How to Identify Medicinal Aloe Vera Plant

how to identify medicinal aloe vera plant

There are nearly 600 types of aloe vera growing around the world. While they are all beautiful, there are also several poisonous varieties. So before you pull off a leaf and rub it on your skin, be sure that it is the safe species of aloe vera.

True aloe vera is a topical medicinal plant used for its skin-soothing properties. You can recognize this edible variety by its leaves; green with a dusty greyish-blue hue growing straight up in thick pointed leaves with spikes along its edges.

Still not sure what type of aloe vera plant you have brought into your home? This guide will help you identify the medicinal aloe vera plant.

Which Aloe Plant is Medicinal?

The most common type of aloe that is kept as a houseplant is also the medicinal kind. You will instantly recognize it when you see it but it comes by many names.

Medicinal aloe vera is also called:

  • Aloe barbandensis
  • Aloe vera var. Barbandensis
  • Aloe vera barbandensis Miller
  • Barbados aloe
  • True aloe
  • True aloe vera

Today, this aloe plant is mostly referred to as just aloe vera. You can find it all around the world, from market stalls to plant shops – even supermarkets sell the long leaves.

How to Identify a True Aloe Vera Plant

Learn to recognize the edible medicinal type of aloe vera by looking for these characteristics:

  • Thick pointed leaves that taper towards the tip
  • Small spikes along the leaf edge
  • Leaves grow mostly vertically with the outer leaves bending slightly
  • New leaves grow from the center of the plant
  • New leaves have greyish white spots while older leaves are spotless
  • Leaf color is green with a greyish-blue dusting
  • Sprouts yellow flowers

There are several aloe plants that have similar looking leaves so it is important to check for all of the above characteristics. Missing just a identifiers might just mean that you have a different aloe plant on your hands.

Can All Aloe Plants Be Used Medicinally?

Scientists are still researching the medicinal and healing properties of aloe plants. There is a chance that we’ll be able to put other aloe to good use.

There is only one main aloe plant that considered food-grade and safe for topical use; aloe vera barbandensis.

Don’t try experimenting on your own by opening up the leaves of other aloe vera plants because there are poisonous aloe vera species, too. They can be irritating to the skin and cause a serious health hazard when consumed.

If you plan on using aloe vera in skincare, beauty products or to incorporate into food – stick to aloe vera barbandensis.

Is Medicinal Aloe Vera Edible?

Aloe vera barbandensis is an edible aloe vera variety. This is the species that is considered medicinal however, there is a very similar aloe species that is not safe to consume.

Aloe vera var. Chinsensis is a close sister of the aloe vera var. Barbandensis. Their leaves are a similar size and sometimes its gel is also extracted for topical use but aloe vera var. Chinsensis absolutely cannot be eaten.

You can distinguish the chinsesis variety by the lighter stripes that spread all over the leaves, regardless of whether they are young or old leaves. This aloe vera type also produces orange flowers instead of the yellow flowers of true aloe vera.

If you plan on using aloe vera barbandensis, remember to first remove the latex from the leaf’s gel because it has a very bitter taste and extra sticky texture. This is the yellow goo which you can drain out by cutting it open and letting it stand cut side down overnight.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How Many Types of Aloe Vera Are There?

There approximately 580 types of aloe vera plants that grow in temperature climates in Asia, Africa, North and South America. They are all succulents but their leaves, habitat, growth pattern and flowers differ.

What Is the Difference Between Aloe Vera and Aloe?

There are almost 600 types of aloe plants and aloe vera is just one species. Although people often refer to all aloe plants as aloe vera, true aloe vera is aloe vera barbandensis.

Which Type of Aloe Vera is Good for Skin?

The type of aloe vera that you will often find as a topical soothing gel is aloe vera barbandensis. The leaf gel can be directly applied unto skin or incorporated into creams and gels to soothe sunburn and skin irritations.


Identify medicinal aloe vera by looking at the shape and color of its leaves; wide greyish-green with small spikes along its edge and growing mostly vertically. Don’t confuse it with the very similar type, aloe vera var. Chinsensis, which unlike true aloe vera is not edible.

Since there are also poisonous varieties, don’t use the gel unless you are 100% sure it is the safe type of aloe vera.

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