Aloe Vera
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Debby Raabel
Posted on: January 17, 2006

I was referred to your website by our local florist. I have a question about Aloe Vera plants. Do you know how to tell which plants are edible? I have several "monster" aloe plants and they are taking over my livingroom. I was putting the jelly in my Vita-Mix smoothie every morning until the owner of the healthfood store said that not all species are edible. Sure enough, I’ve been trying to research this on the internet and there are over 200 species and only 2 are edible. Any help you can give me in this would be appreciated.

The species of Aloe are told apart by details of their flower structure mainly, but also by their growth habit and leaf and spine shape. Aloe barbadensis and Aloe ferox are grown for the purgative, acrid yellow juice found just under the skin of the leaf. The gel in the centre of Aloe barbadensis is used to speed healing. This species has yellow flowers (not uncommon in the genus), but it distinguishes it from the light orange flowers of Aloe ferox. The latter also has leaves that are about 5cm wide at the base and at that is twice as wide as those of A. barbadensis. At Richters we have been selling A. barbadensis for many years. It forms offsets from stolons fairly readily. I have never noticed that form of reproduction in Aloe ferox. Since your plants have become rather tall and you have probably purchased them as Aloe vera I assume they are all Aloe barbadensis- the present proper name for the species. According to Hortus Third, there are several varieties of this species and this probably accounts for the different names it is sometimes found under. This plant is grown in plantations and since it makes offsets can be propagated easily and therefore finds its way into stores frequently.

Hortus does not talk about the edibility of the species, just notes the two above mentioned species from which purgatives are harvested. Deni Bown in her book "Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses", Richters catalogue #B2730, states that most species of Aloe have medicinal uses and she also mentions Aloe perryi as another species from which purgative is harvested. She also says that the species are all used in similar ways implying that the gel of all three species would have healing properties. No one mentions any poisonous species, so I assume a misidentification is no disaster.

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