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Aloe Ferox: Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects

Aloe ferox is a species of aloe that is endemic to South Africa. This HolisticZine write-up provides information on the uses, benefits, and side effects of aloe ferox.
HolisticZine Staff
Founded in 1981, the International Aloe Science Council (IASC) provides seals of quality and certifications to aloe products that meet high standards. According to the IASC, products that don't contain a polysaccharide called acemannan should not be considered true aloe vera.
More than 400 species of succulent plants are placed under the Aloe genus. Aloe vera is one of the popular species that is cultivated due to its therapeutic properties. Being a succulent plant, it stores water in its leaves. This makes this plant ideal for dry or arid environment. Its popularity has increased manifold due to the therapeutic nature of the gel and latex obtained from the plant.

The gel is a clear, jelly-like substance that is obtained from the parenchymal cells of the leaf, which is the white inner fleshy part in the center of the leaf. The latex is a bitter, yellow-colored liquid that is extracted from beneath the leaf skin. Thus, the products that are made from whole leaves contain both gel and latex. Aloe gel that has not been processed might also contain some latex. It must be noted that aloe gel or juice is used as a skin care product, whereas the latex is mainly used as a stimulant laxative.
Out of the 400 species placed in this genus, only three species are known for their medicinal properties. These are Aloe vera, Aloe ferox, and Aloe arborescens. One of the major differences between these three species is the concentration of aloin. Aloe ferox, which is also called cape aloe, red aloe, or bitter aloe, is considered to be more potent than aloe vera; the amino acid content of the former is almost double than that of the latter. In the following sections, you will find information on the medicinal uses of cape aloe, along with the differences between aloe vera and cape aloe.
Aloe Ferox Vs. Aloe Vera
The term ferox, which means 'fierce or war-like', refers to the spiny-edged leaves of this plant. Aloe ferox is also called bitter aloe due to the bitter taste of its sap. It is referred to as red aloe due to the reddish-orange color of its flowers. In late 1980s, certain tests were conducted at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, South Africa for understanding the nutrient profile of aloe ferox and aloe vera. These tests revealed that:
Wild Aloe
Flowers of Aloe Ferox
Succulent Leaves of Aloe Ferox
Succulent Leaves of Aloe Ferox
  • The amount of bitter sap in a freshly-cut leaf of aloe ferox was about 20 times more than that of aloe vera.
  • The content of amino acids in aloe ferox was almost double than that of aloe vera. The total concentration of amino acids was 28.99 nMol/mg dry mass, in comparison to 15.33 nMol/mg dry mass in aloe vera.
  • The concentration of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc was higher than that of aloe vera.
  • Aloe vera juice lost its color and viscosity more rapidly than aloe ferox juice.
  • The inner gel of aloe vera is more translucent and mucilaginous than that of aloe ferox.
Thus, this study hinted that aloe ferox was more potent than aloe vera.
Health Benefits of Aloe Ferox Bitter Crystals/Capsules
The bitter taste of aloe ferox is due to the increased concentration of aloin. Aloin is present in the bitter sap that is present under the green epidermis of the leaves. The sap is sold in the form of powders, crystals, tablets, or capsules. The gel that is extracted from the leaves is mostly used for skin. Unfiltered aloe contains about 10,000 parts per million of aloin. It also contains several phytonutrients that are responsible for its therapeutic properties.
Aloe Ferox Crystals
Aloe Ferox Crystals
  • Aloin is present in anthraquinone, which is not only a purgative, but also a potent antioxidant. Thus, aloe ferox might help prevent damage that is caused by free radicals. Due to this, studies are being conducted to analyze its effect on prevention of cancer.
  • Aloe ferox contains monosaccharides such as rhamnose, fucose, arabinose, xylose, mannose, galactose, and glucose.
  • Studies have shown that both aloe vera and aloe ferox gels have potential to reduce erythema or abnormal redness of skin. It is believed to be effective in reducing the symptoms of psoriasis. The medicinal properties are often attributed to the presence of polysaccharides, which help in repairing skin and promote skin growth.
  • The active compounds or glycoproteins present in aloe possess anti-inflammatory properties. These help in reducing swelling or inflammation.
  • Aloe ferox also contains amino acids called glutamic acid, asparagine, aspartic acid, serine, glycine, alanine, glutamine, valine, threonine, proline, lysine, arginine, leucine, phenylalanine, isoleucine, tyrosine, cystine, histidine, and methionine.
  • An animal study (Delavaeu et al.) conducted in 1980 suggested that the administration of aloe vera, as well as aloe ferox stimulated phagocytic activity. A few studies have suggested that aloe gel inhibits microbial growth, and is harmful to certain types of bacteria and fungi.
  • Aloe latex contains chemicals that work as a laxative. The anthraquinone derivatives act as a laxative. The main purgative principle in aloe ferox is anthrone C-glucoside aloin. Aloin, which is also referred to as barbaloin, is a yellow-colored, bitter, crystalline compound. Once ingested, aloin stimulates peristaltic contractions that facilitate the passage of digested food in the large intestine, thereby inducing bowel movement. Thus, it can be taken by individuals affected by constipation.
  • The aloin content in the exudate lies in the range of 8.5 to 32%. In a study published in the Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics by L. Langmead, about 30% of the subjects who took bitter aloe showed improvement or remission in the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in response to 1% of patients on the placebo. Thus, this study suggested that taking bitter aloe for four weeks may reduce the severity of symptoms in individuals affected by IBS.
  • The wound-healing abilities of aloe gel is attributed to the glycoproteins, which have hydrating effects. They soothe the affected skin and help repair the damaged skin. It increases blood supply to minor wounds or burns, thereby speeding up the healing process. It may inhibit the growth of pathogens, thereby preventing secondary infections.
  • Aloe ferox is used in moisturizers, gels, eye-firming gels, scrubs, sunscreens, lip balms, etc. It is believed that aloe ferox improves skin elasticity and prevents skin damage caused by exposure to the sun. The manufacturers of skin care products containing aloe ferox stress on the fact that fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides are not used while growing this plant. Hence, it is all the more beneficial.
Side Effects of Cape Aloe
Being a dietary supplement, the use of aloe is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. However, the FDA has approved its use as a food additive. Thus, it is extremely essential to prevent the indiscriminate use of aloe products. Since aloin is a potent stimulant laxative, it should not be taken in large doses. When taken in large doses, aloin can cause side effects such as:
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Electrolyte imbalance
It is advisable to use herbal products such as aloe vera or aloe ferox only after consulting with the doctor. This is to rule out adverse interactions or side effects. Excessive use of stimulant laxatives like aloe ferox should be avoided, as products with a larger concentration of aloin can cause untoward effects. These should not be used for more than two weeks. Since aloin can cause uterine contractions, its use is not advised during pregnancy. It should not be taken by nursing mothers. It is advisable not to give aloe ferox to children below the age of 12 years.
The therapeutic properties of aloe ferox plant have been known for ages. Since it is endemic to parts of South Africa, it has been listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to prevent the commercial exploitation of aloe ferox for latex. This is to ensure that the harvesting of this plant for international trade is carefully monitored, thereby ensuring that there isn't any threat to the survival of this species in the future.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.