Forests: green machines

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Forests: green machines

There is a lot we still do not know about forests. Forests are complicated. Diana Beresford-Kroeger writes about how trees are related to the air we breathe.


© Gary Dublanko/Alamy

If you look closely, you can see natural aerosols rising from forest.

These chemicals go up to the atmosphere and protect the planet.

The gases in the atmosphere change as the seasons change. In spring there is more oxygen to help plants grow.

It’s like the earth is breathing. The planet is living. Oxygen goes into the planet and carbon dioxide (CO2) comes out.

Recently, the atmosphere is showing that the 'breathing' of the forest has a lot of effects on life.

But an atmosphere with too much carbon dioxide kills. And carbon monoxide creates the condition of carboxymethaemo-globinaemia. This leads to illness and death.

Trees and forests protect life. They use a lot of toxic CO2, take it in and produce oxygen. The carbon becomes wood. The trees grow and forests are born.

Trees have been developing for 400 million years. Their DNA is more complicated than the human genome. Trees can pull the sun’s energy out of the photon and put it into a chlorophyll electron. Then photosynthesis happens. This is the foundation of our food on land and sea.

As the forest gets older, photosynthesis does many different things in the trees. It makes amino acids, proteins and hormones. It also makes the three essential fatty acids for embryogenesis (reproduction). And protective chemicals move around the trees.

Photosynthesis also feeds the living fungus and lichen in and on the trees.

The natural chemicals (or phytochemicals) rise into the atmosphere.

Each type of tree has its own chemical identity. If you have more variety in a forest, the biochemistry is more varied, and the chemicals released work together better. Sometimes the aerosols are released under pressure. More often the heating of the sun sets the aerosols free. Other times the aerosols need other natural chemicals to be released.

Good for our health

Aerosols help the atmosphere. Many of them clean the air, like detergent. Some are like hallucinogens or anaesthetics. Many are antiviral, antifungal and antibiotic. There are also complex, anti-cancer biochemicals eg. from pine trees.

There are about 200 types of pine tree in the forests of the world eg. the Jack pine (Pinus banksianna) of the north and the Kauri pines (Agathis australis) of New Zealand. Pines all produce alpha and beta pinenesa. Research in Japan has found that these aerosols protect the body against cancer. They make the immune system stronger. Something similar happens in the warmer forests of the Americas, Asia and Tasmania with another aerosol, taxodione, from cypress trees. Taxodione can stop tumours growing. And paclitaxel, produced by a yew tree of the Taxaceae family is often used to treat breast cancer.

The skin on the human body can take in the natural chemicals in the aerosols. Some of them, like many perfumes, have a natural fixative when they land on the skin. The skin can absorb them slowly. The body knows the molecule and uses it if it needs to. This is how forest bathing, saunas, native sweat lodges and the ancient tig n’ allais, (house of perspiration of the Druidic priests) work.

Aerosols have one more big advantage: they are free when you walk in the woods.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is a botanist, medical biochemist and author of The Global Forest. She lives on a farm near Ottawa, Canada.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).