Medicine in the Garden

Recently, on the tv show Lost, Dr Jack needed to help a woman who’d been cattle-branded by bad guys. Most of you will know that Jack is stranded on a desert island following a plane crash that has left him with only a motley crew of survivors (a medically needy bunch at that), and a Gilligan-like ability to locate clean clothes after every muddy episode. No pharmaceuticals were close to hand. However, because he’s resourceful, Jack barked for someone to get him some aloe vera, stat, then ripped the juicy leaf lengthwise and put it directly on the woman’s skin.

Which was a good call. Aloe vera is one of those miracle plants like mint (sore tummy), lavender (headaches), sage (sore throat), calendula (skin inflammation), and garlic and ginger (everything). It’s an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and seals wounds to help avoid infection.

Granted, branding is not common in the suburbs, but burns, sunburn, insect bites, and cuts all respond well to aloe vera gel. Some people use it for eczema too.

As a drink, it is said to clear toxins, improve digestion, and relieve constipation. Pregnant women should not drink aloe juice since it encourages the body to purge.

While it can safely be applied to skin, don’t try making the juice yourself – it’s not made from the gel, but from the harder-to-access bitter fluid that is under the outer skin of the leaves.

Aloe vera is easy to grow. It’s a tough plant that’s happiest growing in a pot in a mix for succulents or other gritty, nutrient-poor well-draining soil with lots of sun and little water. If possible, choose a pot that’s wide rather than deep: aloe vera has a shallow, spreading root system. It needs almost no care, the exception being that when the weather is cold it’ll appreciate being put somewhere warm. (Though kept inside a house for too long it will grow poorly.)

Now, you might be wondering how Jack was so sure that an aloe vera plant would be close to hand, or that the person he yelled at would know what it looked like, but that doesn’t bear dwelling on. Just know that the branded woman was in good hands.

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