Chemicals in Plants?

Marc Pacchioli, known as Crophugger on Twitter, has written an excellent post on secondary plant metabolites on HubPages: Natural Plant Chemicals: Vital Nutrients for a Healthy Diet, Natural Chemical Arsenal, or Both?

What are these chemicals that plants produce? What are they for? For the answers to these and many more questions about plant secondary metabolites, check out the teaser below and continue on to read Marc’s full post.

Green potato with solanine molecule. Images from Simply Recipes and Wikipedia.

A discussion about the secondary chemicals naturally present in fruits and vegetables, indeed in most sedentary or slow moving forms of life on earth including fungi and sea sponges, usually is immediate cause for raised eyebrows and furtive glances, especially in non-scientific circles.

By secondary plant metabolites, I mean the chemical by-products that are produced by primary plant metabolism. Primary plant metabolism involves the essential chemicals of life i.e.; carbohydrates, proteins, fats and chlorophyll that are directly involved in plant growth and development.

Secondary plant chemicals were, up until recently, thought to be either plant waste products or defensive chemicals for example, solanine, which is an alkaloid present in that green potato skin that you have been told not eat since you were a child, with good reason, it’s a nerve toxin and at high doses can induce sickness or even death. A 160 pound adult would probably need to eat several pounds of green potatoes to experience symptoms of dry mouth, heart palpitations and possibly delirium, a higher dose could cause paralysis and even death.


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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!