We humans can only aspire to imitate the amazing chemistry plants do. And we do try to imitate them. The “new” chemicals you see here and there are usually imitations of plant chemicals. Human chemists may add a glucose residue to improve solubility in water or bio availability. More often, the chemistry is modified to try and get a patent, because you can’t get a patent on a chemical that exists in nature.
Why do plants “waste” energy in making chemicals that are useful to humans? Because they are useful to them, in ways that have nothing to do with us. True, a chemical with antioxidants properties may be useful to plants and to us as antioxidants, but it just as likely that they are made by plants for a completely different reason.
Why is this important? When you buy a plant extract hoping that it will be doing something for your skin, that extract may have nothing useful for you. The plant may make it as a defense against a fungal attack and, if grown in conditions where there is no attack, that plant extract may have nothing useful for you. Conversely, that plant may have grown in conditions that favor the synthesis of a chemical that is toxic, or “just” allergenic to you and give you a nasty surprise. This is why at Skin Actives we use standardized extracts, which contain a certain concentration of the desired chemical like resveratrol or caffeine.
The basics about plant chemicals are in this post.
1) no plant has magical properties. If a plant extract has a particular benefit, it will be because of the chemicals it contains.
2) the plant does not contain those chemicals for your benefit, the biochemical pathways that make them evolved because they were advantageous for the plant at one time or another.
3) the growth conditions will affect the composition of the extract, like whether the plant was exposed to a particular fungus. Next time, next extract, the result may be different.
4) And most important of all: not because the chemicals are natural they will be good for you. If you have a tendency to allergies, remember that your body may develop an allergy to that particular extract.
5) Many plant extracts will be advertised by quacks as “cancer cures”. This may be true, maybe these extracts kill cancer cells. But usually, this is because the chemicals in it will kill all human cells. I would strongly suggest that you don’t drink an extract of Conium maculatum (the plant that poisoned Socrates), to kill a tumor, because it will also kill the bearer of the tumor, i.e. you.
Happy Thanksgiving to everybody, and Happy Holidays too. We have lots to celebrate, we just have to remember our blessings from time to time.
And now. back to Sunday cooking!