Overview of the chemistry of aloes of Africa
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The genus Aloe consists of more than 360 species distributed mainly in Tropical Africa, Madagascar and Southern Arabia (Mabberley 1987) and includes herbs, shrubs and trees. The leaves are fleshy, strongly cuticularized and are usually prickly at the margins. The flowers are of various colours, white, yellow, pink, greenish and red. The bitter leaf exudates of some Aloe species are commercially important sources of the laxative aloe drug and are also used in the cosmetics industry as additives in shampoos, shaving and skin care creams (Leung 1970) and in the treatment of skin disorder and in particular as topical medication for the treatment of burns (Rowe et at. 1941). The exudate has also been used as bittering agent in alcoholic beverages. The term aloe is derived from the Arabic word aHoeh which means a shining bitter substance (Tyler et al. 1976). Medicinally, the gel and dried leaf exudates of Aloe species have been used since ancient civilizations of the Egyptians, and Mediterranean peoples (Trease and Evans 1976). Egyptian copts used aloe to treat eye diseases, swellings and digestive disorders. Aloe was known to the Greeks for Alexander the Great is said to have been advised to conquer the island of Socotra near the East African shores to get aloe drug to treat his wounded soldiers (Maniche 1989). Aloe species still enjoy a very wide folkloric usage in many parts of the world and are also used in modern medicine. In commercial circles “Cape aloe" means the dried latex of the leaves of Aloe ferox Miller while “Curasao aloe” is the latex from Aloe vera Miller (U.S. Pharmacopeia 1979).