A Red, White and Blue Weekend, with the Emphasis on Red

As a proud American, there is little about the Fourth of July weekend not to like.  Let’s start with the obvious, the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans.  Without these, Independence Day wouldn’t quite have the same meaning.

After that there are the other things that have become a part of the holiday:  parades, fireworks, cookouts, and lots of games in the yard.  All these things have something in common – they take place outdoors.  And on occasion with that comes a downside of partying outside, sunburn.

In my case, it got me pretty good.  Enough in fact that my wife had to put something called “Island Cream” (trademark #354882) on it.  By no means is this an advertisement for the product, but it did get me to thinking why it seemed to soothe my pain.  According to the bottle, it is because it contains aloe (sometimes referred to as aloe vera).  That of course made me think a little bit more about whether this was some sort of scam or what it was about aloe that relieved the burn.

Well, if use throughout history is a gauge of effectiveness, then aloe must have some healing powers.  There is documented evidence of its use over 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia.  Seems that it was used as a laxative, not for topical relief (in fact, today aloe is still used for both of these purposes, but more on that later).  Ancient Egyptians also used aloe for many purposes.  Not surprisingly, the plant is native to these areas, along with other parts of Africa and the Middle East.  In all there are over 500 types of plants that fall within the aloe genus.

From here, the use of aloe spread to Asia and Europe.  Reputedly it was used by Alexander the Great and his soldiers to treat wounds.  As the Europeans later spread their culture around the world, they brought the plant with them, and it is now grown in places that have similar climates to where it was native, including in the Western Hemisphere.  Obviously today it is still being used as a medicine.  But is it effective?

Opinions on that differ. According to the US National Library of Medicine aloe, like a lot of traditional and herbal remedies, has mixed results in testing of effectiveness.  For starters, it must be noted that two different parts of the plant are used.  The first is latex, while the second is gel.  The evidence, at least according to the Library of Medicine, would indicate that aloe latex, which is taken orally, is possibly effective for constipation, but sunburn is what I used it for.  On this, the gel that is used as a topical ointment, the evidence is mixed.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there are tests that indicate it is effective in treating burns and wounds, and other studies that indicated that actually increases the amount of time that it takes to heal.

So, does that leave you a believer or a skeptic?  Medical professionals appear to be skeptical.  Lots of people in history, though, have been believers in its power, and today it is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Of course none of that proves one or the other whether aloe actually works.  Perhaps we should just abide by the words of none other than Christopher Columbus, who stated:

Four vegetables  are indispensable for the well being of man;

Wheat, the grape, the olive and aloe.

The first nourishes him, the second raises his spirit,

The third brings him harmony, the fourth cures him.

I would think everybody must agree with Columbus on at least one thing on this list.

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