I was speaking with someone the other day about ways to increase their digestive fire so they’d be able to enjoy raw food more and get more out the all the food they eat. It would also help them “burn” off accumulations of undigested waste (ama) and not create more every mealtime. I mentioned the common solutions:
- ginger root and spicy foods
- getting the proper amount of exercise (not too much or too little)
- eating raw foods closest to noon when digestion is at its peak
- more sour and fermented foods like sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar
- heating pranyamas such as breath of fire and ujjayi, and anything emphasizing the inhale
- a little sugar is good, too much sugar puts out fire
- no water 1 hour before food
- and reduce stress.
But it wasn’t until I was making my own near-daily conconction that the answer came in the form of aloe vera. This succulent that grows wild in many warmer-climate areas is an oft-mentioned sunburn remedy, but its benefits go far deeper. Literally: the skin-soothing qualities of aloe are nothing compared to its gut-lubricating and pacifying nature. It’s often recommended for its soothing benefits alone in the treatment of colitis, inflammation of the intestinal wall. Quite bitter, it’s right up there with black pepper, cardamom, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, fennel seeds and ginger in the ayurvedic list of herbs for increasing digestive metabolism.
This person also suffered from constipation and the resultant occasionally rectal tearing from passing hard, dry stools, so these benefits are just what the doctor ordered (if the doctor is Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine who said “Let they food be they medicine” used aloe generously in his practice.)
It also boosts the production of white blood cells and stimulates immunity, and it even improves joint flexibility. Aloe contains compounds called mucopolysaccharides which are the amino sugars needed for the regeneration of joint fluids and capsules. Not only does it regenerate and strengthen joints, because of its anti-inflammatory nature it also reduces joint swelling and pain.
And not a minor detail: if you can find a plant (I brought a couple home from a trip to Southern California, $3 for 2 five-gallon plants on craigslist) to snip a few inches from daily, it quickly becomes free. Otherwise, the gel-filled leaves are available at natural and asian markets.
My favorite way to enjoy aloe is blended with orange juice. Just peel a feel oranges and drop them in the blender with a few-inch piece of aloe. Blend it up and enjoy. Including the white pith makes full use of the ample soluble fiber in citrus and adds a lovely foam to the drink. Including the seeds adds another digestive-fire benefiting aspect which becomes obvious if you let it sit for half an hour or so. Citrus seeds are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral; great for giving parasites and candida the boot. They're are available as expensive extracts to treat these and other issues. They're also extremely bitter, simultaneously increasing digestive potency while affording the above-mentioned benefits.
But when we blend peeled oranges or other citrus with the seeds, the bitter qualities of the seed don’t start to leech into the juice for 30 minutes or so. This means that you can enjoy a sweet and delicious drink and the bitter won’t come out until it’s already past your taste buds, offering full access to the benefits without any of the less-than-enjoyable taste.
Take your aloe from the lower leaves, and slice of the spiny edges. Fillet the skin away from the gel inside with a long, sharp knife, making sure to rub the medicinal insides on your face, scalp, body, and pets. Aloe gel has been used to treat all manner of skin issues like hives, cuts, rashes, boils, acne, eczema, and psoriasis (showing a 75% reduction in clinical trials). There will be a straight peel and a curved peel, the first is much easier to skin off and personally, I don’t even bother cutting off the second.
Enjoy your aloe and let me know how it goes.
JP, the Kitchen Sink Farmer
no enzymes were harmed in the making of this blog
(though I do feel a bit vampiric when I see my aloe's multiple slice wounds. Any ideas about how can I make it up to these plants to whom I am so grateful?)