Pigments from fallen autumn leaves are being used to develop new types of ingredients for the cosmetics and textiles industry.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has used plant cell culture technology, which is a natural and environmentally friendly production method, to develop pigments from leaves which can be used to colour cosmetics and textiles, and compounds suitable for new products.
VTT used cell cultures from birch leaves and seeds specifically. Birch cell cultures produce pigments – yellow carotenoids and red anthocyanins – as well as various amino acids important for the skin. They also produce essential fatty acids for humans, especially linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acids, which play an important role in maintaining the skin’s moisture and elasticity.
Due to their composition, birch cell cultures have antioxidant properties that can improve the preservation of products and antimicrobial properties, which can influence the microflora of the skin by inhibiting the growth of harmful microbes.
The compounds obtained from the birch leaves, in particular, can be used as food colouring and preservatives, or as nutritional supplements.
The carbohydrates extracted from the residues could be used to produce protein-rich feed for livestock and protein supplements for human consumption. This nutrient-rich residual biomass can also have domestic applications, for example in the cultivation of mushrooms.
Leaves are collected from gardens and parks and then dried and ground before the compounds are extracted from the leaves, in a process developed by VTT.
Riitta Puupponen-Pimiä, Principal Scientist at VTT, said: “Cell cultures provide an opportunity to utilise wood material in a new way. By natural means, we can obtain compounds that have not traditionally been associated with birch, such as anthocyanin pigments which belong to the group of red polyphenols.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.