Without plants, the world would be an entirely different place. Certainly, many of the modern drugs we take for granted wouldn’t exist. That’s because so many of them are synthetically manufactured versions of compounds originally found in plants. Aspirin is a classic case in point – it is based on the anti-inflammatory, analgesic compounds in white willow. Opioids like morphine and methadone come from the opium poppy. The Cinchona tree produces quinine, still used to treat fever caused by malaria. And so on.
Plants also provide us with a host of natural therapeutic compounds. Garlic is a strong antibiotic and a popular food. Many plants contain polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants. Plants like the aloe vera plant contain strong healing compounds. Some plant chemicals help with weight loss –compounds extracted from plants as diverse as Garcinia cambogia, Hoodia gordonii and capsicum are promoted for weight loss. The herb turmeric has very powerful antioxidant compounds as does pepper.
How Plants Help Us Survive
We don’t just rely on plants to provide our medicinal drugs though. Here is a list of some of the ways in which plants are essential to the survival of this planet.
- Plants remove harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis, the process by which they use energy from the sun to turn minerals, water and carbon dioxide into sugar, which they need to grow. The waste byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen gas, caused by the chemical reaction between water and carbon dioxide. Oxygen gas is what nearly every other living organism on this planet needs for survival. Plants produce all of earth’s natural oxygen gas.
- Carbon dioxide as an atmospheric gas retains heat from the sun. Too much of it sitting in the atmosphere causes the earth to start heating up. By removing this gas from the atmosphere and converting it to oxygen gas, plants not only help prevent the earth from getting too hot, they also supply other living things with the oxygen they need to live.
- Plants are responsible for the creation of the ozone layer, a layer of gas that protects the earth from the worst of the sun’s UV rays. Ozone gas is produced by the action of sunlight on oxygen. Oxygen is produced by plants…. Without this ozone layer, it’s doubtful if life as we know it would exist.
- Plants store carbon
- Plants both create and protect the soil. When plants die, they rot down into the soil and add important nutrients, which supply a new generation of plants with nutrition. Plants provide a protective layer for the soil against erosion and the drying heat of the sun.
- Plants like the tropical rain forests of the central Amazon control our weather and rainfall patterns.
- Plants are the foundation of the food chain for every other living organism. Herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat herbivores or other carnivores. Humans are omnivores, meaning we are both herbivores and carnivores. But the primary source of our nutrition remains the same – plants. We rely on fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and seeds to supply us with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, healing compounds and more. The animals that provide us with meat, seafood and dairy products eat plants or plant products. Many of our most consumed drinks come from plants – tea, coffee, wine, most types of alcohol, cocoa, juices etc.
- Plants provide habitat and protection for many other living species.
- Plants provide many of our industrial products – wood, paper, fibers (hemp and cotton), tannin, pigments and dyes, rubber, essential oils and other components in soaps, shampoos and beauty products.
- Plants provide us with fuel. We burn wood to cook or heat our houses. Crude oil, natural gas and coal, the products that supply the energy that keeps most of the world running in some shape or form, comes from the ancient remains of plants buried deep in the earth’s crust.
- Cultivation and processing of plants and plant products employs a huge number of people around the world. Some statistics put this figure at around one half of the world’s workforce!
- And finally, plants beautify the planet. Most of us have plants of some sort around the house.
The “How Plants Help Us Survive” list is endless. To learn more about some of the ways in which plants can help us check the Plant topic at Planet Supplement’s Health and Fitness blog. Did you know for instance that algae has health benefits?