Cape Aloes  : Aloes



Aloë, is a genus containing about 500 species of flowering succulent plants. The most common and well known of these is Aloe vera, or “true aloe”.

Aloe Vera is referred as the ‘Miracle Plant’. From being an antiseptic, anti- inflammatory and a cure for heart burns to helping relieve the symptoms of severe illnesses like cancer and diabetes, to being a beauty aid and health nourisher, this ancient Indian herb has it all. Known for centuries for its unique medicinal properties, it has been rediscovered, recognized and benefited from in the last few years.

Aloe Vera is as old as civilization and throughout history it has been used as a popular folk medicine. It is believed to be effective in treating stomach ailments, gastrointestinal problems, skin diseases, constipation, for radiation injury, for its anti-inflammatory effect, for wound healing and burns, as an anti-ulcer and diabetes. It is also known as ‘lily of the desert’, the ‘plant of immortality’, and the ‘medicine plant’ with qualities to serve as alternate medicine.
Aloe is grown largely in South Texas, USA, Mexico, India, South America, Central America, Australia and Africa. It is commonly called Miracle plant, Healing plant, Plant of immortality, Fountain of youth. Aloe species are frequently cultivated as ornamental plants both in gardens and in pots being highly decorative. Some species, in particular Aloe vera are purported to have medicinal properties used in alternative medicines and in home first aid. In homeopathic medicine aloe is used for hemorrhoids. In India Aloe Vera has been referred to as “kumari’ in Ayurvedic treatments.

Most Aloe species have a rosette of large, thick, fleshy leaves. The leaves are often lance-shaped with a sharp apex and a spiny margin. Aloe flowers are tubular, frequently yellow, orange, pink or red, and are borne, densely clustered and pendant, at the apex of simple or branched, leafless stems.

Many species of Aloe appear to be stemless, with the rosette growing directly at ground level; other varieties may have a branched or unbranched stem from which the fleshy leaves spring. They vary in color from grey to bright-green and are sometimes striped or mottled. Some Aloes native to South Africa are arborescent.

Cape Aloes (Crude) – A product extracted from the leaf of certain aloe plants. The sap is of a light golden colour and is boiled, during which approximately 40% moisture is driven off, the remaining sap being poured into tins and allowed to cool. Aloes are usually exported in these tins, two to a crate. The sap sets into a hard, brittle substance and takes on a much darker colour. Aloes are used in the manufacture of human and animal medicines. If aloes become wet, this tend to soften the product.

When shipped in tins, any moisture coming into contact would normally do so from the top, as the tins used are often second-hand with ill-fitting lids. Aloes damaged by water will appear glossy, darker and softer than those undamaged. Those affected retain the moisture and will not reharden unless reboiled. This is not normally done. The damaged section is separated from that unaffected and thrown away. Water damage usually only affects the top 5 to 10 cm of each tin, and by cutting this off and any other parts which may show signs of damage, the bulk of the consignment can usually be salved. The value of salved aloes will be well below the general market value. If water damaged, aloes may also be contaminated.

Large quantities are used in pills without any processing except powdering, so contamination could prove dangerous. In cold weather aloes set hard, but if in such conditions they are soft this would denote poor quality or water damage. In warmer weather it is normal for the aloes to become softer, but still be of perfectly good quality and undamaged, this softening process being brought about merely by the heat. Aloes do not absorb moisture nor do they lose weight by drying out.

Cape Aloes (Prepared) – A gum, an exudate of the plant of the same name. Prepared in a crude manner with the use of heat. Usually exported in the form of small cobbles or lumps. May be damaged by water, but not especially susceptible. Heat will cause solidification, and water might aid the process. Should solidification occur, crushing should not be difficult.

The normal process of purification, either boiling in water or the use of spirit to soften and remove impurities, may then be carried out. The crude method of extraction can adversely affect the product. It can be overheated or burnt, giving useless carbon. The product in this condition would tend to solidify more readily than normally. Unless the extent of damage transit is great, it should be possible to determine by inspection whether the quality is defective in this manner. In case of doubt, a chemist should be consulted.

Curacao Aloes – From the Caribbean area. Curacao aloes are of greater value than Cape Aloes and are run into wooden cases for shipment. Softness is not necessarily evidence of water damage, but may be due to faulty preparation. Sometimes the boiling process is not continued long enough, and in such cases the aloes are soft and may be of a consistency similar to putty.

To be stowed apart from dry delicate goods.

Risk factors

  • Wet damage
  • Contamination
  • Foreign odours