Bioactive Compounds from Northern Plants

  • Anja Hohtola
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 698)


Northern conditions are characterised by long days with much light and low temperatures during the growing season. It has been claimed that herbs and berries grown in the north are stronger tasting compared to those of southern origin. The compounds imparting aroma and color to berries and herbs are secondary metabolites which in plants mostly act as chemical means of defense. Recently, the production of secondary metabolites using plant cells has been the subject of expanding research. Light intensity, photoperiod and temperature have been reported to influence the biosynthesis of many secondary metabolites. Native wild aromatic and medicinal plant species of different families are being studied to meet the needs of raw material for the expanding industry of e.g., health-promoting food products known as nutraceutics. There are already a large number of known secondary compounds produced by plants, but the recent advances in modern extraction and analysis should enable many more as yet unknown compounds to be found, characterised and utilised.

Rose root (Rhodiola rosea) is a perennial herbaceous plant which inhabits mountain regions throughout Europe, Asia and east coastal regions of North America. The extract made from the rhizomes acts as a stimulant like the Ginseng root. Roseroot has been categorized as an adaptogen and is reported to have many pharmacological properties. The biologically active components of the extract are salitroside tyrosol and cinnamic acid glycosides (rosavin, rosarin, rosin).

Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia L.) has circumboreal distribution. It inhabits nutrient-poor, moist and sunny areas such as peat bogs and wetlands. Sundew leaves are collected from the wild-type for various medicinal preparations and can be utilized in treating e.g., as an important “cough-medicine” for different respiratory diseases. The antimicrobial activity of extracts of aerial parts against various bacteria has been investigated. Drosera produces various secondary metabolites. The most abundant, among these compounds, are the naphthoquinones. Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a characteristic field layer species in boreal forests. Bilberry and other northern Vaccinium species, berries and leaves, contain high amounts of phenolic compounds. Bilberries are known for its exceptionally high amounts of anthocyanins with powerful antioxidant capacity. They have been shown to possess beneficial health effects, like having a protective role in cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Many flavonoids also seem to have antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antiallergenic properties. The effect of ingested cranberry (V. oxycoccus) juice has been shown to prevent urinary tract infections in women.


Secondary Metabolite Anthocyanin Biosynthesis Cinnamyl Alcohol Usnic Acid Ginseng Root 
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© Landes Bioscience and Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anja Hohtola
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of OuluFinland

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