Aloe vera has a long history of use as an important and highly beneficial medicine plant. The Egyptians used aloe topically, and to embalm their dead. It was known as the “plant of eternity”. Alexander the Great used aloe juice to heal war wounds among his army. It is said that Aristotle convinced Alexander to capture the island of Socotra specifically to gain possession of the precious aloe groves that could provide enough medication to treat his large battalions.
The ancient Chinese and Japanese consumed juice of the aloe plant. In Japan it was known as “the royal plant” and was highly valued by the samurai as an elixir. The Chinese referred to aloe as the “method of harmony”.
In Ayurvedic medicine—sometimes called the “mother of all healing systems”—aloe is considered one of the most important rejuvenating plants.
How does aloe work?
Aloe vera contains several powerful nutritional factors: glycoproteins, polysaccharides, and glucomannan. Glycoproteins can help control the inflammatory response, while polysaccharides can increase cellular movement leading to faster and more efficient tissue regrowth. Glucomannan (also a kind of polysaccharide) is a type of dietary fiber that has been shown to stimulate the fibroblast cells that help build new collagen and tissue.
For topical use
Aloe has been used for centuries for burns, scrapes, skin irritations, sunburn, and abrasions. I keep tubes of aloe gel in the barn and the house. I also have two large aloe plants in very large pots in order to have fresh leaf gel. Aloe can be used for acne, psoriasis, frostbite, and to reduce scarring. I don’t use aloe on big open wounds but do apply it to the tissues surrounding the wound, as well as to scrapes, nicks, small cuts and abrasions on the horses, myself, and the dogs. A time or two, when I’ve burned myself, the aloe has taken the pain away immediately.
For ulcer horses
Aloe can be a wonderful addition to the equine diet for horses struggling with gastric issues and ulcers. Since it is mucilaginous, it will soothe the gastrointestinal tract. It is high in digestible fiber and can support the regulation of healthy colonic bacteria. Due to the fact that aloe can relieve irritation of the mucous membranes, it becomes an important food for ulcer-sensitive horses.
For immune system support
The gastrointestinal tract plays a significant role in immune system function, and Aloe vera contains some antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties to support it. A published 2011 study identified that aloe reduced the number of E. coli colonies in the gut while increasing the number of beneficial Lactobacillus colonies. Furthermore, the study identified significantly higher levels of humoral and cellular immunity. (Darabighane, B et al. “The effects of different levels of Aloe vera gel on ileum microflora population and immune response”. Journal of Applied Animal Research. 2012, 40(1).)
What kind of aloe to use?
When it comes to topical application, I use the 99% pure gel or simply break off a leaf from the plant and rub it on the burn or cut. For internal use, whether for the horses or myself, I use distilled aloe. Distilled Aloe vera is not diluted, does not contain preservatives or additives, and is 100% pure aloe. It tastes like spring water, so it’s very palatable even to the pickiest equines.
Protecting the equine GI tract during riding and training
One of the challenges, particularly with ulcer-sensitive or ulcer-recurrent horses, is protecting the delicate intestinal mucosa when the horse is worked. The horses’ biology requires them to eat 20 hours a day, producing bicarbonate from saliva, which helps reduce the acid in the stomach. When we ride and train, the gut is mostly unprotected, and the acid is constantly being produced.
In response to my own ulcer-sensitive horse, I formulated BioStar’s Tum-Ease EQ. This formula is made into bars (to be fed by hand) that help heal the intestinal mucosa by providing a unique and specialized aloe along with organic cabbage for added glutamine.
What makes Tum-Ease unique, is that we use a highly concentrated, micro-crystalized aloe that is stronger and more bioactive than the gelled or distilled versions. Because it’s so bioactive, it comes with a big price tag: $200 per pound. This is not your average Costco or Trader Joe’s bulk aloe! Because it’s so powerful, it goes to work to coat the GI tract and protect it from potential gastric acid burn, particularly in the stomach. I often think of it as a plant version of the drug sucralfate.
Whether you grow some aloe in a pot or have the gel and distillate on hand, aloe is, in my opinion, a must-have for home and barn.
Tum-Ease is to be given before the horse works, so it’s best to give it while the horse is being tacked up, allowing the aloe to get to work coating and protecting the GI tract before the exertion starts.
You can give Tum-Ease during any period of stress for horses — trailering, showing, changing barns, losing a pasture mate, farrier work, or a change to the routine — in order to lessen the chance of gastric irritation.
- I recommend ¼ cup George’s Aloe per feeding for horses. Just add to the feed.
- For the ulcer-sensitive horse under saddle, give two bars of Tum-Ease EQ half an hour before riding.
- Be aware: there are toxic substances in the rind of the aloe leaf, so don’t grab a leaf and put it in the blender to feed your horse or dog!