Deb Babcock: Aloe vera for the klutz in the kitchen

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

When it comes to cooking, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Somehow I tend to either slice a finger on the utensils or burn myself. A lot.

Consequently, aloe vera has been the best ingredient we stock in our kitchen.

Aloe vera (aloe vera barbadensis) is a semitropical succulent plant whose gel is used to sooth burns, cuts and rashes. You also find aloe vera in numerous shampoos, soaps and lotions because it's a popular ingredient in many beauty preparations. Other uses include treatment of poison oak and ivy, acne, insect bites, shingles and even to soothe the sore nipples of nursing mothers.

A USDA Zone 10-11 plant, aloe must be grown indoors in the Steamboat area, and it makes an excellent house (see: kitchen) plant. In the summer, the potted aloe vera can be set outdoors, which may even cause it to bloom with some vibrant orange flowers that will attract hummingbirds.

As a succulent, aloe consists of 95 percent water, so it is extremely susceptible to cold temperatures. Place it near a window that gets a lot of sun, and during these winter months, don't worry as it goes somewhat dormant. During winter, you won't need to water it much at all; during the summer, allow the soil to become completely dry before giving enough water to soak the soil. Let the soil dry again before watering.

Aloe vera plants should be placed in a good potting mix that provides extra drainage. Even a cacti mix soil will work well. It only needs to be fertilized once a year - in the spring - with a half-strength 10-40-10 plant food.

You may grow aloe from seed or propagate it by harvesting the little off-shoots that grow around the base of the mature plant.

To use the gel in the plant to treat a minor burn or cut, simply break off a piece of a lower leaf and squeeze the inner gel on your wound. Research studies conclude that topical aloe gel has immunomodulatory properties that may improve wound healing and skin inflammation. Plus, the gel dries into a sort of natural 'bandage' while the skin repairs itself. The broken leaf will repair itself, too. Another way to use the gel is to squeeze it out and mix it up with some vitamin C and store in the refrigerator. (That's what I do, and the cool gel feels so good on my burns.)

So whether you're a klutz in the kitchen, like me, or you just like succulent plants, consider adding an aloe vera plant to your collection.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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