Fresh Greens - Chlorophyll

The life energy in plants

Chlorophyll and other pigments capture and store the sun's radiant energy.

Chlorophyll is the green pigment in grasses, leaves and plants that collects the sun's energy. Only when sunlight is absorbed by something can its energy be used, and through the process of photosynthesis, chlorophyll turns the absorbed sunlight into energy and food for the plant.

Chlorophyll, the most important pigment found in plants and leaves, means literally 'green leaf'. Chlorophyll can be found in just about anything green in the plant world. It's not found in mushrooms because fungi don't contain chlorophyll. Fresh greens such as grasses, alfalfa, and algae, for starters, are excellent sources.

Chlorophyll absorbs blue and red wavelengths of light, but it looks green to our eyes because the wavelengths that are not absorbed are the colors we see. What we see is what is being reflected from the leaf or just passing through it, giving the pigment its color. Other pigments are also found in green plants, but the greenness and blue-black color of chlorophyll is so strong that it generally hides the others. The carotenoids, yellow and orange pigments that also absorb light and help with photosynthesis, are present in most green leaves. That is why the leaves change colors in the fall - the plants reabsorb the useful materials from its leaves and the chlorophyll breaks down, leaving behind the red and yellow pigments to show through.

When light is absorbed by chlorophyll, electrons in the pigment molecules within the leaf cells are organized into tiny electrical currents. This electric energy made from light is what the plant uses as power to grow and develop.

There are 13 essential mineral nutrients needed by plants for healthy plant growth. They are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium (part of the chlorophyll molecule), sulphur, and in much lesser quantity, iron, chloride, copper, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and boron. Another nutrient, sodium, is needed by salt marsh grasses and plants, the greens typically eaten by the wild island ponies.

When a plant grows, it takes in the water and nutrients from the soil, and gases (carbon dioxide) from the air. The energy from photosynthesis enables the plant to separate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is released from the leaf into the atmosphere, and the hydrogen is combined with molecules of carbon dioxide. The combination of carbon dioxide and hydrogen forms glucose.

Glucose is a carbohydrate, formed through photosynthesis, which is used as food and fuel to supply energy to the plant for its own growth and life functions. On most days, enough light is provided for the leaves to produce much more glucose than the plant needs for its immediate needs. The surplus glucose is used to make carbohydrates, such as sucrose and starch, and cellulose fibers for the plant structure.

For health's sake

Chlorophyll plays an important part in health. Chlorophyll-rich, green plants supply many nutrients and are the staple of the equine diet. The presence of carotenoids in fresh greens (and carrots!) has nutritional benefit as well because both animals and plants use carotenoids as a source of vitamin A.

Chlorophyll has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It has been used for wound-healing to repair damaged tissue. It helps to neutralize the pollution that we all are exposed to in our food and in the air, as it works to cleanse and strengthen the entire body. Chlorophyll helps support the respiratory, digestive, circulatory, reproductive, and immune systems. It enhances the assimilation of calcium and other minerals.

Chlorophyll helps detoxify cancer-promoting substances, and may reduce the risk of cancer. Some evidence suggests its antioxidant properties may even help to lessen the mutation-promoting effects of some environmental carcinogens by protecting DNA during the vulnerable time of cell division.

Historically, chlorophyll was used to help gastrointestinal problems, promote regularity, and to stimulate blood cell formation in anemia. Chlorophyll is also used as a safe dye for cosmetics and oils, and as a deodorant. It has been used to reduce the odors of urine, feces, infected wounds, and bad breath.

It is often stated that chlorophyll is to plants what blood is to humans; both perform metabolic functions such as respiration, elimination, and growth. Interestingly, the chlorophyll molecule is chemically similar to the blood molecule, except that chlorophyll's central atom is magnesium where in blood it is iron. That central magnesium atom is believed to help with cell regeneration in that it supports the many different enzyme systems. Ingesting chlorophyll also appears to rejuvenate by enhancing the oxygenation in blood but it is not yet apparent how; still, there may be some connection.

It is no wonder that our horses prefer fresh green grass and plants abundant in chlorophyll and bursting with nutrients. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants capture and package the energy in the sun's rays. The plants take the light from the sun, the water from the soil, and the carbon dioxide from the air to make their own carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and oxygen. Because this process takes place only in the green parts of plants and in light, the green pigment chlorophyll, and light, are obviously essential. Without chlorophyll, there would be no photosynthesis; without photosynthesis there would be no plant life; without plants, there would be no animal life on the planet. Chlorophyll feeds the plant, and the planet.