Cape Aloe

Aloe ferox

Herbs gallery - Cape Aloe

Common names

  • Bitter Aloe
  • Cape Aloe
  • Tap Aloe

Aloe ferox, also known as bitter aloe, can often grow up to a height of 10 feet (3 meters) and is found growing on rock-strewn hills, green fynbos (scrublands in South Africa) as well as on the periphery of the Karoo (the semi-desert areas in the Western Cape Province of South Africa). The physical appearance of the plants growing in different areas may vary owing to the conditions prevailing in those regions.

Aloe ferox bears thick and succulent leaves which are displayed in a rosette formation. The margins of the leaves have spines that are reddish-brown. The spines are relatively small on the lower and upper surfaces of the leaves.

This herb bears red or orange hued blooms, which stand two to four feet (0.61 to 1.2 meter) over the leaves. The name of this species 'ferox' denotes 'ferocious' referring to the herb's thorny leaves.

Even after they have dried, the older leaves continue to be on the herb, taking the shape of a 'petticoat' or an underskirt on the stem. The leaves of Aloe ferox have a pale green hue, occasionally having a somewhat bluish appearance. Some leaves may also have a dash of reddishness. The leaf tips of the variety known as A. candelabrum are elegantly shaped, to some extent curving downwards.

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The leaves have reddish spines along their margin. In addition to the edges, you may also find smaller such spines on the lower as well as the upper leaf surfaces. Aloe ferox plants have a propensity to be exceptionally spiny when they are young.

A flower head akin to that of large candelabra holds the Aloe ferox flowers. Usually, a rosette comprises five to eight branches and each of them carries a spiny flower head comprising several flowers.

Aloe ferox plants are very succulent and they preserve water in their plump leaves. As a result, plants of this species are able to flourish even in environments where availability of water is low. In addition, Aloe ferox plants can develop even in rock beds as well as in various harsh terrains without any difficulty. On the other hand, they also grow well in damp environments.

The plants bloom during the period from May to August, but the flowering season may be somewhat deferred till September in South African regions, where weather conditions are comparatively colder. The rosette-like formation of the Aloe ferox flowers is extremely ornamental and it draws many species of birds like sunbirds, glossy starlings, weavers and mousebirds.

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Several different insects also flock these flowers, consequently attracting additional feathered friends to your garden. When growing in natural habitats, monkeys as well as baboons invade the plants in search of nectar. People visiting gardens where these plants grow usually leave with beautiful patches of pollens on their body and clothes, which often bewilder the birdwatchers. Aloe ferox is a wonderful ornamental garden plant and this species possesses the aptitude to adapt to various conditions.

Parts used



Aloe ferox is an extremely familiar plant, especially for its therapeutic qualities. The sap of this herb is employed in the form of a laxative. Commonly known as bitter aloe, this herb has been used for medicinal purposes for more than two centuries.

Cape aloe or Aloe ferox is highly regarded for its superb remedial qualities. In some South African regions, people harvest the juice (sap) of bitter aloe which is found just underneath the plants' skin. For over two centuries, people have been harvesting it in the form of a renewable source. The stems yield a black, hard and resinous product that is called aloe lump, which is mostly used for its purgative qualities.

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In addition, this sap is also taking for treating arthritis. Many pharmacies sell a therapeutic product called 'Schwedenbitters', which contain bitter aloe extracts. The gelatinous flesh in the inner side of the Aloe ferox leaves is utilized for manufacturing cosmetic items. This jelly-like substance is said to possess healing qualities. It is interesting to note that rock paintings said to be done about 250 years back demonstrate Aloe ferox as well as Aloe broomii.

Having its origin in Africa, Aloe ferox is well-known for its outstanding therapeutic properties and is a natural colon cleanser. Aloe ferox is known to be the most potent as well as effective natural purgative and colon cleanser and most stimulating herb available for cleansing the colon. Altogether there are over 400 aloe species and Aloe ferox or bitter aloe is the tallest herb among them.

It is found growing naturally in a number of areas in South Africa, especially the Cape Region. Although people are more familiar with another aloe species called aloe vera for its wonderful therapeutic properties, Aloe ferox not only yields additional bitter sap (about 20 times more), but also contains an elevated level of nutrients.

Medicinally, Aloe ferox is mostly used in the form of a laxative. When used commercially, therapeutic products made from Aloe ferox are called bitter ferox instead of Aloe ferox.

It may be noted here that purgatives are used to wash out the intestines and also to encourage bowel movements. In 2004, Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutic published a study undertaken by L. Langmead that examined the action of aloe ferox on people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). During the study, 40 patients received oral dosages of Aloe ferox or a placebo.

At the end of the study, it was found that 30 per cent of the patients receiving Aloe ferox showed improvement, clinical remission or response, while just one per cent patients receiving placebo showed such improvements. It is believed that ingestion of Aloe ferox for a period of four weeks is likely to alleviate the symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome.

Earlier, in 2002, the findings of a study undertaken by H. Yu were published by the International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements. H. Yu studied the impact of administering Aloe ferox on rats suffering from allergic rhinitis. It was found that using aloe helped to significantly reduce symptoms like nasal mucus and inflammation in these rats.

However, research regarding Aloe ferox use for treating rhinitis is still considered to be in its initial stages. While researchers are optimistic that using Aloe ferox will help to diminish the symptoms related to allergies in humans, most scientists are of the view that further studies are required in this field.

