The trouble with plants is they don't move. A plant can't avoid predators, go indoors at night, or look for food. They are rooted to the spot. To compensate for this noticeable lack of mobility, plants have evolved an arsenal of tricks to survive and profit from their local environment. One of these tricks is producing chemicals and oils that have biological activity as poisons, intoxicants, or even pheromones. Throughout human history anyone could tell you which local plants could help with a toothache, or settle your stomach. Today, we harness the power of plants from across the world- from a morning coffee (Coffea arabica) grown in Ethiopia, to the cancer fighting drug Paclitaxel (Taxus brevifolia) harvested in Washington State. Scotland hasn't forgotten the old wisdom of looking locally for sustainable solutions- and what they found is potential gold in the bogs of Scotland- the Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale). But natural products come with a warning -plants don't always fight fair.The Bog Myrtle has been known for centuries as a chemical oddity. The Vikings used it to treat poor memory, depression, and promote well being. Highlanders used it to flavor their beer and keep bugs out of their beds (hints of its anti-bacterial powers). Modern science is touchy when it comes to plants and their chemicals, we don't always understand the complex interactions of why something might work. So it is with some trepidation that scientists have announced that Bog Myrtle oil is excellent as a acne treatment and in promoting healthy looking skin. The Independent claims this may be a boon for the local economy, and Bog Myrtle looks to be a staple in the growing natural product market.
But, plants can have hidden dangers. Just recently, Tea Tree oil and Lavender, two of the most popular herbal additives to lotions and soaps, were singled out as having weak estrogen-mimicking activity causing Gynecomastia (abnormal growth of the breasts) in young boys. Not a huge medical impact, as the boys recover, but nice to know about the side effects. Likewise, Bog Myrtle is not without its dark side too, as it is known to be an abortifacient (cause abortions in pregnant women). That sounds worse than you think, papaya and nutmeg can also be abortifacients and are readily sold without any such warning, as usually the dose is ridiculously high to have any such effect. However, it is something to consider when launching a product directed at young women, or purchasing your own natural products. Plants aren't all nice and sweet- some play dirty.
Consider yourself warned, but also remember that Bog Myrtle is a sustainable Scottish crop that has a bright future. Using local plants for agriculture is one of the most sustainable tricks we can all learn to accomplish. Native plants have developed amazing 'tricks' to compensate for their lack of movement, and are perfectly adapted to their local environment- requiring little energy input from the farmer to grow. It is a win-win situation, the farmer gets to profit with just a little work, and the environment is maintained and sustainable. So, what is growing in your neck of the woods? :: Independent Online