Nature does not love us humans. Or anybody, or anything, actually.

Many thanks to Skin Actives client Marla for a link to this video, that will give you a taste of how not good for you natural stuff can be.

From my book:

“Nature is made of chemicals. Many people have forgotten what they learned about nature and chemistry in high school and they get confused when they read on the internet about the dangers of synthetic chemicals. For some, the past may be a golden age, because they don’t remember (most were not alive) the time before antibiotics were discovered and vaccines were invented. People who don’t spend much time in a natural environment may see nature as a benefactor, a Mother Earth to take care of us and nurture us. That’s OK, as long as they don’t follow their instincts and try to manufacture a skin care product containing only natural materials. If they don’t know any phytochemistry, they may end up making and selling (and people using!) a line based on Nerium oleander, a poisonous plant. Or they mix up a lotion without adding a preservative and they find a bad-smelling green and yellow mess after a week. Or how about a serum containing an allergenic plant extract? Or a photosensitizing plant juice? There is no end to the mistakes, many of them lethal, that one can make when using natural ingredients. This is why it’s so useful to have the scientists of Skin Actives working for you. What you don’t know can hurt you!”

“For those who think that maybe nature made these chemicals for our benefit, think again: they are part of the defense system against fungi. Also, in the 1940’s, it was noticed that pastures of red clover, a phytoestrogen-rich plant, had effects on the reproductive ability of grazing sheep. It is likely that these plants evolved the biochemical pathways required to make these secondary metabolites to disrupt the hormonal balance in their predators, decreasing birth rates in sheep or whatever animal was having them for breakfast. ”

I think that ecological plant chemistry is fascinating.  Ecological plant chemistry studies the chemical interactions between plants, herbivores and natural enemies of herbivores, as well as plants and their pollinators. These relationships are mediated by plant chemicals, and many examples of plant defenses and their effects on herbivores demonstrate the evolutionary importance of products of secondary metabolism. Herbivores may be deterred by plant secondary metabolites, but they may have evolved to  metabolize and detoxify these compounds or even sequester them to use in their own defense.  Plant volatile compounds can act as attractants to predators, advertising the presence of herbivores and they can also deter or attract herbivores, and sequestered plant defensive chemicals can affect deter parasite development in the herbivore.

This does not mean that we can’t use these defensive chemicals the plant made for our own purposes. We do that with many phytochemicals with antiviral and antifungal properties. But we must be clear headed and stop thinking about Nature as a benefactor. Nature is not a goddess and earth is not there for “us”, even if we pretend that it is. By deifying nature and earth we are only helping to damage them, because we lose perspective of our own role in the maintenance of the ecosystem as it is, abnegating our own responsibility and letting “goddesses” Gaia and Nature fix the messes we make.

 

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