Every green plant contains chlorophyll, that is a pigment which helps plants create their own food through photosynthesis. Although microscopic in size, it plays a big role in the health of the planet. Just remember that most life on Earth depends on photosynthesis!
Its name is derived from the Greek words χλωρός, khloros “pale green” and φύλλον, phyllon “leaf”. As a natural green pigment, chlorophyll is a great natural colorant for use in natural products. Chlorophyll molecules are not water-soluble and in plant cells they are bound with proteins.
Nettle is a commercial source of chlorophyll and chlorophyllin used as colorants in foods, cosmetics and medicines. It is important to use edible herb species from organic growth to avoid risk of poisoning by toxic plants or pollutants.
The highest chlorophyll content parts of nettle is the fully developed leaves from the middle section of the plant, at the very beginning of flowering. Nettle plants that are two years old or more contain higher levels of chlorophyll and carotenoids than younger plants. Plants grown in semi-shade contain more chlorophyll than the ones grown in full sun.
Extraction of pure chlorophyll is only possible in the laboratory by organic solvents and a series of other chemicals. Organic solvents are used to break the chlorophyll-protein bond and dissolve chlorophyll. Later, the chlorophyll solution is treated by other chemicals for purification, extraction and stabilization, and the solvents are removed. Often, chlorophyll extract is combined with a carrier like maltodextrin to create flowable, water-soluble powder which is used as cosmetic ingredients (soap, shampoo).
Chlorophyll is a food additive – E140 – approved by the European Union, commercially extracted from nettles, grass and alfalfa. This green coloring is water-soluble, though its intensity may fade with time.
Chlorophyll structure is similar to human hemoglobin and for this reason it is also known as “vegetal blood“. Like hemoglobin, chlorophyll is made up of a set of molecules grouped around a single metal atom: in hemoglobin this atom is iron (Fe), in chlorophyll it is Magnesium (Mg). Magnesium is essential for over 300 biological body functions.
Modern research on chlorophyll indicates that it has some detoxifying, anti-carcinogenic properties and may ameliorate the side effects of some drugs.