One of the easiest and most helpful houseplants to grow: aloe vera. It is also known as Barbados aloe because it is widely grown on that island, even thought it is believed to be native to the Mediterranean and South Africa. In warm climates, the plants grow outdoors and reach immense sizes.
The plant’s fleshy, somewhat spiny leaves contain rows of enlarged cells that are filled with a translucent yellow mucus. As early as the first century A.D., the Greek physician Dioscorides wrote of the benefit of using this substance as a healing herb for burns. The practice, which continues to this day, entails snapping off one of the spiky-looking leaves, slicing it down the middle with a fingernail, and spreading its gelatinous interior over the burned skin. [Personal story: I severely burned my lips last summer while using lip balm without SPF protection. Knowing of aloe’s properties, I used the gel on my lips. NEVER, EVER do that — it’s absolutely the worst tasting thing I’ve ever had the displeasure to encounter and it took forever to get it out of my tastebuds. I don’t even know if the healing properties worked because I was too busy trying to rid myself of the awful taste!]
This sculptural-looking, easily grown plant prefers full sun but also tolerates as much as a half day of shade. Since the plant is a succulent, designed to withstand dry conditions, watering should be on the spare side, particularly through the winter, and well-drained soil is essential. Small aloe plants are frequently available at garden shops as well as dime stores, florists, and some supermarkets.