Aloe vera, bitter aloe
Aloe vera is a tender succulent, which is mainly grown as a houseplant. It has attractive, variegated leaves and produces spikes of yellow flowers in summer, which last a long time.
It is often regarded as being useful in herbal medicine, and plant extracts are used in cosmetics and alternative medicine. It is said to have healing or soothing properties. But, apparently, there is little scientific evidence for this. You should check with your doctor first before using Aloe vera for any of these purposes.
How to grow Aloe vera
Indoors Aloe vera needs a brightly lit position, preferably a south-facing or west-facing aspect.
It can be moved outside to a warm, sunny patio in summer - but make sure you bring it back indoors before the weather turns cold in early autumn.
Planting Aloe vera
Aloe vera needs a very well-drained compost, so either add extra grit to a John Innes Compost or, better still, use a compost specifically recommended for cacti and succulents.
Plants prefer to be grown in a wide, rather than a deep, pot and give them plenty of room to grow. Add a topdressing of gravel or pebbles on top of the compost to produce a natural, finished look and to help reduce evaporation.
Suggested planting locations and garden types
Houseplant, indoor plant, summer patio plant.
How to care for Aloe vera
Water moderately when plants are in growth (April to September), but more sparingly when dormant - once or twice a month may be sufficient. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again. Aloe vera is very forgiving and, being a succulent, can go a long time without water - but it grows best with water.
Feed with a balanced liquid feed 2 or 3 times during the growing season from late spring to late summer.
Plants are easy to propagate by removing the offsets that are produced around the base of mature plants when they are roughly 5-7.5cm (2-3in) tall. Cut the offsets from the plant with a sharp knife. Allow the cut to callus over for a day or two and then pot up into small pots. Wait a week before watering and keep the compost on the dry side.