The plant genus known as aloe represents a somewhat bewildering collection of plants for novice herbalists. Therapeutic compounds vary from species to species. Because aloe vera plants are so well known for the soothing gel within their fleshy leaves, home cooks keep them as houseplants in case of kitchen burns. But for internal medicine, herbalists turn to other aloes. One such plant, cape aloe, is named for Africa's Cape of Good Hope.
Aloe Vera vs. Cape Aloe
Cape Aloe is known botanically as either Aloe capensis or Aloe ferox. Both MayoClinic.com and Drugs.com include cape aloe and its two botanical names within long lists of synonyms for aloe vera, possibly because manufacturers do not always specify which of the hundreds of members of the aloe genus is used. In general, however, aloe vera is most frequently used for topical gels, while Curaçao aloe and cape aloe appear in oral medicine.
The juice from the inner lining of the cape aloe leaf is known as latex. Dried, ground latex is used as a traditional laxative in some cultures, according to MayoClinic.com. The primary compound in cape aloe latex is aloe-emodin, believed to work by promoting fluid and electrolyte secretion. Researchers are studying oral aloe as a type 2 diabetes treatment because of its ability to lower blood sugar. It also is used in lung cancer prevention and for soothing symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
Because cape aloe latex is so potent, the University of Maryland Medical Center cautions against using it as a single-ingredient medication for constipation. Cape aloe may cause diarrhea and strong cramping. A formula partially made of aloe is considered an effective laxative, according to MayoClinic.com. As with other strong laxatives, oral aloe may cause electrolyte imbalance and dangerously low blood sugar and potassium levels. It can also trigger miscarriages in pregnant women. UMMC considers oral use of cape aloe unsuitable for any condition, while MayoClinic.com suggests limiting its use to no more than seven days for constipation relief. Mayo Clinic’s web site also cautions that cape aloe’s use for other medical issues has yet to be verified by comprehensive research.
For topical treatment, use aloe vera products rather than cape aloe. Scoop aloe vera gel from a living plant’s sliced leaves, or buy ointment containing aloe vera extract. UMMC recommends aloe vera for topical uses such as sunburn, mild burns, psoriasis and genital herpes. If you seek an herbal remedy for constipation, senna or cascara produce a more gentle laxative action, according to UMMC.