by Rose Marie Kern
Have you an Aloe plant that looks like it could rival a Kraken? One that threatens to push every other plant in your sunroom into a dark corner and reaches out to grab the fabric of your robe whenever you pass by?
You love aloe and are always grateful it is around when you have a sunburn, or any burn for that matter. I once accidently scalded the back of my right hand with flames from an oil fire. OUCH. Immediately I ran into the kitchen and ran cold water over the quickly forming bubbles under the reddened skin. In those days my kitchen was small so I stretched and pulled down a large mixing bowl with my left hand, then grabbed some ice from the fridge…all while keeping my right hand in the water. I mostly filled the bowl with the ice water and plunged my hand inside and headed to the kitchen window where the aloe plant lived.
I tore off the largest leaves and taking my hand from the ice water for very short moments managed to slice the leaves open. I slathered the pale slime on my hand then plunged it and the aloe into the bowl for an hour. Over the next week I kept adding aloe. The second degree burns healed so well that when I ran into a doctor friend a week later he was amazed. He told me it looked as though it the injury was several weeks old. From that day to this, if I have no other plant in the house, I do have Aloe.
If it is well cared for an aloe plant can become unwieldy, so it helps to have a plan of attack. About once a year, usually in the early winter, I harvest the plant and process the miraculous goo from the leaves. The aloe juice is edible and can be used in health drinks, it can be added to your bath to soften skin. My daughter adds it to her mixture when she makes soap.
Processing the plant is fairly simple, though messy. You need a small knife, a food processor (blenders work too, but not as well), at least two strainers with different size holes, a bucket and a slotted spoon. If you have some lead time be sure to water the plant well a week before so the leaves are plump.
Slice the thick leaves as close to the stem as possible, put them in the bucket to keep it from sliming the floor. After all the leaves are removed, the stem can be thrown out. Usually there are small “baby” plants at the base of the larger one – leave them behind to grow – adding some new soil.
In the kitchen sink rinse the leaves and slice them into chunks. Set a colander over a very large bowl or other clean bucket. Set a strainer over another bowl. Use the food processer to reduce the chucks to a thick slimy goo. You may need to add a half cup of water per batch. Empty the processer into the colander where it will begin the straining process. If you find any chunks left – toss them back in the processor with the next batch. Let the first batch strain while processing the next one. When the second batch is done, lift out the colander long enough to take the goo in the first bowl and pour it into the strainer over the second one.
It strains slowly, so taking breaks now and then during the process is good. I don’t mind a little bit of leaf in my goo, but if you want it completely cleaned out, the last straining should be through loose cheesecloth suspended over a bowl and squeezed. I like to separate the aloe into Ziploc bags, about a cup per bag, then freeze it for later use.
The solids left after all the liquids are strained are very valuable to anyone who gardens. I put it back into the bucket, add some water and walk outside. Any plant that has been struggling or could use a little extra love gets some “aloe tea”.
Aloe is my favorite plant companion, taming the monster keeps my sunroom cheerful and provides a handy supply of goo for the next sunburn!