Aloe vera is often called the “plant of immortality” because it can live and bloom without soil.
It is a member of the Liliaceae family, along with more than 400 other species of aloe.
Aloe vera has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, and studies have linked it to various health benefits as well. For example, the plant is used to treat sunburns, fight dental plaque and lower blood sugar levels.
In addition, aloe vera is rich in nutrients with more than 75 potentially active compounds, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids and polysaccharides ().
However, you may wonder whether the plant is safe for consumption.
This article tells you whether you can eat aloe vera — and whether you should.
Aloe vera leaves are comprised of three parts: the skin, the gel and the latex. They’re best known for their gel, which is responsible for most of its health benefits ().
While most people apply the gel to their skin, it’s also safe to eat when prepared right.
Aloe vera gel has a clean, refreshing taste and can be added to a variety of recipes, including smoothies and salsas.
To prepare the gel, cut off the spiky edges on the top and alongside the aloe vera leaf. Next, slice off the skin on the flat side, remove the clear gel and dice it into small cubes.
Make sure to wash the gel cubes thoroughly to remove all traces of dirt, debris and residue. Latex residue can give the gel an unpleasant bitter taste.
The latex is a thin layer of yellow liquid between the skin and the gel of the leaf. It contains compounds with powerful laxative properties, such as aloin ().
Eating too much latex can have serious and potentially fatal side effects ().
In contrast, the aloe vera skin is generally safe to eat. It has a mild flavor and a crunchy texture, perfect for adding variety to your summer salads. Alternatively, the skin can be enjoyed by dipping it in salsa or hummus.
To prepare the skin, cut off the spiky edges on the top and alongside the plant and slice off the skin on the flat side. Make sure to wash the skin thoroughly to remove any dirt, debris and latex.
You can soak it in water for 10–20 minutes before eating it if you find it too tough to chew.
It’s very important to choose leaves from the aloe vera plant and not from other aloe species, as these may be poisonous and therefore unfit for human consumption.
Summary It’s generally safe to eat the gel inside the aloe vera leaf, as well as the skin. Wash the skin or gel thoroughly to remove traces of latex, which can have unpleasant and potentially harmful side effects.
Aloe vera skin care gels and products are not meant to be eaten.
Instead, they’re manufactured to help soothe sunburns, reduce inflammation, moisturize, relieve itchiness and treat a variety of other skin concerns.
Many commercial aloe vera gels contain preservatives to extend their shelf life, as well as other ingredients to improve the smell, texture and color. Many of these ingredients are not meant to be ingested ().
In addition, processing methods can strip away aloe vera gel’s active ingredients, which are otherwise responsible for the health benefits that come from eating the gel ().
Summary Many aloe vera skin care products contain preservatives and other ingredients that are not meant to be ingested. Stick to eating the aloe vera plant and not commercial skin care products.
Consuming aloe vera gel from the leaf has been linked to potential health benefits. Other parts of the plant have been linked to benefits as well.
Here are some potential benefits of eating aloe vera:
- May reduce blood sugar levels: In human and animal studies, aloe vera gel helped reduce blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity (, , ).
- May suppress inflammatory signals: In animal and test-tube studies, aloe vera extract suppressed inflammatory signals such as TNFα, IL-1 and IL-6 (, ).
- Reduce dental plaque: If used as a mouthwash, aloe vera juice may be as effective as a regular mouthwash in reducing dental plaque build-up (, ).
- May boost memory: In one animal study, consuming aloe vera gel helped enhance learning and memory while also reducing symptoms of depression ().
- Rich in antioxidants: Regularly eating aloe vera gel may raise blood antioxidant levels. Antioxidants help combat the damage caused by free radicals, which are compounds linked to many chronic diseases ().
Summary Aloe vera has been linked to potential health benefits, such as reduced blood sugar levels, inflammation and dental plaque, as well as improved memory and antioxidant defenses.
Eating aloe vera latex, a yellow substance that is found inside the leaf, has potential risks.
In small doses, eating the latex may help treat constipation by promoting contractions. However, in 2002 the US FDA banned the sale of over-the-counter products containing aloe vera latex due to safety concerns ().
Long-term consumption of aloe vera latex has been linked to side effects, including stomach cramps, kidney problems, irregular heartbeat and muscle weakness ().
In high doses above 1 gram per day, prolonged use may even be fatal ().
Pregnant women should avoid eating the latex, as it may stimulate uterine contractions, which could cause a miscarriage (15).
In addition, people with digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or Crohn's disease, should avoid consuming aloe vera latex as it may worsen their conditions (15).
Aside from the latex, consuming aloe vera gel is not advised for people taking diabetes, heart or kidney medications, as it may worsen potential side effects from the drugs ().
Avoid eating aloe vera skin care gels, as they do not offer the same benefits as the gel inside the leaf. Skin care gels may also contain ingredients that are not meant to be eaten.
Summary Aloe vera latex can be harmful, especially to pregnant women, people with digestive disorders and people on certain medications. You should also avoid aloe vera gel if you take diabetes, heart or kidney medications.
Aloe vera gel and skin can be eaten. The gel, in particular, may offer several health benefits.
Be sure to wash the gel or skin thoroughly to remove all traces of latex, which has an unpleasant bitter taste and may cause harmful side effects.
Never eat aloe vera skin care products. They do not offer the same benefits as the leaf and are not meant to be ingested.