Some of the natural chemicals/compounds in plants were developed to deter predators and attract helpers. It’s so, so cool, how some of the deterrent chemicals that are present in plants in very small quantities (because they are more concerned with scaring off bugs), become magically therapeutic for us.
Imagine a plant responding to a plague of insect predators during a period of time. It would increase it’s ‘pesticides’. It would be equally cool if there were a symbiotic relationship between human and plant unfolding at the same point in time.
The plant can protect itself from extinction by making itself useful to us as a food crop, or by associating in some way with humans… by encouraging us to keep coming back. Plants want seeds spread after all…. and they will lure foragers to support them. Foragers are different from predators; they don’t wipe out entire crops and they tend to give something back, staying more in balance with the ecosystem as a whole.
So imagine these ‘natural pesticides’, produced to deter the predators, had a double function i.e. they simultaneously attract the forager.
Small doses of very powerful ‘drugs’ (plant chemicals), when delivered within the context of a whole plant, can stretch, challenge and stimulate the human body. Imagine tiny pesticides in small doses exercising and toning our immune systems, our liver, our excretory systems, our hormonal system…. all improving our ability to respond to stress in healthy ways while staying alert, rather than becoming ‘unfit, slobby and slow’ because we’ve become too comfortable. We need nature to keep us on our toes.
I’m going to talk about saponins as a possible example for this idea.
Saponins are naturally occurring compounds in some plant foods. Saponins are ‘soapy’. If you wet the leaves of a plant, or it’s seeds, and they suds up… that’s the saponins, doing their saponin thing. Saponins are a complex and chemically diverse group of compounds. They are toxic to bacteria and fungi, thus forming part of the plant’s protection against disease.
This next bit gets tricky, but some of you might enjoy it: saponins contain a carbohydrate moiety attached to a triterpenoid or steroids.
Steroids! Very cool. Shaped vaguely like human hormones….. which means they can weakly mimic the human hormones that they resemble. Often, if a herb/food has a hormonal action in the body, you can be pretty safe in guessing it might contain saponins. Wild yam and tofu are good examples.
Saponins can also:
Protect us from some cancers
Lower cholesterol levels
Decrease blood lipids (reduce cholesterol)
Lower blood glucose.
Reduce renal stones.
Reduce holes in our teeth.
Soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, navy beans and haricot beans are among the richest sources of saponins.
Saponins dissolve in water and can be lost in soaking, washing, and heating processes.