Zanemvula Traditional Healing 
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Aloe arborescens

Aloe arborescens             arboretum = tree conservancy

Afrikaans:  Bos aalwyn

English :     Forest aloe

IsiXhosa :  Ingcelwane

The first thing you notice about the fresh succulent leaf of this plant is that if you cut it,  a yellow very bitter syrup oozes from  just under the leaf surface.  If it is collected and dried it turns into dark shiny crystals. These crystals or a powder made from them can be  bought at almost any chemist and is named “Cape aloe”.  The syrup of different aloes have been used to make the crystals.

The second important component that can be separated from the leaf is the tasteless clear gel from the  inside the leaf.  This forms a good protective substance that can be put onto wounds or drunk as a health drink for helping the intestines.  To extract the gel the leaves are first washed clean of the bitters and then heated.  The  clean jelly drink can become contaminated by any bacteria after bottling and then depending on the strain of bacteria any kind of chemical can be produced in the bottle.  To avoid this one can simply inoculate the mix with a known pro-biotic and therefore ensure  a consistent product.


The dried bitter powder is very useful as a wound dressing and when dried on the wounds even protects it from sea water, hence its popularity with fishers.

The fresh yellow syrup has been used to drip into the eye to get rid of infections. It is very soothing and drains from the eye into the nose through the tear ducts and cleans up the nose too.

Many people have looked at the beams in the ceilings of Karoo houses and thought that they were very special because of the rich colour.  The reason for the colour is that they were treated with the yellow bitters of the aloe to make them beetle resistant.

If you look into the stomach of a Kudu, you will find a large proportion of aloe leaves in it,  contributing to their resistance to ticks.  I have read that giving these bitters to sheep can also make them resistant to ticks but my own experience did not corroborate it.

This aloe is also very popular in Japan where they are grown in greenhouses to make incense.  They were also used by some of the survivors  of the atomic bomb attacks and the application of the aloe juice made them recover rapidly from radioactive burns.  But here is a secret.  It had to be made of the variety that stains blue after the leaf is cut.  Most strains stain red when the leaves are cut.

The healer Martin Malikwa told me that their clan used the bitter syrup to rub on the skin of mothers who’s children would not drink from them. They had to sleep with the dried bitters on their skin and wash it off the next morning. After that their milk was sweet and the baby loved it.  If the first night’s treatment did not work then the second nights treatment is guaranteed to do the job of drawing out their bitterness.

The rubbing on of the bitters into the skin is also regarded as a good luck treatment.  It is  understandable that an older man who has suffered the disappointments of life could become bitter and look at life with a jaded eye.  Often we say he has been burnt by the experience and we all know what too much heat does to food.  It becomes very bitter.  No wonder his bitterness makes him only see difficulties in stead of opportunities until he has been treated with the aloe.