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(Blackboy family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: •
• Adverse effects: •
• Veterinary aspects: •

Members of this family were formerly classified in the Liliaceae. The 750 species in 17 genera are distributed from Europe to Central Asia and Africa, being especially well represented in southern Africa. Many have succulent leaves (Mabberley 1997).

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 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 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 and 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 and 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, Harry 1948, Gjerstad and 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 and 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 are a source of mechanical injury.

Aloe marlothii A.Berger
Flat-Flowered Aloe

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Aloe vaombe Decorse & Poisson

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Asphodelus fistulosus L.
Hollow-Stemmed Asphodel

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 microcarpus Salzm. & Viv.

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Bulbine angustifolia Poelln.
[syn. Bulbine tortifolia Verdoorn]

[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).

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

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Budavari S (Ed.) (1996) The Merck Index. An Encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals. 12th edn. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck & Co., Inc.
  • Cronin, E. (1968) Studies in contact dermatitis. XVIII. Dyes in clothing. Trans. Rep. St John's Hosp. Derm. Soc. Lond. 54: 156.
  • El Zawahry, M., Hegazy, M.R. and Helal, M. (1973) Use of Aloe in treating leg ulcers and dermatoses. Derm. Internat. 12: 68.
  • Flückiger, F.A. and Hanbury, D. (1874) Pharmacographia. London, Macmillan.
  • Gardner CA, Bennetts HW (1956) The Toxic Plants of Western Australia. Perth: West Australian Newspapers [WorldCat]
  • Gjerstad, G. and Riner, T.D. (1968) Current status of Aloe as a cure-all. Am. J. Pharm. 140: 58.
  • Harry, R.G. (1948) Cosmetic Materials, Vol. 2. London, Leonard Hill.
  • 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]
  • Jadassohn W (1926) Beiträge zum Idiosynkrasieproblem. [Contributions to problem of idiosyncracy]. Klinische Wochenschrift 5(42): 1957-1962 [doi] [url]
  • McCarthy, T.J. (1969) Distribution of glycosyl compounds in South African Aloë species. Planta Medica 17: 1.
  • Rowe, T.D. (1940) Effect of fresh Aloe vera jell in the treatment of third-degree Roentgen reactions on white rats. J. Am. Pharm. Ass. 29: 348.
  • Sidi, E. (1962) Personal communication to Epstein, S. Newer Contact Sensitizers in the Home. In: Dermatoses due to Environmental and Physical Factors, edit. Rees, R.B. Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas, p. 227.
  • Steiner K and Leifer W (1949) Investigation of contact-type dermatitis due to Compound Tincture of Benzoin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 13(6): 351-359.
  • 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, C.S. (1936) Aloe vera in treatment of roentgen ulcers and telangiectasis. J. Am. Med. Ass. 106: 1363.

Richard J. Schmidt

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