Plants in our daily life

Information sheet

The relationship between plants and people is a long and continuous one. Plants play a very important role in our lives.

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The relationship between plants and people is a long and continuous one. We need plants for basic human purposes. We eat them in many forms; we make medicines, soaps, furniture, textiles, tyres and much more from them. Plants play a very important role in our lives. Although we now live in a highly industrialised society, we have not lost this dependence on plants. We need to be aware of the part that plants play in our lives and must ensure that we care for these plants to continue this long relationship. 

It is vital that we remind ourselves of our reliance on green plants. We need to realise that we must protect the future of the plant species upon which life depends.

  • Bread - is mostly made from cereal grains, such as wheat and rye and may contain other seeds, such as sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds. 
  • Margarine - most types are based on oils pressed directly from plants such as soya, sunflower and African oil palm.
  • Sugar - all green plants make sugar and various plants have their sap or juice extracted to produce sweet syrup, such as maple and date palm. Most of the world’s sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beet (related to beetroot).
  • Cereals - are plants like wheat and rice which produce grains, which feed the world. They are not just used to produce your breakfast cereals, cornflakes, muesli or puffed rice.
  • Coffee - made from the seeds of the coffee tree.
  • Tea - the leaves from the shrub are used. The tea plant is closely related to the camellias grown in our gardens.
  • Sweets - chocolate and cocoa are made from the beans of the cacao tree. Nectar collected from plants by honeybees is converted into honey. Jam is made with fruits and sugar.
  • Soya - the soya bean has been used for many centuries and is the richest source of plant protein. About two thirds of all manufactured food products contain ingredients made from soya. It can be used in many different ways to produce a wide variety of foods from dog food to vegetarian hamburgers and oil to milk.
  • Fruits and vegetables - all sorts are available to us every day, from onion, cabbage and potatoes to kiwi, apples to mangos.
  • Herbs and Spices - help to flavour our food. Pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, mint, parsley, thyme and many more all come from plants.

Plants we use to make us look & smell good

  • Clothes - one of the most important natural fibres in the world today comes from the cotton plant. The chances are that each of us is wearing a garment made of cotton. Linen is made from the flax plant. Wood fibres give us cellulose, which is used in the manufacture of viscose.
  • Soap - plant oils are amongst those used, for instance African palm oil and the coconut palm.
  • Shampoo - plants are partly responsible for its cleansing qualities and fragrance.
  • Often plants used are herbs, such as lavender or other scented plants, such as sandalwood, almond and coconut. Many are also used for their medicinal properties, such as jojoba and chamomile.
  • Bathing - a range of plant oils and extracts are used to soothe and relax. Many plant oils are used to moisturise. Loofahs are used to scrub ourselves - this is the bleached skeleton of a cucumber-like fruit of the gourd family.
  • Toothpaste - contains cellulose and cellulose gum, which are derived from wood pulp. Extracts from mint and strawberries may be used to flavour toothpaste.
  • Cosmetics - substances extracted from nuts, avocados, aloe vera and carrots are often used in the preparation of cosmetics.
  • Hair dyes - henna is very popular, but colours can also be obtained from ground coffee beans, black walnuts and oak galls.
  • Scents and perfumes - many plants are used for their scents, such as frankincense, sandalwood, lily-of-the-valley, lavender and citrus plants.

Plants in our leisure time

  • Boats - are often made from various kinds of wood; jetties that they moor at are usually made of hardwood. The ropes to secure them can be made from hemp and sisal.
  • Sports - cricket, hockey, polo, baseball, golf, billiards and croquet, all rely on plants for their equipment. Some sports rely on grass to play on.
  • Musical instruments - from drumsticks to bagpipes, recorders to bassoons, panpipes to string instruments all contain plants.

Plants inside and outside the home

  • Buildings - all houses in the UK and many around the world use wood, whether in the framework, floors, doors, windows, skirting boards, roofs, etc. It will be mostly softwood grown in managed forests.
  • Furniture - hardwoods and softwoods of all kinds are used for kitchen cabinets, tables, chairs, wardrobes and much more. Plant stems are also used, such as willow, bamboo and rushes.
  • Floor coverings - can be made from wood, cork, coconut fibre, jute, viscose, linoleum and sisal, to name but a few.
  • Wall coverings - plant ingredients are vital for both wallpaper and household paint. Linseed, soya beans, pine resin and wood pulp are all used.
  • Writing and drawing - paper, inks, paints, pencils and erasers are just a few of the items we use to draw and write with that are made from plants and plant extracts.
  • Medicine - plants have long been used for their natural healing properties. Many are still used in modern medicines today. For example; the leaves of the foxglove contain a substance that is used to treat heart conditions. In correct doses, it helps the heart to beat more slowly and strongly. Large doses are likely to be fatal.
  • Many plant derivatives are used in their natural states, such as evening primrose oil, echinacea, castor oil, aloe vera, ginseng, chamomile and garlic.Plants are also used in the production of bandages (cotton), antiseptics (tea tree oil)and plasters (cotton).
  • The bark of willows has given us acetylsalicylic acid, which led to the creation of aspirin, the commonly used painkiller. 
  • Plants use energy from the sun to make food, which is the start of every food chain. Without plants, therefore, there would be no animals and no people.

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