Agriculture Column: Aloe vera – An agricultural option
VEGETATION propagation is easy and convenient. Of late, because of skyrocketing prices of allopathic medicines with its known side effects, medicinal plants and ayurvedic medicines are becoming popular. According to research the world trade on these medicines is worth about $80 million now and this is likely to increase by 35-40 percent within five years. USA dominates the market (65%) while India and China have a share of 10 percent each which could be enhanced by its commercial cultivation. With increasing interest in ‘natural’ products across the world and the resultant upsurge in the demand for medicinal plants, this trade is expected to grow up to $5 trillion by the year 2050.
Aloe Vera is among the few medicinal plants by virtue of their extensive medicinal, nutraceutical and other uses, enjoys a major chunk of the market across the globe. The major markets for Aloe Vera and its extracts are Australia, US and the entire Europe.
Aloe Vera is a plant of great potential and value in the field of therapeutic pharmaceuticals and cosmetic industries, and in Ayurvedic and Unani system of medicines, it is particularly useful for treatment of burns, bleeding wounds, as eye drops for sore eyes. The gel contained in Aloe Vera leaves reportedly comprises 75 nutrients, 200 active compounds, 20 minerals, 18 amino acids and 12 vitamins.
It contains 200 different types of polysaccharides, and various kinds of glycol- protein which are used for human health. Aloine A, and Aloine B, are principles of the ayurvedic medicine.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) is a popular medicinal plant. It belongs to liliaceae family. It is a perennial plant, growing to the height of 0.5m – 0.8m. Its leaves are long and thick, juicy with a wheel like phylotaxy. The two sides of the leaves have thorny structure with a thorny tip. The inner substance of the leaves is jelly like, with bad odour and bitter in taste. The length of the leaves ranges from 25-30 cm, while the breadth ranges from 3-5 cm. It is normally not propagated through seeds.
According to B.C. BISWAS in the research article: Cultivation of Medicinal Plant, Success Stories of Two Farmers, Aloe Vera is found to grow in hot humid and high rainfall conditions. It is grown in all kind of soils but well drained soil with high organic matter, is most suitable. It grows well in bright sun light. Shady condition results in disease infestation. It is highly sensitive to water stagnation.
Therefore, well drained high land should be selected for its cultivation. Rainfall ranging from 1,000 – 1,200 mm is ideal for aloevera cultivation. Since it is difficult to grow aloevera from seeds, seedlings are normally raised from roots of the plants. Sucker itself can be used as seedlings as in Banana. The rainy season is ideal for sucker plantation. A spacing of 0.5m x 0.33m, 0.33m x 0.66m or 0.66m x 0.66m is followed.
Aloe Vera is infested by various insets and pests. Special care is needed for their control in medicinal plants like Aloe Vera where the juice of the leaves are directly taken as medicine. Clean cultivation, interculture operation, regular and need based irrigation, application of adequate organic manure, treatment of sucker before planting, and cultivation of Aloe Vera in sunny conditions are conducive for healthy growth of the Aloe Vera crop. Use of organic source of plant protection materials like raw garlic juice, neem oil (10,000 ppm) 2-3 ml / ltr, tobacco extractant 20 ml / lit gave reasonably good result.
Harvesting of leaves starts after 7-8 months of planting. Sharp knife is used for harvesting. Care has to be taken to reduce the loss of juice from the cut portion. Both the juice of leaves and flowers are used as medicine, but medicines are prepared from leaves. Intake of juice of leave, improves hunger, and helps in digestion. Juice when mixed with sugar cures cough and cold. Besides these, it also cures nervous weakness, asthma, Jaundice and so forth. The leaf flesh (about 7-8g) mixed with honey, taken in the morning and evening cures constipation.