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(Asphodel family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: The clear gelatinous liquid obtained from the leaves of Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f. has in recent years found increasing use in "cosmeceutical" preparations for treating sunburn and other minor burns, and as a skin moisturiser. Although some references to the dermatologic use of Bulbine Wolf, Dianella Lam. ex Juss., Phormium J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. and other members of this family in traditional medicine are to be found in the literature, those uses do not seem to have become widely established. •
• Adverse effects: There is a suggestion in the literature that calcium oxalate raphides in Phormium tenax J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. can cause skin irritation, but this remains to be substantiated. However, some Aloe L. species have sharp spiny leaf edges that are capable of inflicting mechanical injury. Isolated instances of allergic contact dermatitis have also been reported. •
• Veterinary aspects: •

The family has a complex history, members of the family having variously been included in the Liliaceae, Aloaceae (or Aloeaceae), Agavaceae, Hemerocallidaceae, Phormiaceae, and, most recently, in a broadly circumscribed Xanthorrhoeaceae. APG IV (2016) anticipated the later conservation in 2017 of the name Asphodelaceae over Xanthorrhoeaceae. Comprising a little over 1000 species in about 40 genera (Mabberley 2017), together with numerous interspecific and intergeneric hybrids that have arisen naturally and in cultivation, the principal genera are Aloe L. (comprising 586 species),a Bulbine Wolf [86 spp.], Eremurus M.Bieb. [59 spp.], Haworthia Duval [59 spp.], Kniphofia Moench [71 spp.], and Trachyandra Kunth [60 spp.].

The plants are distributed from Europe to Central Asia and Africa (being especially well represented in southern Africa), Asia to the West Pacific and especially Australia, and the Andes. Many have succulent leaves (Mabberley 2017). Aloe L., Bulbine Wolf, Gasteria Duval, and Haworthia Duval species are of special interest to collectors of succulent plants. Foxtail lilies (Eremurus M.Bieb. spp.) and torch lilies or red hot pokers (Kniphofia Moench spp.) make handsome herbaceous border plants. The flax lilies (Dianella Lam. ex Juss. and Phormium J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. species and cultivars) are also grown as ornamentals (Brickell 1996), Phormium tenax J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. in addition being known for the useful fibre (New Zealand flax) it provides (Carr et al. 2005).

The leaves of some Aloe L. species contain a yellow juice rich in anthraquinone derivatives that have purgative activity. This juice, when dried, forms the crude drug known as Aloes. A clear gelatinous material is also present in the leaves. This too is used medicinally, that from Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f. having become a major article of commerce in recent years.

Aloe L.

About 275 species are found in tropical and southern Africa, 42 in Madagascar, and 12–15 in Arabia, the Cape Verde Islands and India.

Aloes were long cultivated for their bitter sap, which was used medicinally (Flückiger & Hanbury 1874) and various species were introduced commercially to the Mediterranean region and the East and West Indies. Aloes are still used in medicine as a purgative. Powdered aloe leaf or its ash is a frequent ingredient of snuff in South Africa, but is suspected of carcinogenic effects on the paranasal sinuses (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Some species are decorative and are cultivated particularly for the beauty of their foliage, in the open where the climate is favourable, and under glass elsewhere.

The gelatinous material inside the leaf of Aloe sp. was recommended in ancient Herbals for the alleviation of inflammatory changes in the skin. More recently it has been advocated in the treatment of radiodermatitis (Wright 1936, Gjerstad & Riner 1968) and of leg ulcers (El Zawahry et al. 1973). However beneficial effects could not be confirmed experimentally in rats (Rowe 1940).

Those most exposed to a dermatitis risk are those handling the drug in the pharmaceutical industry.

To obtain the drug Aloes, the leaves are sliced and the sap is evaporated. Aloes consist of a variable mixture of aloin, aloe-emodin and other substances (Budavari 1996). Aloin, an anthraquinone which was found in about half of one hundred species examined (McCarthy 1969) must be regarded as a potential sensitiser (Cronin 1968).

In a case of allergic dermatitis caused by Aloes, the sensitiser was found to be emodin (Jadassohn 1926).

Two patients with contact dermatitis from Compound Tincture of Benzoin showed a positive patch test reaction to Tincture of Aloes and Tincture of Storax (Steiner & Leifer 1949). One of 18 patients sensitive to balsam of Peru (from Myroxylon balsamum Harms, fam. Leguminosae) showed a positive patch test reaction to aloes (Hjorth 1961).

The sharp prickles on the leaf margin of species such as Aloe ferox Mill. are a source of mechanical injury.

Aloe andongensis Baker

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe arborescens Mill. subsp. arborescens
[syn. Aloe arborescens var. natalensis (J.M.Wood & M.S.Evans) A.Berger]
Candelabra Aloe, Kidachi Aloe, Krantz Aloe, Mountain Bush Aloe, Oldenland's Bush Aloe, Sword Aloe

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe cryptopoda (L.) Baker
[syn. Aloe wickensii var. lutea Reynolds]
Dr Kirk's Aloe, Spire Aloe, Yellow Aloe

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe marlothii A.Berger
Flat-Flowered Aloe, Mountain Aloe, Spiny Aloe, Transvaal Aloe

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe mutabilis Pillans
Blue Krantz Aloe

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe ortholopha Christian & Milne-Red.
Dyke Aloe

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe vaombe Decorse & Poiss.

