OPCs from the bark of the Maritime Pine
  • Excerpt

One day, Masquelier happened to pick up a piece of bark from the Maritime Pine (Pinus maritima) and he was struck by the fact that it was dark brown-red on the outside but light brown-yellow on the inside. The Maritime Pine is found all around Bordeaux, especially southwest of the city in the vast Landes region. It is a tree with a long straight stem and branches only in the upper part. The vast Maritime Pine forests in Les Landes were planted some 200 years ago and they came to serve as a source of lumber and all kinds of terpenes and resins. If Masquelier had lived elsewhere, he might have never picked up the answer to his problem. The pine bark reminded him of the peanut skin. It, too, is red on the outside and light yellow on the inside. In the peanut, the bioactive part containing the OPCs is located in the inner lining of the “wrapping,” where the skin is in contact with the nut.

Masquelier’s line of reasoning was as follows. In the peanut, OPCs are located in the inner part of the skin, probably because this is the best place for the OPCs to protect the oils in the nut against turning rancid under the influence of oxygen. OPCs form an antioxidative sheath. In the pine tree, it seemed to Masquelier that a similar bioactive part with OPCs might be located in the inner lining of the bark, protecting the stem and especially the fluids that flow through it. Comparing the composition and structure of the pine and the peanut, Masquelier concluded that the resin in the pine was also an easily oxidizable substance that was protected by a similarly placed sheath: the bark’s inner lining. When the resin becomes oxidized, it turns hard and sticky and it is no longer of any use for the tree. So the resin must be protected against oxidation. The assumption that OPCs provided this antioxidative protection logically presented itself, and Masquelier and his colleagues came to regard the pine bark as a huge peanut skin.

Until this very day, OPCs are being made from pine bark. […..] Extracting OPCs from the bark of the French Maritime Pine tree instead of from peanut skins had the great advantage that this plant material is abundantly available in Les Landes southwest of Bordeaux. There, the Maritime Pine forests extend over an area of 2.5 million acres. Still, during December 2000, those Landes acres were heavily struck by gales that brought down an enormous number of trees, leaving fewer trees from which to collect the bark. The bark from a fallen tree is worthless within a few weeks. In addition, the demand for raw pine bark had steeply increased because it has become a popular ingredient in many gardens, where it covers the soil to keep down weeds.

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In the western world, few people consider bark a component of our food. Yet, as Jacques Cartier found during his involuntary stay in Quebec, the bark of trees served and still serves as an ingredient for wholesome teas and broths in traditional and in modern societies. In times of hunger, bark even serves as food. In the part of India known as Rajasthan, more specifically in the Thar Desert, the Khejri tree is considered the Tree of Life because it survives in conditions of extreme drought. The tree is the source of firewood, fodder, and traditional medicines. During the Rajputana famine that struck India during 1868-1869 the bark of the Khejri tree was ground to flour that kept many from starvation. In traditional cultures, food still includes components that western culture has discarded or eliminated. This process of eliminating has brought us the empty food that may seem nutritious and tasteful but lacks many of the essential nutrients required for optimum health. Lacking industrial ways of first emptying and then enriching foods, traditional cultures are still “blessed” with foods that we no longer find on our civilized tables.