Eating Autumn Leaves
Except for collecting colorful autumn leaves to use in art projects or jumping in a pile of them for fun, these reminders of approaching winter are typically burned, composted, or left to return naturally to the earth. While the latter two options are environmentally safe, the first adds to our carbon dioxide load.
What can we do with autumn leaves?
What if there were a way to release and utilize all of the beneficial pigments that give these leaves their splendid colors? What if we could take advantage of other helpful compounds found in these discarded leaves as well?
Experts at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland believe we can accomplish these tasks and are already processing autumn leaves to find ways to use their natural pigments and other compounds for health-promoting, cosmetic, and textile purposes. According to Liisa Nohynek, senior scientist at VTT, she and her team of scientists have “discovered several, promising alternative ways of utilizing leaves” via various experimental assays currently underway.
For example, the leaves contain nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, and various phytonutrients which could be extracted for use in nutritional supplements. Pigments from the leaves can be used as food coloring or to color textiles and cosmetics.
Once the pigments have been extracted, the remaining biomass, which is rich in nutrients, also could be used to enrich soil for agricultural purposes or, with further processing to remove microbes, could be useful for cosmetic and hygiene products.
You aren’t likely to find autumn leaf supplements or blush colored with maple leaves on store shelves soon, since more research and development are necessary. However, every time you gaze at the beautiful array of autumn leaves or rake up a pile in your yard, remember that one day in the near future you may be enjoying these leaves in a new form.
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