Even before moving to México, I had known that aloe vera could be used for burn treatments. I now know that aloe vera (sábila) has more uses than that.
Sábila has been used since the time of the Mayans as a miracle plant, treating everything from cavities and cancer to brujaría (witchcraft). The most potent part of the plant is the clear gel found within its long spear-like leaves. This gel works as an astringent, pain killer, and coagulator. It contains beta carotene, Vitamin B, niacin, riboflavin, Vitamin B6, folic acid, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E as well as calcium, phosphoric acid, and iron. Sounds like a breakfast of champions to me.
Sábila can be used to boost the immune system, regenerate damaged skin cells, as an antibiotic, reduce arthritis inflammation and pain, and stop bleeding. It can be used as a topical agent or ingested by being made into juices or teas, although having accidentally eaten a bit that was on my toast one day, I’m not sure how delicious a tea would be. It has an acrid taste.
So there is some basis in it being a miracle plant. My husband had heard that it could be used in treatment for athlete’s foot, so one day he cut what he thought was sábila (aloe vera) and rubbed the gel on his feet. Unfortunately for him, he had mistakenly cut a leaf from the maguey plant and the result was an extreme burning sensation rather than the itch soothing he was looking for.
Since then, he has gotten savvier in his plant identification and has used sábila successfully in healing animal wounds. (See Animal Doctoring)
When my sister-in-law was being plagued by brujería (witchcraft) being caused by envidia (envy) she bought a sábila (aloe vera) plant and placed it at the entrance of her tortillería (tortilla shop) to absorb any bad feelings being sent her way. (See Battle of the Brujas)
Sábila used as a ward against evil should be placed at the left of the entrance and would be even better if there were two plants, one at either side of the entrance.
I even found a little prayer that can be used in conjunction with incense made from sábila, balsam, ground coffee and sugar. It goes like this:
Cruz santa y divina, bujas y brujos:
Enemigos que piensan llegar a mí, estoy con Dios por el poder de Cristo, que ha dado en el huerto de la fe.Oh! Dios. Pido que alejes de mí las tristezas y ruinas que vengan hacia mí. Dios soberano, líbrame de las penas y las traiciones, que bendita sea María y la hostia de la consagración. María Santísima, cúbreme con tu manto, que mi cuerpo sea parte de cielo, por los tres dulces nombres de Jesús, José y María. Con Dios y esta mata, sea la prosperidad en mi vida y en mí y en mi casa, Jesús, Joaquín y Santa Ana, líbrame de todo mal.
If the plant wilts or dies, it means that someone has had envy or bad intentions toward you and the plant absorbed the negative.
There is also a belief that if you plant a sábila with a coin at the roots, the household will never lack money. Since my husband recently transplanted two wild sábila to our backyard, it’s a perfect opportunity to test this out. We sure could use that bit of financial wizardry.
My little guidebook Antiguo Formulario Azteca de Yerbas Medicinales also has a section devoted to sábila. For back pain, the halved heated penca (leaf) should be placed on the part that hurts or in inflamed to relieve pain. For bronchitis or cough, a tea can be made with a little piece of sábila, 10 eucalyptus leaves and 10 flowers from the bugambilia morada plant (bougainvillea) and drunk an hour before going to sleep.
As with all customs and beliefs that we have discovered among our many adventures and disasters in México, we tend to err on the side of belief rather than skepticism. As they say “When in Rome…