Herbal Apothecary: The Aloe Harvest

Yes, you read that correctly. As our temperatures ricochet between 75 and 25 degrees, we've been experiencing high winds for several days. I know, I know--it's always windy here, so what's the big deal? Well, this go-around was enough to take out the cable, a massive tree limb, and our poor, domesticated aloe plant.


It was great to have the windows open over the weekend, but on Monday the wind really picked up, and our aloe ended up on the floor, with three smushed leaves. The photo above shows the plant after I trimmed off the broken leaves, which is why it's now kind of lopsided.


Two leaves I cut down to the base, but this one was only broken at the tip, so I decided to try to save most of it. Aloe leaves heal themselves pretty quickly, so it should be ok.

I wasn't planning to harvest aloe while the plant is still so small, but it would be a shame to waste the leaves that the wind so efficiently delivered to me. Turns out that I also needed to make some more soap, so…project time! Let's roll.

Harvesting the aloe vera gel from the leaves turns out to be a messy project, but that might just be because I'm not that good at it (yet). I also think that it would be much easier with bigger leaves, but you take what you get. Here are the steps I took to get at the gel:

1. Cut the aloe leaves as close to the base of the plant as possible. If you're really good, you can get an outside leaf off without cutting it at all--it will just separate from the plant. I managed to get one to break off this way, but the rest I cut with kitchen shears. 

2. Drain the sap. Also leaves have resin (which I think smells terrible, by the way) that is reddish or yellow. It's thick goo that needs to drain out or it will stain your hands and keep on smelling bad (I can't really describe it, but I hated it. Maybe it's meant as a deterrent to animals who would try to get at all the water the plant stores inside?). The draining is easy if you just put the leaves cut side down in a glass and wait.

3. Fillet the leaves:


I cut the leaves in half the long way, although you can see in the photo above that when it gets skinny, it's easy to slip off and leave some of the skin.

At this point they will leak goo (by this I mean healing aloe vera gel) all over your cutting board:


Try your best to scoop it up to save it, but don't be too disappointed when it's too slippery to manage. I feel like I lost quite a bit to the board.

4. Scoop out the gel.

I just used a spoon to scrape down each half of leaf, pressing all the way down to the outer skin:


There's loose, wet goo, but there's also a solid, gelatinous piece in the middle. You can sort of see some of the broken, solid pieces toward the bottom of this photo of the gel from the first leaf I did:


You can also see that I missed some resin (reddish orange) and a few bits of the leaf (green). If I were planning to try to save this in the fridge, that might shorten its life, but I was going to use it right away. (If I were planning to save it, I'd also add some Vitamin E from a capsule, but I didn't bother here.)

5. Crush up the solid pieces of aloe with a mortar and pestle to make a smoother consistency of gel.

Ok, soap time! 

As I have before, I used an organic melt-and-pour base, but this time I added all of my fresh aloe vera gel:


This is about 8 ounces of soap base and about 1/4 cup of aloe vera.

Then I whisked in pulverized calendula and comfrey:


This is just like the herbal soap I've made before, but now with aloe. Also, you can see that there are still a few white chunks of aloe that I should have been more diligent about processing. Oh well.

I also added some essential oils for scent at this point (a few drops each of lovage, rosemary, bergamot and just a tiny bit of rose). 

Once it's all mixed, it gets poured into molds to cool:


I used twice as much calendula as comfrey this time, and I really like the orange color that it gave the soap.

I also really like the texture of this soap. All that aloe makes for a very smooth bar that just glides over your skin. I don't think I'll have enough to add it every time I make soap, but I'll definitely make this again when I do have more to harvest!

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