The origin and history of Aloe Vera from its founding in ancient times to the present day is a remarkable story. The serrated edged, succulent, perennial plant, is part of the lily family (Liliaceac) and specie of the Aloe genus. Its full botanical name is Aloe barbadensis miller, and the Latin translation for Aloe Vera literally means “true aloe,” most likely to distinguish it from the other 500 or so species found in the lily family. The Aloe genus evolutionary history in general is not that well understood and, until recently, Aloe Vera’s actual origins were viewed as somewhat mysterious and often a source of debate among researchers.
When Was Aloe Vera First Discovered?
Historically, we may never know when Aloe Vera’s medicinal applications were first discovered. We do know of the 6000 years old carvings of the plant discovered in Egypt and, at some point after, how it became a burial offering or gift to deceased pharaohs. The first written record of Aloe Vera’s usage for medicinal purposes appeared in Sumerian hieroglyphic tablets circa 2200 BC, during the Mesopotamia civilization. That record described its use as a laxative.
Aloe Vera in Ancient Cultures
Aloe Vera’s mysterious origin persisted until recently. This was due in large part to its widespread trade early on. Everywhere Aloe Vera appeared healers and ancient physicians considered it a “miracle plant” esteemed for its many health benefits. The oldest mention of the plant’s medical properties in Mesopotamia added to the confusion. It was likely transplanted there as it was along the trade routes throughout the Middle East, Coastal Africa, and Mediterranean regions. From there, it spread along the Silk Road to Asia, India, and the Far East.
Though many thought it originated in the Sudan or Arabian Peninsula, or possibly the Canary Islands. It was only in 2015 that a coalition of international scientists conducted an exhaustive study on the plant and finally determined Aloe Vera originated in the Arabian Peninsula.
Everywhere Aloe Vera appeared healers and ancient physicians considered it a “miracle plant” esteemed for its many health benefits.
It’s no wonder or secret. Aloe Vera leaves consist of approximately 99% to 99.5% water with the remaining .5–1.0% a gelatinous material. The latter is a source of continuing debate among researchers in the medical community. All agree on the plant’s numerous potentially active compounds and constituents that can provide health benefits. The inner gel of each leaf contains antioxidants vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E, vitamin B12, folic acid, and choline. The gel also has important enzymes, is loaded with minerals, and contains sugars, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids and amino acids.
Because of its healing properties, Aloe Vera has been thought of as a true gift from nature for centuries in many cultures:
Ancient Egypt (~2,000 BC)
Considered the “Plant of immortality” in ancient Egypt, Aloe Vera’s use and application is found in written records throughout history. The Papyrus Ebers, an Egyptian document from circa 1550 B.C., is considered to be the first detailed written record of Aloe Vera’s medicinal value. Egyptian Queens such as Nefertiti and Cleopatra regularly used it as part of their beauty regimes.
Ancient India (~600 BC)
By 600 B.C., Arab traders had brought Aloe Vera to Persia and India. Hindus believed the plant grew in the Garden of Eden and dubbed it the “silent healer.”
Biblical References (~0 AD)
The use of Aloe Vera is mentioned five times in the Bible. King Solomon highly valued the plant (Psalm 45:8) and, most notably, Christ’s body was wrapped in aloes and myrrh (John 19:39). Perhaps that relates to Aloe Vera’s treatment of wounds, as both Alexander the Great and Christopher Columbus mention its use to treat the wounds of soldiers.
Ancient Greece (~100 AD)
How Aloe Spread Around the World
Over time, Aloe Vera’s adaptability contributed to its widespread production worldwide. It was first introduced in the Americas by the Spanish and then the Dutch. Many point to Jesuit priests from Spain playing a leading role in introducing Aloe Vera to the New World (as they called it). They were certainly instrumental in bringing the plant to West Indies, and then Central America, California, Florida and Texas. In any event, Europeans brought Aloe Vera to the islands of Barbados and Curacao in the Caribbean to cultivate. West Indian Aloe Vera was sold and traded in different parts of Europe from the 16th and 17th centuries onward. It was first referenced in English by John Goodyew in his 1655 translation of Dioscorides medical treatise, De Materia Medica. U.S. commercial cultivation of Aloe Vera started in Florida in the 1920s.
Aloe in the Modern Day
However, it was not until new found processing techniques were developed in the 1960s and 1970s that the new market for Aloe Vera began to expand. With the stabilization of the gel and better technology for processing the beneficial Acemannan from the plant, it’s use cases have grown.
Throughout recorded history Aloe Vera has known for its medicinal and healing properties. Today, continuing research and studies support its effectiveness in everything from balancing stomach acid to supporting the immune system!