How do some plants heal us?
But why do only some plants contain these deadly and remarkable healing properties? Dr Brett Summerell said it all comes down to if they contain a ‘secondary metabolite’.
“All plants contain phytochemicals, which are divided into primary metabolites, such as sugars and fats, and secondary metabolites,” Dr Summerell said.
“Secondary metabolites serve a more specific function in plants, such as deterring a predator or attracting insects for pollination.
“If a secondary metabolite can be isolated from a plant and the dosage rate fine-tuned, it can have beneficial effects on long-term human health and can be used to treat and cure human diseases,” Dr Summerell said.
The unexpected discovery of penicillin is testament to the importance of observation, research and discovery, and the more we delve into the dense ecosystems of our rainforests, the more we realise just how little we know.
“Humans may have explored a lot of the planet, with around 400,000 plants known to science, but every year approximately 2000 species of plants are still being discovered by botanists around the world,” Dr Summerell said.
The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s dedicated team of ecologists, horticulturalists and botanists are working together to build one of the most valuable and broad libraries of knowledge about Australia and by extension, the environment at large.