Aloe vera is one of the few succulent plants that has medicinal properties. It is grown as an ornamental species indoors in pots, but its origins are mysterious. Aloe vera plants are compact plants up to 60 cm (2 feet) high with long, fleshy leaves and serrated edges that form a compact rosette. Large plants produce a spike of yellow flowers during the spring. As a cultivated plant aloe vera is easy to grow, provided it is kept warm and not over-watered.
Place your potted aloe vera plant in the warmest and brightest available spot in the house. A south-facing window with several hours of direct sunshine every day is ideal. Aloe vera plants will grow in indirect light, but may get straggly. Rotate your plant every two weeks to keep growth regular.
Water your plant every week during the warmest months of the year, or when the surface of its potting medium is dry. Do not allow the soil to get waterlogged, as the roots will rot and your plant will die. During the colder months allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings and take care to prevent water pooling amongst the leaves, as this can cause rotting.
Fertilise aloe vera plants using a liquid fertiliser formulated for succulents, or a standard houseplant fertiliser diluted to one quarter of its recommended strength. Apply fertiliser every time you water the plant except for the three coldest months of the year, when your plant does not need fertilising at all.
Repot your aloe vera plant only when it becomes top-heavy in its container or is completely pot-bound. Use heavy terracotta pots for aloe vera plants, as they are heavy and topple over easily. A soil-based potting compost mixed with 30 per cent sand is ideal for aloe vera plants, as it is rich in nutrients and free-draining.
Propagate aloe vera plants using any small plantlets that grow from suckers next to the main plant. These can be cut off using a sharp knife as soon as they develop their own root system. Allow the plantlet to dry out for a couple of days on a sunny windowsill and then pot up in a 15 cm (6 inch) pot. Aloe vera can also be grown from seed, but will takes several years for seedlings to grow into large plants.
Place aloe vera plants outdoors only in areas that do not drop below 4 degrees C (40 F). Choose a spot with well-drained soil that receives as much sunlight as possible. Outdoor plants often develop a healthy pink blush when exposed to sunshine. Bring the plant inside during the winter.
Harvest aloe vera for medicinal use by cutting through the fleshy base of the largest leaf on the plant. Remove the fleshy, translucent interior without any of the bitter skin. This pulp can be applied to burns and cuts and used to treat sunburn.