Plants: Their Uses For Human Life

Humans have always used plant in one capacity or another. Plants are becoming known more and more for their vital usage in many arenas, including medicinal purposes.

Plants are thought of mostly as growing and thriving in pleasant, sunny atmospheres; but many plants also can be found in areas that do not seen likely in promoting growth. All that is required for growth of plant life is air, sunlight, and soil.

In Greenland, the Arctic poppy can be found, rising up out of massive layers of ice. Mountainsides are filled with large, colorful blooms, even when packed in heavy snow. On the other end of the temperate zone, many types of cacti are found in barren deserts that may go for many years with rainfall.

Humans are very dependent upon plant life; without it, all would perish. Plants provide fuel, food, clothing, and even shelter, either directly or indirectly. The dependence upon corn and wheat, major parts of life-giving nutrients, is not in doubt; but without grasses and grains that sustain livestock, which feed and clothe humans, they, too, would perish.

USES FOR PLANTS:

FOOD

The chief food plants in North America are cereal grains. The major types of grain crops include wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, and rye. Next are legumes, such as peas, beans, soybeans, and peanuts.

For centuries, people have used the herbs and spices derived from plants as seasonings for their food. Pepper and nutmeg are two examples of seasonings derived from dried fruit, while others such as sage and rosemary come from leaves. A common baking spice, cinnamon, is found in the stem of the plant.

Even beverages come from plant life. By steeping plants in hot water, coffee, tea, and cocoa are produced. Nature makes many other beverages naturally, such as fruit juices, cider, and milk.

CLOTHING

Much of our clothing comes from the plants found in nature, such as cotton, the foremost fiber used to manufacture clothing. Synthetic fibers, too, such as rayon, are produced from plants; the cellulose required to manufacture the rayon is found in the cell walls of plants.

PAPER

Papyrus, a grasslike plant, was used more than four thousand years ago in the first endeavor, by Egyptians, to make paper. It is from this plant that paper has derived its name.

The Chinese, around 100AD, invented a method of manufacturing paper that is still in use today. The fibers from the plant are placed in water, reduced to but a pulp. After the water has been sieved off, the remaining pulp is pressed, then allowed to dry to yield a very thin sheet of paper.

Almost any plant that is found to be high in cellulose is considered excellent for making the pulp which produces paper, the most common today being trees such as aspen and pine varieties.

SHELTER

In many parts of the world wood is used for creating proper shelter against the elements. Items found in the wooded structures we call home are also made with wood, a plant product. Furniture, for example, is made up mainly of wood and cloth, from the fibers of plants. Walls in homes may be decorated with wallpaper, and many paints are derived from plant extracts.

FUEL

Green plants, which lived on the Earth very long ago, are the origin for the coal, oil, and gas that humans use for heating and cooking purposes. Compression and heat have converted these plants into fossil fuels. In Ireland, a common fuel is peat, which is formed by the same process as coal. The oldest form of fuel is wood, burned to create heat for warmth and for cooking.

MEDICINES

In ancient cultures, medicine men used the extracts from plant life to soothe and relieve aches and pains. In the very beginnings of Botany, doctors in both Europe and America researched herbs in their quest to cure disease.

Many of the plants that were discovered by ancient civilizations are still in use today. The leaves of willows, which contain a compound very similar to aspirin, were chewed by Native Americans to relieve aches and pains. A major treatment in heart disease is digitalis, which is found in foxglove. The cinchona tree, found in South America, yields from its bark quinine, used to fight malaria.

Even today plants are being discovered that yield important and much needed medicines. The periwinkle plant was discovered to have vincristine, a medicine that is effectively used to fight leukemia in children. Many other plants have proven invaluable as sources of vitamins, an important part of growth and proper development.

As detailed above, plant life is a very vital part of human life; without plants, both land and sea dwelling, human life could not be sustained.

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