Aloe was one of the most frequently prescribed medicines throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The gel of the aloe plant, harvested from the center of each aloe leaf, is also a common ingredient in commercial cosmetics. If you have access to an aloe plant you can harvest your own aloe gel for any of the plant’s traditional or more recent uses.
Break a leaf off the aloe vera plant, as close to the stem as possible. Lay the leaf on a cutting board and slice away both ends, so that you can see the gel sandwiched between the layers of tough skin.
Trim off the spiny edges of the leaf, too. You should be left with a layer of thick gel trapped between the two sides of skin.
Hold the leaf in place with one hand on the top layer of skin as you carefully slide a sharp knife between the top layer of skin and the gel beneath, separating the two. Set the aloe skin aside.
Flip the aloe gel over and slide a knife between the gel and the other piece of skin to separate the two. If this feels awkward, place the aloe skin-side down and, with a firm grip on the skin, slide your knife between the skin and gel from this orientation. Set this piece of skin aside, too. You should be left with a clear, nearly translucent piece of aloe gel.
Blend the aloe gel as part of a smoothie, or gently rub the moist inside of the aloe skin on sunburn or other mild skin irritations to moisture and soothe. This reduces waste because it makes use of the gel that remained inside the leaf skin, but you can also apply the pure gel fillet you extracted to your skin as well. If you use the aloe topically it may feel slimy, but don’t wipe or rinse the residue away. Instead, let it soak into your skin.
According to the University of Michigan Health System, applying topical aloe gel is generally considered safe, although in the case of severe burns or wounds, aloe gel may impede healing.
Never apply aloe to an open wound.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, taking aloe vera gel internally may interact with diuretics, hydrocortisone and certain diabetes medications. Consult your physician before taking aloe internally if you are using any of these medications.
Lisa Maloney is a travel and outdoors writer based in Anchorage, Alaska. She's written four outdoors and travel guidebooks, including the award-winning "Moon Alaska," and regularly contributes to local and national publications. She also has a background in personal training, with more than 6,000 hours of hands-on experience.