Did you know?
The Aloe ferox is among South Africa’s most important commercial medicinal plants.
In the middle of winter, in the coldest, bleakest time, flowers a plant that warms the view.
The Aloe ferox (also known as the red aloe or the bitter aloe) sends up its vivid orange-red inflorescences in midwinter, dripping with nectar just at the time the sunbirds and bees need it most.
These spectacular aloes have their stronghold in the Eastern Cape, but are also found in other provinces, notably the Western Cape. They love the drylands, and are found inland on mountains, in grasslands and the Karoo.
Sometimes they occur at a stately distance from 1 another. In other areas they cover the earth as thickly as porcupine quills. In winter, the vivid chilli red of their flowers can change the colour of entire hillsides.
Aloe ferox are generally single-stemmed, and are usually a little taller than a human, although they can grow up to 4m in height. Old, dried leaves cover the stems in a kind of protective brown skirt. The no-nonsense spiky thorns lining the fresh, new succulent leaves give them the name 'ferox' ('fierce' in Latin).
And it is within these fleshy leaves that the plant's medicinal magic lies. Cut open a leaf and almost immediately a bitter, yellowish liquid starts oozing out. For centuries this substance, which dries to a dark crystal, has been used as a laxative.
Now it has also been found to alleviate arthritis.
The white, gel-like flesh of the leaf is also healing, specifically for burns and other wounds. In fact, the medicinal uses of the aloe are legion.
It’s said the gel and sap can cure everything from dandruff, acne and osteoporosis to hepatitis, herpes, shingles and a dozen or more ailments. Studies have shown that its properties include an ability to boost the immune system, lower cholesterol and fight bacteria and fungus, and even tumours.
A sizable local health industry has sprung up around aloes. Albertinia has 2 aloe-based industries that make cosmetics and food products, and where you can see how the bitter sap is harvested.
And from Uniondale comes a health drink made from aloes (fortunately delicious rather than bitter).
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Who to contact
Aloe Ferox Wellness and Skincare Products
Tel: +27 (0)28 735 2504
Tel: +27 (0)28 735 1454
Fax: +27 (0)28 735 1728
Tel: +27 (0)44 752 1588
Fax: +27 (0)44 752 1493