A history of Aloe vera

Aloe vera - FOCUS February 2017 at the History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca

The plant Aloe barbadensis or Aloe vera has a long history of medicinal use, for over three millennia. The Egyptians first used it to treat sun burns and intestinal parasites. In the sixth century the Arabs used it as laxative. Dioscorides recommended Aloe vera in afflictions of the digestive tract, of the mouth and of the skin. Aristotle presumably suggested Alexander the Great to conquer the island of Socotra, where aloe was cultivated, in order to ensure its constant supply. It seems that the plant was the secret ingredient in Cleopatra’s beauty treatments. Aloe was also popular among the Romans, described by Pliny the Elder in his famous book Naturalis Historia.

 Apothecary jars for aloe used in Baia Mare (present-day Romania)

For a long time, between the sixth century B.C. and 1673, the plant was only cultivated on the island of Socotra, east of Africa (today part of Yemen), reason for which one of its names was Aloe Succotor or Succotrina. In the seventeenth century the English started to import it from the Barbados Islands, calling the species Aloe Barbadensis.
Wooden apothecary jar for aloe from the Unicorn Pharmacy in Cluj-Napoca

          The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca includes five jars for aloe, either as extract or powder. All of the items are dated to the nineteenth century and were used in various pharmacies: Baia Mare (the wooden jars inscribed PULV ALOES and ALOE), Cluj – the Unicorn pharmacy (the wooden jar with the signature ALOE SUCCOTOR), Tuda – the Velits pharmacy (the ceramic jar inscribed EX ALOES AQ) and Oradea – The Golden Cross pharmacy (the wooden jar marked ALOES LUCIDA – containing transparent or glassy aloe). These jars and a sample of the plant are exhibited in February part of the thematic display FOCUS - exhibit of the month.
Pharmaceutical jar for glassy aloe from Oradea

Ceramic jar from the old apothecary shop in Turda, near Cluj