Sunday, 9 December 2018

November phytochemicals - frankincense, ephedrine, and more!

Gallagic acid: a beautifully symmetrical precursor to complex ellagitannin phenolics in the rind, heartwood, and bark of pomegranate (Punica granatum). These compounds seem to inhibit carbonic anhydrases, metalloenzymes that interconvert water/CO2 and carbonic acid.

Olibanic acids: Relatively recently discovered, these compounds are from Boswellia sacra (Sapindales), the frankincense tree ( These molecules give the odor of the tree’s dried resin a characteristic 'old church' note. Now that these compounds are known, genes underlying their biosynthesis can be discovered, and the frankincense odor could be replicated in engineered yeast - putting a stop to the unsustainable harvest of Boswellia trees.

Cucurbitacins: These bitter-tasting compounds are found in some types of pumpkin and squash (cucurbitaceae), mainly wild varieties. In high doses (e.g. from bitter zucchini) they can cause illness, even death(!), and are under basic research. Stay away from bitter squash!

Ephedrine alkaloids: Components of traditional Chinese medicine from Ephedra spp. (gymnosperm shrubs), these isomeric phenolics are stimulants and can increase blood pressure. Their diastereomers (pseudoephedrine) are less potent.

Myristicin: A compound from the evergreen Myristica fragrans, which is in of my favorite plant groups: the Magnoliales. This plant is the source of nutmeg (though myristicin is also found in the Apiaceae; dill, parsley, etc.). This phenolic compound is psychoactive at high doses - causing nausea and paranoia.