Meg’s Guide to Gardening: DIY Aloe Vera Gel
We recently moved into a property that had big, beautiful potted aloe vera that the previous owner graciously left behind or didn’t want to drag away. I took care of them for six months before I realized that I could be getting aloe vera gel out of them. It was another three months before I could bring myself to ask a stupid question: how do you get the gel out? Squeezing it out hurts your hand and doesn’t work very well. Neither did the other tricks and tips I found on the web. But through a bunch of trial and error, I found the best way to get the most out of your plants.
What Kind of Aloe Do You Have?
Did you know that there are over 500 species of aloe plant? I didn’t. There were six different types of aloe growing on the property and I tried to harvest them all. Don’t do that. I had to make a trip to the dermatologist. The only type of aloe that makes aloe vera gel is the aloe vera. It has thick, wide leaves with spines on the side. If you don’t know what type of aloe you have, take a picture and ask the experts at an online forum or your local garden center.
Remove the Leaves
Resist the temptation to grip a leaf at its base and rip it off. The jagged tear you leave behind will get infected and that infection may spread to the rest of the plant. Instead use a sharp, clean knife to cut the leaf off at its base. Try not to cut the neighboring leaves. Aloe grows and heals slowly.
Remove the Toxins
Yes, aloe vera has some pretty toxic stuff in it. It will not kill you but if you get it in your mouth it will quickly evacuate the contents of your bowels. Put on a pair of rubber gloves to protect yourself. Don’t take them off until you’re done and don’t rub your eyes or put your hands in your mouth.
Lay the aloe vera leaf on the side of a big bowl so that it sits at roughly a 45 degree angle with its tip facing up. A red liquid will ooze out of the green part of the leaf. Leave the leaf there until the red stuff stops oozing.
Extract the Aloe Vera Gel
Lay the aloe vera leaf flat on a clean work table. Do not use a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice off the thick green skin on the leaf. Use the base of the aloe leaf as a guide. There you can clearly see the division between the thick leaf and the gooey center. Use a spoon to scoop out the gel and place it in a jar with a vacuum seal. Keep the aloe vera gel in the fridge until you’re ready for it.
This is what those internet sites always forget to cover. If you don’t clean up after you’re harvest, you’ll be sorry. It is ridiculously easy to accidentally ingest the nasty parts of this plant. Remove the gloves, bag them and throw them away in a lidded can. Wash the red stuff out of the bowl three times. Use a paper towel, not your regular dish sponge. Wash your hands, the knife and any other surface the aloe vera gel touched.