I have a soft spot in my heart for aloe plants. As someone with a notoriously brown thumb, houseplants have never really been my cup of tea. But thanks to sensitive skin and an occasionally fiery immune system, I took a chance one day and brought a few aloe plants home from the farmer’s market.
Turns out that using fresh aloe is a bit different (and better for you!) than using the bottled kind. But once you make the switch, you’ll never go back to the bottled stuff again. Here’s how to harvest aloe vera gel so you can get the greatest benefit from this magical plant.
How to Harvest and Use Aloe Vera
By now, I think we’re all familiar with the topical uses of aloe. It’s a fabulous healer for burns, cuts, and other skin ailments (source), and it has beauty-boosting properties to boot. Thanks to an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, aloe vera is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse.
But it’s not just your skin that reaps the benefits. Aloe’s healing properties work just as well on our insides as they do on our outsides. When eaten, aloe vera aids digestion, decreases inflammation, and promotes healing of the digestive tract (source).
And, for those of us with brown thumbs, aloe is one of those set-it-and-forget-it plants that does best when you don’t over-tend to it. With minimal effort, aloes will thrive in most households—even with little sunlight and water.
Simply choose a large enough pot and some dry, sandy soil (like the kind you would buy for cacti), and place it near a bright window. Direct sun can burn the leaves, so don’t panic if your home doesn’t get a ton of sunlight. Water it every few weeks, letting it dry out thoroughly between waterings. That’s it.
But if growing the plant isn’t your cup of tea, you can usually find large aloe leaves at your local health food store. Removing the gel from store-bought leaves is the same as harvesting it from the plant, so read on or watch the video below to see how it’s done:
If you plan to eat the gel, be forewarned: aloe leaves contain aloin, a yellowish-orange sap that can cause impressive diarrhea. This sap is produced near the stalk, so after removing a leaf, let the aloin drain from the end and discard it before consuming the gel.
How to Harvest Aloe
1. Choose a large, unblemished leaf from a mature aloe plant.
2. Since most of the nutrients are housed near the stem, use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the leaf as close to the stem as possible.
3. Let the yellow sap drain from the leaf and discard, then rinse the cut leaf and pat it dry.
4. Lay the leaf on a flat surface and use a serrated knife to remove the top piece of skin. Flip the leaf over and remove the bottom piece of skin. Discard the remaining stalk and rind.
5. Apply the gel directly to skin or freeze and apply to inflamed skin, cuts, or wounds. To eat, you can add to smoothies, drinks, or salad dressings immediately after harvesting.
How to Store Fresh Aloe Vera Gel
On those occasions where you can’t use all the gel immediately, feel free to toss it in a jar and keep in the refrigerator for 7–10 days. Just keep in mind that aloe does degrade slightly over time, so it’s best to use it within a week or so.
For long-term storage, simply cut the leaf (with or without skin) into cubes and freeze until solid. Transfer the chunks to a lidded glass jar and store in the freezer until ready to use.
Aloe Vera FAQs
Once harvested, can aloe vera gel be used in bath and body products like scrubs and lip balms?
Yes, although be forewarned, fresh aloe vera goes bad pretty quickly. Without chemical stabilizers (like those used in commercial aloe vera products), fresh aloe gel and any products made with it should be refrigerated and used within 7–10 days.
Do aloe vera leaves grow back?
The leaves that have been cut won’t actually regenerate, but the plant will continue to grow new baby leaves that will take the place of the cut leaves.
Does harvesting aloe vera hurt the plant?
If done rather infrequently, removing leaves shouldn’t hurt the plant. In fact, trimming the older leaves can help the plant better focus its energy and resources on nurturing new growth, which will end up giving you a stronger, healthier plant.
But frequently cutting off leaves can weaken the plant and kill it. Only cut the mature, outer-most leaves on the plant using a sharp blade. If you don’t have any large, mature-looking leaves, it’s best to let the plant grow some more before attempting to harvest the leaves again.
Can you freeze whole aloe vera leaves?
Sure! Pop the whole leaves in an airtight glass jar and put ’em in the freezer. They’ll keep for about six months until you’re ready to use them, at which point you should let them rest at room temperature for a few hours before attempting to harvest the gel.
How often should I water my aloe plant?
Aloe vera plants naturally grow in desert-like conditions, therefore, you want to water them thoroughly but infrequently. I water my plants about once a month, but I have been known to go months without watering them, and as long it’s not too hot out, they’ve thrived.
Can you replant a broken aloe leaf?
Yes, although it’s a little trickier than propagating succulents or cacti! To regrow the broken end of an aloe vera leaf, let it dry for a couple of days so that a thin layer of “skin” grows over the cut. Fill a small pot with cactus soil and place the leaf cut side down in the pot.
Place in a warm sunny window, and try to keep the soil moist (but not wet) for the first four weeks. If everything goes smoothly, the leaf should sprout roots and slowly become established, at which point it will begin growing new leaves.
But, as I mentioned earlier, propagating aloe plants from cut leaves isn’t as easy as with other plants, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t take.
How long does fresh aloe vera stay good?
If frozen, the gel should stay good for at least six months. And if refrigerated, use it within 7 to 10 days.
Looking for ways to use your fresh aloe?
- 12 Aloe Beauty Recipes
- 10 Amazing Aloe Drinks
- 15 Edible Aloe Recipes to Nourish Your Skin
- 3 Anti-aging Aloe Face Masks
Do you have some interesting ways to use fresh aloe gel? Let us know in the comments!
How to Harvest Aloe Vera Gel
- Sharp knife
- Cutting board
- Jar with lid
- Select a large, unblemished leaf, and using a sharp knife, cut the leaf as close to the stem as possible.
- Lay the leaf on a flat surface, and let the yellow sap drain from the cut end. Then rinse the leaf and pat it dry.
- Lay the leaf flat on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to remove the top piece of skin. Flip the leaf over and remove the bottom piece of skin. Discard the remaining stalk and rind.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified pediatrician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.34