Healing herb aloe vera is a good house plant
Aloe has long been used in herbal medicine in many parts of the world where it has been grown for medicinal use. It is not hardy in this country as the weather is too cold in winter and the plant would be damaged by frost. But it is perfectly easy to grow as a durable house plant. Once difficult to get, it has become widely available as a potted plant in recent years and is not expensive at a smaller size.
The true aloe plant has rounded, fleshy, narrow leaves as long as 30 centimetres or more, though much less on small plants. The fleshy leaves can be cut, or broken off, and the sticky gel sap squeezed out to be applied to light burns, or for other skin complaints, such as dry skin. It is not always successful but can work very well in some cases. It is also used as a herbal remedy for digestive disorders, in herbal drinks, and in some kinds of toothpaste.
This herb has been so long used and grown in so many parts of the world that its country of origin is obscure, but it may be from the Arabian peninsula. Most other related kinds are from South Africa. Apart from its value as a herb, it makes a fine house plant. When the plant grows well and the leaves reach a good size, the rosette of leaves sends up a flower spike with dozens of small tubular flowers, usually of a greenish yellow colour. The flower spike is very typical of the aloe family.
While the true aloe is not for outdoors, its relative, the partridge-breast aloe, is sometimes tried outdoors where it survives in mild areas. It gets its name from the speckled bands of cream-white markings on the sharply pointed leaves. This sturdy little plant makes a very good pot plant, resistant to drought and neglect, and surviving for decades. It produces daughter rosette buds at soil level and when these have grown out to a few centimetres, they can be detached to make new plants. When not so badly treated, this plant produces a spike of orange-red flowers loosely held at the top of the stem.
While these two species are really indoor plants, a related species that is becoming better known can be grown outdoors, at least in coastal gardens. This is Aloe striatula, which forms a slightly straggly bush of dark-green rosettes on slightly woody stems. It can be damaged by severe frost but has the ability to re-sprout from soil level and re-grows its branches fairly quickly. Out of flower, it has an exotic look and, in flower, it is very eye-catching with its tall yellow-green flowers that look like those of red-hot poker. It can be grown in a pot on a patio, or in a conservatory, or outdoors in well-drained soil in full sunshine.