Earlier this week, Maria and I were enjoying a steaming hot cup of cedar tea. Cedar tea is not only tasty, but nutritious! The northern white cedar (thuja occidentalis) was called ‘arbor vitae’, or ‘tree of life’ in Latin by early European explorers because its high vitamin C content prevented diseases like scurvy. As we sipped on our tea, taking in the health giving vitamin effects, we began to ponder the purpose of this vitamin. We know why vitamin C is important for people – but why is it important for plants?
As it turns out, vitamin C is essential for evergreens to keep their colour over the winter. Chlorophyll pigments excite electrons when exposed to light, but in freezing winter conditions, this electron energy cannot be converted to sugars. If allowed to continue unchecked, the excited electrons would destroy the tree’s chloroplasts and cells. Vitamin C neutralizes these electrons and protects the cells from damage.
Our own cells also need protection from damage, but humans are unique amongst mammals because we are unable to produce our own vitamin C. The next time you want some tea, seek a tree!
– Maria Keeler and Emma Rohleder