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f.
[syns Aloe barbadensis Mill., Aloe chinensis Loudon, Aloe perfoliata var. vera L., Aloe vulgaris Lam.]
Barbados Aloe, Common Aloe, Curaçao Aloe, True Aloe, Echte Aloe

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Asphodeline lutea (L.) Rchb.
[syn. Asphodelus luteus Reynolds]
Jacob's Rod, King's Spear, Yellow Asphodel, Gelbe Junkerlilie

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Asphodelus fistulosus L.
Hollow-Stemmed Asphodel, Onion Asphodel, Onionweed, Wild Onion, Röhriger Affodill

Gardner & Bennetts (1956) include this species in a list of plants known or suspected of causing dermatitis, probably from (Hurst 1942) who referred to this plant as a suspected cause of dermatitis in cattle.

Asphodelus ramosus L. subsp. ramosus
[syns Asphodelus microcarpus Viv., Asphodelus ramosus var. microcarpus (Viv.) Duby]
Small-Fruited Asphodel, Kleinfrüchtiger Affodill

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Bulbine angustifolia Poelln.
[syn. Bulbine tortifolia I.Verd.]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Bulbine frutescens (L.) Willd.
[syns Anthericum frutescens L., Bulbine caulescens L., Bulbine rostrata (Jacq.) Willd.]
Burn Jelly Plant, Stalked Bulbine, Yellow African Bulbine

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Bulbine semibarbata (R.Br.) Haw.
[syns Anthericum semibarbatum R.Br., Bulbine floribunda Schrad. ex Benth., Bulbinopsis semibarbata (R.Br.) Borzì]
Leek Lily, Wild Onion

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Dianella ensifolia (L.) Redouté
[syn. Dracaena ensifolia L.]
Cerulean Flax Lily, Flax Lily, New Zealand Lily Plant, Umbrella Dracaena

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Eremurus M.Bieb.

Some fifty species of Eremurus are distributed over Western and Central Asia, and are particularly numerous in Iran. The stately beauty of many species and hybrids ensures their cultivation wherever ornamental horticulture flourishes.

The report of two cases of contact dermatitis of the face and arms attributed to Eremurus awaits confirmation (Sidi 1962).

Hemerocallis fulva (L.) L.
[syn. Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus var. fulva L.]
Orange Daylily, Tawny Daylily, Hémérocalle Fauve, Lis d’un Jour, Gelbrote Taglilie

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Hemerocallis fulva var. sempervirens (Araki) M.Hotta
[syn. Hemerocallis sempervirens Araki]
Orange Daylily

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Phormium tenax J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.
[syns Phormium atropurpureum Rafarin, Phormium tenax var. atropurpureum (Rafarin) Carrière]
New Zealand Flax, New Zealand Fibre Lily

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Trachyandra gerrardii (Baker) Oberm.
[syns Anthericum gerrardii Baker, Anthericum montium-draconis Poelln., Anthericum tortifolium Kuntze]
Hairy Star Lily

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Xanthorrhoea Sm.
Blackboy, Grass Tree

Numerous websites,a without providing a source for their information, note that the tough leaves and the edges of seed pods from named and unnamed Xanthorrhoea species have been used as knives by Aborigines in Australia to cut meat. Referring to Xanthorrhoea semiplana F.Muell. and Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata F.Muell., known locally in South Australia as yakkas, the Ligaya Garden websiteb records that:

The leaves are quite hazardous to one’s health. The edges are sharp as knives, it feels like a bad paper cut when they get you. The ends are sharply pointed and have that ‘invisible’ quality when you’re working with them. You think you’re clear then ‘ouch’ right in the eye!


  • Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2016) An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG IV. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 181(1): 1-20 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Brickell C (Ed.) (1996) The Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. London: Dorling Kindersley [WorldCat] [url]
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  • El Zawahry M, Hegazy MR, Helal M (1973) Use of aloe in treating leg ulcers and dermatoses. International Journal of Dermatology 12(1): 68-73 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Flückiger FA, Hanbury DA (1874) Pharmacographia. A History of the Principal Drugs of Vegetable Origin, met with in Great Britain and British India. London: Macmillan & Co. [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Gardner CA, Bennetts HW (1956) The Toxic Plants of Western Australia. Perth: West Australian Newspapers [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Gjerstad G, Riner TD (1968) Current status of Aloe as a cure-all. American Journal of Pharmacy and the Sciences Supporting Public Health 140(2): 58-64 [url] [pmid]
  • Hjorth N (1961) Eczematous Allergy to Balsams, Allied Perfumes and Favouring Agents. With special reference to balsam of Peru. Copenhagen: Munksgaard [WorldCat] [url]
  • Hurst E (1942) The Poison Plants of New South Wales. Sydney: NSW Poison Plants Committee [WorldCat] [url]
  • Jadassohn W (1926) Beiträge zum Idiosynkrasieproblem. [Contributions to the problem of idiosyncracy]. Klinische Wochenschrift 5(42): 1957-1962 [doi] [url]
  • Mabberley DJ (2017) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 4th edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url]
  • McCarthy TJ (1969) Distribution of glycosyl compounds in South African Aloe species. Planta Medica 17(1): 1-7 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Rowe TD (1940) Effect of fresh Alœ vera jell in the treatment of third-degree Roentgen reactions on white rats. A preliminary report. Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association (Scientific edn) 29(8~15): 348-350 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Sidi E (1962) Personal communication to Epstein S. In: Newer contact sensitizers in the home. In: Rees RB (Ed.) Dermatoses due to Environmental and Physical Factors. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, pp. 227-249
  • Steiner K, Leifer W (1949) Investigation of contact-type dermatitis due to Compound Tincture of Benzoin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 13(6): 351-359 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Wright CS (1936) Aloe vera in treatment of roentgen ulcers and telangiectasis. Journal of the American Medical Association 106(16): 1363-1364 [doi] [url]
  • [ + further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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