as was my choice for my Aloe Novena.
Light a candle with your intention in mind. Take your aloe plant and hold it gently sending it love and gratitude for the sacred intention of ingesting its powers and essence for nine straight days. Since Aloe grows from the center, always harvest the lowest leaves first, typically older and larger, and have more juice and greater potency. Trim the thorny edges then slice the leaf across, like filleting a fish. Put the gel into the blender, scrape the leaves clean and place the leaves in a bowl of water. Liquefy the gel and refrigerate. I believe that Aloe juice tastes better chilled, but the choice is yours.
You can choose to set aside a leaf in case of emergency. Once the gel is exposed, you can directly apply onto sunburns, burns or minor infections. If the gel appears to dry, this is only a surface appearance because the remaining gel is held captive in small elongated cells underneath, which are still intact. After the gel of the first layer has become dry, scratch the surface to rupture more cells, releasing more juice. You can store wrapped in refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
Chop up the leaves for compost if you can. Take the bowl water that held the leaves to your plant community and distribute some water to each plant sending the Grandmother, all-healing energy to each plant. Drink the Aloe every day and take notes of how the flavor sits in your body, whether or not it changes, and the feelings that arise and fade away.
Aloe Vera is a powerful ally and once you have sat with her for nine sacred days, you will feel a deeper connection and will have in fact embodied her varied abilities to heal and strengthen.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN WITCHES AND PAGAN MAGAZINE #32