Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Aloe vera (Αλόη βέρα)

The 2nd of January is not a holiday in Greece - it is an ordinary working day, except for teachers, who are on Christmas break.

Aloe vera has recently gained a reputation in Crete for its therapeutic qualities. When something becomes so well known, it also becomes elitist. It is now treated as a luxury product, with plants and leaves being sold at the supermarket int he fresh produce sections, commanding phenomenal prices: €7.62 per potted plant, and  €8.48/kg for the leaf. The qualities of aloe vera have long been known, but few people know the actual plant as well as they know the processed goods produced from its sap and flesh: juice, creams, lotions, etc.

Aloe vera appeared in the local supermarket only in the last two months.

Dhanggit grows aloe vera in her yard. The aloe vera plants have overtaken every space in this tiny cramped patio. I always thought there were a few too many of these plants in her garden every time I visitd her. She told me she's been using aloe vera since she was a young girl in Albania. She continues all the herbal medicaine practices that she remembers form her grandmother, and aloe vera has always played a significant part in her life.

- So you bought a plant from Albania, I asked her.
- No, all my aloe vera plants originiated in America.
- Who bought it to you from America?
- Oh, it's a long story. I was in the hospital at Iraklio after a misdiagnosis here in Hania, where I was given the wrong medication and I almost died. The doctor there took pity on me after he heard my story and my situation, and before I left the hospital, he gave me two plants, and told me to watch them carefully - τα μάτια σου δεκατέσσερα, he said. When I saw what he gave me, I recognised them to be aloe vera, like we used in Albania. It's over a decade ago that I got those plants, and all my aloe vera have all been produced from those two plants.

I was curious to find out how Dhanggit used the plants. She snipped the tip of a leaf by making it snap, peeled the skn and ate the juicy soft innards. The remaining part of the leaf, she applied on her face, using up every drop of sap the snippet produced.

- I do this every morning. But you have to be sure that your aloe vera plants are genuine, because there are many plants that look like it but aren't aloe vera. I have two varieties:, the mild one and the bitter one. The mild one is used as food, and on the skin as a lotion. The bitter one can't be eaten - it's only used as a poultice on a wound. Ever since I was misdiagnosed and given the wrong drugs, I've been wary of taking any medication, and I eat aloe vera every day, which has been proven against diabetes, cholesterol, heart problems, intestine problems, blood circulation, and all kinds of dermatitis. And two months ago, when I was admitted to hospital after a fainting attack, the doctors were so amazed with my medical tests which showed how healthy I was, that they now all ask for aloe vera plants from me.

- What happened to you? Why did you faint?
- There was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I was unhappy, stressed and miserable. I needed a break, nothing else, which is why I went to Albania. But the doctors did all the tests that they had to do since I was being admitted by ambulance, and when I came round, I asked them what drugs they were administering on me. I don't want any medication after my last hospital experiece. One of the doctors was curious about my diet. He asked me what I ate on a daily basis. I told him I eat what everyone else eats, as long as I can afford it. He said that there must be something I'm eating that other people don't, because my medical examinations turned out so good. I told him I eat aloe vera every day. He asked me where I got it from. I told him to help me get out of hospital quickly, and he can come to visit me and see my supply.
- So he came to visit you?

- Of course! He bought his daughter along with him, and I gave him a couple of off-shoots. He took them home and a few days ago, he came to my house again, carrying a 10-litre canister of organic olive oil which he had produced from his own trees.

Then Dhanggit snipped of a leaf from the base and gave it to me. Her action was not just that of a present, but a priceless gift of love.
- I have given leaves and plants to many people. You old neighbour Kiria Effie told me she had cholesterol and I told her to try it. Six weeks later, she came knocking on my door and excitedly told me that her cholesterol had dropped. Kiria Aleka from the corner has psoriasis. I gave her leaves on a regular basis, and she told me that they did her good. But I told her I couldn't supply her with them; she needs to grow her own plants, like I do. You replant them using the off-shoots, but they take time to become a solid plant that you can harvest. You must wait until you see the flower growing. Then, you know your plant is ready to be used. I've been replanting them since I started with my two plants.

I thanked Dhanggit for the leaf and took it home and told my husband the story. We're now thinking about where we're going to start our own aloe vera collection in the garden. We will dig up the area where an excess of wild thorny artichoke plants are growing. The artichoke's thorns will be replaced with aloe vera's prickly leaves.

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