Cape aloe has been used to help in healing from conditions such as:

Aloe ferox, commonly also called bitter aloe, possesses remarkable therapeutic attributes to heal as well as soothe several skin problems, including acne, lesions, psoriasis and rashes caused by chicken pox, burns caused by radiation, sunburns, various skin diseases and others. The best thing about Aloe ferox is that this herb can be applied to all skin types, including those that are extremely sensitive, as it is not only natural, but mild too.

In addition, it has been found that cape aloe is highly effective in lessening the size as well as diminishing the appearance of pockmarks and scratches. You can also use cape aloe to heal scars left by acne, stretch marks, burn scars and several other such problems.

Aloe ferox may be used in the form of a detoxifier too. Similar to all other things that have a 'rinsing out' action, it works as an excellent detoxifier. However, you need to be careful while using Aloe ferox, as its excessive use internally may result in diarrhea. When you are using Aloe ferox internally to treat any health problem, you should begin by using it in small doses in order to enable your body to gradually adjust itself to the treatment schedule.

You can take the cape aloe sap from the herb and apply it directly to the affected body part. In order to obtain the healing gel, you will require cutting or breaking the spiky, succulent leaves of this herb. You may apply the gel directly to the skin from the leaf, or squeeze the gel out of the leaves and store it in a sterilized bottle for later use.

However, you need to prepare the Aloe ferox sap to use it internally. Prior to endeavouring to prepare your aloe juice by yourself, it is necessary to check with a naturopath or any expert in herbal medicine. In case you use aloe juice internally without following appropriate instructions, its use may even result in hazardous side-effects.

Hence, ensure that you not only use reputed products from reputed manufacturers, but also educate yourself regarding the safe use of cape aloe juice.

It is worth mentioning here that Aloe ferox encloses more than 30 different amino acids, which are considered to be essential elements of our body. Amino acids facilitate the cells in our body to grow in a proper manner as well as to refurbish themselves. In addition, amino acids also form a vital ingredient for producing the essential antibodies, enzymes and hormones.

Most people are familiar with the aloe variety called Aloe vera (botanical name Aloe barbadensis). Hence, it is important to note that though Aloe vera is a more extensively distributed cultivar, it is an altogether different aloe species. The therapeutic properties of Aloe vera and Aloe ferox are quite similar.

Nevertheless, these two aloe species contain different amino acid levels as well as healing enzymes. In fact, Aloe ferox contains more of these elements. Generally, the plants belonging to the Aloe vera species are much smaller than those of the Aloe ferox variety. Moreover, the sap contained by the Aloe vera plants is comparatively thinner as well as cleaner.

Often, both these aloe species may be found growing in the same place in the wild. In their normal habitation Aloe ferox and Aloe vera are neighbours. In a number of places, both these aloe species grow alongside leading to an outstanding layered display.

It is important to note that Aloe ferox is an herb that is facing a danger of being extinct owing to excessive harvesting as well as the flourishing, but unlawful trade in aloe species.

Habitat and cultivation

Generally, propagation of Aloe ferox plants is done by means of its seeds and/ or head cuttings. Ideally, the seeds as well as the head cuttings of this species should be sown at a distance of about one meter from one another.

It normally takes anything between four and five years for the Aloe ferox plants grown from seeds to yield their maiden harvest. The leaves of the mature Aloe ferox plants weight about anything between 1.5 kg and 2.0 kg at the time of harvesting.

Aloe ferox plants have a preference for arid-tropical climatic conditions, sandy-loamy soils having an excellent drainage system, open areas, complete sunlight as well as restrained watering.

If you are growing Aloe ferox in your garden, you need to be aware that different flowering varieties of aloes easily hybridize with other flowering aloe plants. The seeds of this species should always be sown in a medium having a proper drainage system in low trays and the medium should be lightly covered using sand. In case, you do not do this, it is likely that the seeds will be scattered.

When the seeds start germinating, you need to keep the medium moist and, at the same time, be careful to ensure that the seedlings are not overwatered. Excessive watering may lead to the rotting of the seedlings. When the seedlings have grown about 4 cm in height (which usually takes six months from the date of sowing), prick them out individually and transplant them in separate bags or small containers.


Chemical analysis of the cape aloe leaf extract has revealed that it contains many active elements in different proportions, including alkaloids (60.9%), flavonoids (35.2%), onephenols (70.33%) and proanthocyanidins (171.06%). In addition, the leaf extract also contains high amounts of other flavonoids and saponins together with a number of tannins.

Extracts obtained from the whole cape aloe leaves were found to have an elevated level of antioxidants that help in scavenging free radicals. The scavenging activity of the leaf extract was established after scientists analyzed the findings of their study. The scientists discovered that Aloe ferox is a potent antioxidant which can be effectively used by the pharmaceutical companies as well as the food industry in their products.

Side effects and cautions

Although Aloe ferox is useful in treating an assortment of health conditions, the sap of this herb should not be taken by women during pregnancy as well as nursing mothers. Nevertheless, the cape aloe sap is completely safe for expectant mothers when used externally to heal burn injuries or treat skin lesions. It is also important to note that you should never give Aloe ferox products to children as well as pets for internal use. However, it is absolutely harmless for them when used externally.


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