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Aloe barbadensis Miller
Latin alo, aloe plant + vra, feminine of vrus, true
English: aloe vera
German: echte Aloe
A tincture is made from the inspissated juice of the leaves.
Description of the substance
Aloes are indigenous to East and South Africa, but have been introduced into the West Indies (where they are extensively cultivated) and into tropical countries, and will even flourish in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean. The drug Aloes consists of the liquid exuded from the transversely-cut bases of the leaves of various species of Aloes, evaporated to dryness.
They are succulent plants belonging to the Lily family, with perennial, strong and fibrous roots and numerous, persistent, fleshy leaves, proceeding from the upper part of the root, narrow, tapering, thick and fleshy, usually beset at the edges with spiney teeth. Many of the species are woody and branching. In the remote districts of S.W. Africa and in Natal, Aloes have been discovered 30 to 60 feet in height, with stems as much as 1O feet in circumference. The flowers are produced in erect, terminal spikes. There is no calyx, the corolla is tubular, divided into six narrow segments at the mouth and of a red, yellow or purplish colour. The capsules contain numerous angular seeds. The true Aloe is in flower during the greater part of the year and is not to be confounded with another plant, the Agave or American Aloe (Agave Americana), which is remarkable for the long interval between its periods of flowering. This is a succulent plant, without stem, the leaves being radical, spiney, and toothed. There is a variety with variegated foliage. The flower-stalk rises to many feet in height, bearing a number of large and handsome flowers. In cold climates there is usually a very long interval between the times of its flowering, though it is a popular error to suppose that it happens only once in a hundred years for when it obtains sufficient heat and receives a culture similar to that of the pineapple, it is found to flower much more frequently. Various species of Agave, all of which closely resemble each other, have been largely grown as ornamental plants since the first half of the sixteenth century in the south of Europe, and are completely acclimatized in Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, but though often popularly called Aloes all of them are plants of the New World whereas the true Aloes are natives of the Old World. From a chemical point of view there is also no analogy at all between Aloes and Agaves. Although the Agave is not employed medicinally, the leaves have been used in Jamaica as a substitute for soap, the expressed juice (a gallon of the juice yields about 1 lb. of the soft extract), dried in the sun, being made into balls with wood ash. This soap lathers with salt water as well as fresh. The leaves have also been used for scouring pewter and kitchen utensils. The inner spongy substance of the leaves in a decayed state has been employed as tinder and the fibres may be spun into a strong, useful thread. The fleshy leaves of the true Aloe contain near the epidermis or outer skin, a row of fibrovascular bundles, the cells of which are much enlarged and filled with a yellow juice which exudes when the leaf is cut. When it is desired to collect the juice, the leaves are cut off close to the stem and so placed that the juice is drained off into tubs. This juice thus collected is concentrated either by spontaneous evaporation, or more generally by boiling until it becomes of the consistency of thick honey. On cooling, it is then poured into gourds, boxes, or other convenient receptacles, and solidifies. Aloes require two or three years' standing before they yield their juice. In the West Indian Aloe plantations they are set out in rows like cabbages and cutting takes place in March or April, but in Africa the drug is collected from the wild plants.
All kinds of Aloes are admirably provided by their succulent leaves and stems against the drought of the countries where they flourish. The cuticle which covers every part of the plant is, in those which contain a great quantity of pulpy material, formed so as to imbibe moisture very easily and to evaporate it very slowly. If the leaf of an Aloe be separated from the parent plant, it may be laid in the sun for several weeks without becoming entirely shrivelled; and even when considerably dried by long exposure to heat, it will, if plunged into water, become in a few hours plump and fresh.
The chief varieties of Aloes are Curacao or Barbados, Socotrine (including Zanzibar) and Cape.
Curacoa Aloes is obtained from A. chinensis (Staud.) A. vera (Linn.) and probably other species. It was formerly produced on the island of Barbados, where it was largely cultivated, having been introduced at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and is still frequently, but improperly called Barbados Aloes. It is now almost entirely made on the Dutch islands of Curacoa, Aruba and Bonaire by boiling the Aloe juice down and pouring the viscid residue into empty spirit cases, in which it is allowed to solidify. Formerly gourds of various sizes were used (usually containing from 60 to 70 lb.) but Aloes in gourds is now seldom seen. It is usually opaque and varies in colour from bright yellowish or rich reddish brown to black. Sometimes it is vitreous and small fragments are then of a deep garnet-red colour and transparent. It is then known as 'Capey Barbados' and is less valuable, but may become opaque and more valuable by keeping. Curacoa Aloes possesses the nauseous and bitter taste that is characteristic of all Aloes and a disagreeable, penetrating odour. It is almost entirely soluble in 60 per cent alcohol and contains not more than 30 per cent of substances insoluble in water and 12 per cent of moisture. It should not yield more than 3 per cent of ash. Commercial Aloin is obtained usually from Curacoa Aloes. Solutions of Curacoa and other Aloes gradually undergo change, and may after a month no longer react normally, and may also lose the bitterness natural to Aloes.
Socotrine Aloes is prepared to a certain extent on the island of Socotra, but probably more largely on the African and possibly also on the Arabian mainland, from the leaves of A. Perryi (Baker). It is usually imported in kegs in a pasty condition and subsequent drying is necessary. It may be distinguished principally from Curacoa Aloes by its different odour. Much of the dry drug is characterized by the presence of small cavities in the fractured surface, but the variety of Socotrine Aloes distinguished as Zanzibar Aloes often very closely resembles Curacoa in appearance and is usually imported in liver-brown masses which break with a dull, waxy fracture, differing from that of Socotrine Aloes in being nearly smooth and even. When it is prepared, it is commonly poured into goat skins, which are then packed into cases.
Good Aloes should yield 40 per cent of soluble matter to cold water. Both Curacoa and Cape Aloes in powder give a crimson colour with nitric acid, Socratine Aloes powder touched with nitric acid does not give a crimson colour.