How to Harvest Your Aloe Vera (Plus 2 Convenient Uses!)
Aloe vera has proven itself as one of the best household plants because it’s incredibly easy to grow. Not only is it simple to maintain, but this popular succulent is also edible and can be used topically (specifically the thick, viscous, translucent inner gel portion of leaves). In fact, aloe has been around for thousands of years and has a longstanding purpose in traditional and holistic medicine.
Boasting many benefits, it’s most commonly used on the skin to treat burns and is ingested for its hydrating properties. Aloe also has shown to reduce inflammation (helping skin conditions) and kill bacteria and fungi. You've probably seen aloe lotions, creams, gels, or even aloe drinks, but it is fairly simple to harvest on your own and use the extraction for homemade products.
How To Harvest Aloe:
Harvesting your aloe plant is beneficial for the resulting bounty’s many uses and also for the plant’s health. As we harvest and cut away ripe leaves, we’re in a sense pruning the aloe vera and promoting new growth and a healthy cycle. Be sure not to overharvest though— depending on the size of the plant, you can cut anywhere from 1-5 leaves.
- Sterilize a pair of scissors (large enough to cut the aloe leaves)
- Get a cup of water ready (one that the leaf/leaves can fit in)
Step 1: Identify which leaves to cut.
Visually scan your plant to see which leaves are most viable for harvest. The leaf should be established (at least a foot long), and should be slightly firm but give a bit to the touch. Assessing the outside of the leaf can help determine the viscosity of the inside, which helps in knowing which leaf is underripe (firm to the touch), ripe (slightly plush), or overripe (too soft, often droopy, and possibly already busting open).
Step 2: Cut the aloe leaves.
Now that you have chosen which leaves to cut, get your sterilized scissors ready. Sterilizing the scissors is important to maintain the health of your plant as we don’t want to spread possible contaminants.
Start to cut each leaf individually as close to the base of the plant as possible.
Step 3: Allow the leaves to drain.
Next, immediately place the cut leaf with the cut side down into the cup of water. With the pointy end of the aloe leaf sticking straight up into the air, a sap-like yellow substance will start to ooze out of the bottom of the leaf. This yellow secretion is called aloin (aka aloe latex) and is stored in the aloe leaf pulp. Aloin is toxic and should not be ingested as it is a potent laxative. Try to avoid contact altogether, but if you do touch it, wash the area with warm water and soap to avoid any potential skin irritation.
You’ll need to allow the leaf or leaves to drain for about 20 minutes.
(after 1 min, 5 min, and 15 min)
Step 4: Opening the leaf & extracting the aloe.
Now it’s time to cut open the aloe leaf. Place the leaf lengthwise on a cutting board. There are two options here depending on how you plan to store the aloe.
Option 1: If you want to freeze it for longterm use or even store in the fridge for a few days, you can cut the aloe in sections with the green leaf still attached. Leaving the leaf on will extend the shelf life of the inner aloe flesh. But do remember to cut the green layer off before using the aloe, as some aloin can still be left inside.
Option 2: If you plan to use the aloe right away (or want to freeze the aloe to have it ready to go), you’ll gently cut away the green leaf. Working from the thicker cut end with the open cut, slide a knife down to the pointy end. Here you can either scoop out the aloe flesh with a spoon or keep rotating until all sides are cut off. You’ll be left with the clear gel-like inside, which you can then cut up however you please. We prefer cutting into cubes for easy use and storage.
Remember that aloe will go bad, and can only be stored in the fridge for about 5 days.
Best Ways to Use Harvested Aloe:
By no means an exhaustive list since there are so many uses for aloe vera, these are simply our 2 most-used favorites.
1. Smoothie Addition
Here at Outside In, we love adding aloe vera juice into a smoothie for extra nutrients and hydration. Aloe contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants such as polyphenols. When blended, the clear flesh that you’ve worked to harvest becomes more of a juicy liquid— so throw it right in with your smoothie of choice. Sometimes the aloe can be a bit bitter, so you may need extra sweetener like honey or agave.
2. Topical Treatment
Our favorite use for aloe vera is as a topical application because of its soothing and moisturizing properties. As a go-to treatment for sunburns, aloe ointment can easily be made at home from your own plants instead of store-bought (it’s also more eco-friendly than those plastic bottles with a high carbon footprint). In addition, aloe vera has shown promising results in studies assessing its use for treating skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, general rashes, cold sores, and even frostbite.
Why Grow My Own?
Choosing to grow this plant yourself is a great option for those who buy aloe gel at the supermarket. Since you buy the plant once and it generates new shoots over time, it is a more affordable choice. Growing your own aloe also ensures that your product is pure and high-quality. Sure, being free of pesticides and harmful chemicals is one thing you can control, but did you know that some aloe gel contains no… aloe?! Yes, a few generic brands of aloe gel and lotions stocked in the largest stores have been shown to be devoid of any real aloe (even despite claiming aloe barbadensis leaf juices as the top ingredient). So it’s useful to have your own plant to harvest in order to control exactly what you’re applying to your skin and body.