October 11, 2011 in Plants

On Wednesday, November 26th, 2008, the students in Mrs Shuster’s third grade class at École F.A.C.E. School continued to extract natural products from plants as university students Elisabeth Nguyen (B.Sc., U. Montréal) and Nina Pariser (BA Art Education, Concordia U) presented the molecule of the day “anethol” from the seeds of the anise plant. In an interactive discussion, Elisabeth and Nina explained that anise is one of the oldest spice plants for culinary and medicinal purposes. Anise was used in Egypt as early as 1500 B.C. To aid digestion the Romans enjoyed anise-spiced cakes, and even the Bible mentions that tithe was sometimes paid with anise.

Starting by pretending to have sore throats and stomach aches, Elisabeth and Nina sparked a discussion on what kinds of treatments the students use when they are feeling such ailments. They then described how tea from the anise plant contains anethol which has been shown to relieve sore throat and aching stomach conditions. The students were given samples of anise seeds and asked to describe their smell. Subsequently, they were refreshed on the issues of laboratory safety, and aided by a volunteer, Elisabeth performed an extraction of anise seeds with hot water, a technique with which the students had now considerable experience. Passing the tea around, the students recognized the smell of licorice which derives its taste from anise. Nina then discussed other facts about anise and anethol, such as their use to poison pigeons and the fabled use of an anise seed under your pillow to prevent nightmares. Eventually, the discussion turned to the use of anise to relieve oneself of flatulence, a useful term for the students to describe something for which their vocabulary may have been deficient. To refresh these concepts, the students performed “Anethol” the play.

Scene one, the king of ancient Egypt awakes feeling hungry, complains about the strange flowers of anise that he does not like in his garden and demands his cooks to make him something to eat. The cooks, who are inspired by an evil talking pigeon, prepare the king bean chili, which the King eats in Scene two, resulting in his suffering of a bout of flatulence. In Act two, the doctors are unsuccessful in ridding the king of his flatulence using different remedies, yet suggest that the king summon Anethol, who knows the ways of the herbs and who holds the secret for relieving flatulence. Anethol who is brought in as a prisoner refuses to aid the king until he is calmed by the doctors and consents by telling the king to gather up the seeds of the plants that he detests and prepares a tea from the anise seeds. The king is relieved, names the plant Anise a royal treasure and the tea Anethol in honor of his new advisor and healer “Anethol”. All but the pigeon lived happily ever after.

Although not quite ready for Broadway, the play was a great success and well loved by the performers and audience, who profusely thanked Team Anethol and cheered for more MLPs next semester.



October 6, 2011 in Plants

On Wednesday, November 19th, 2008, the students in Mrs Shuster’s third grade class at École F.A.C.E. School were extracting natural products from plants and using their powers of perception to identify them, thanks to university students Alexandra Cadar (B.Sc., U. Montréal) and Julia Waks (BA Art Education, Concordia U).  Alexandra and Julia engaged the class in a discussion on plant derived products.  As an example, slices of aloe-vera were cut and distributed to the students to present an example of a beneficial plant because of its powers to treat burns and wounds.   Similarly, vitamin C was mentioned as an essential nutrient for good health, obtainable from lemons and oranges.  After refreshing the students memory on proper safety attire, three volunteers performed extractions of three samples of different leaves by pipetting hot water over each and collecting the colored extracts.  Using their sense  of smell and examining the color, the students were able to identify the leaf samples from cranberry, camomile and mint.  A discussion of the medicinal attributes of these plants followed.

Alexandra and Julia introduced next the molecule of the day “Taxol” which is extracted from the bark of the Yew tree.  Yew trees, are evergreens that can look like Christmas trees.  They are slow growing, some are estimated to be as old as 4,000 years. Yew trees are difficult to start from seed, because they germinate only after passing through the gut of some animal, such as an elk or deer.  Native American Indians used the wood from the Yew tree to make archery bows and paddles, Europeans used it to make musical instruments. About 40 years ago, scientists studied and tested the different parts of the Yew tree and discovered that the bark of the tree and some other parts of the tree contained an active molecule, that they named “Taxol”.  Taxol is now used as a medicine to fight cancer.  The students related their own stories about their interactions with family and friends with cancer, which led to a deeper discussion about this disease and the application of taxol as a cure. Finally, considering the many rings in the structure of taxol, the students made collages featuring rings on the front-side of get-well cards to be delivered to children with cancer at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

The 3rd graders and all thanked team taxol for their thought provoking and sensitive presentation of the wonders and benefits of plant natural products.

Alexandra Cadar (B.Sc., U. Montréal) and Julia Waks (BA Art Education, Concordia U) leading a discussion on plant-derived products.TACJWclass[1].jpg ¬

Note last week, as mentioned in our MLP on Taxol, the students made collages featuring rings on the front-side of get-well cards, that were delivered to children with cancer at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.  As Julia Waks from Team Taxol writes:

“Attached are the photos taken at the Montreal Children’s hospital. The “absolutely adorable get well cards” were very well received by the staff at both the haematology out patient clinic as well as the 8th floor oncology ward. Mrs.Terry Seguin, head of communications at the hospital, (in photo)and other staff members were very enthusiastic and helpful. The cards look great and will be much appreciated by the kids, parents and staff. Bravo to all the kids for a job well done.”


October 6, 2011 in Plants

On Wednesday, November 12th, 2008, the students in Mrs Shuster’s third grade class at École F.A.C.E. School shined, radiating with knowledge of “chlorophyl” provided by  university students April Clyburne-Sherin (BA Art Education, Concordia U.) and Vanessa Kairouz (B.Sc., U. Montréal).   April and Vanessa led the students through the cycle of respiration and photosynthesis explaining how animals take in oxygen and sugar producing carbon dioxide and water which the plants take in to produce oxygen and sugar.  Chlorophyl was presented as the molecule that harnesses energy from light for the conversion of carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar.  Employing spinach leaves, the students were led through an extraction which started with everyone tearing up leaves and finished by students in proper lab-attire using rubbing alcohol (iso-propanol) and water to extract out the green colored chlorophyl.  Employing the extract as paint, the students then painted pictures of their favorite food.  The pictures were next examined under a black light bulb and appeared to luminance an orange red colour. April and Vanessa explained how under blacklight the chlorophyll reacts with light absorbing its energy and later releasing the energy by glowing and producing heat.

Using modern dance to help the students interpret the relationship between the molecules in the photosynthesis and respiration cycles, team chlorophyl inspired students to behave as molecules by exchanging cards containing their atoms as they converted themselves from oxygen and sugar to carbon dioxide and water and back again.

Illuminated like chlorophyl, we all thanked team chlorophyl for shining some light on the wonders of photosynthesis and plant chemistry.

Note: the chloro portion of the word is from the Greek chloros, which means yellowish green. The name of the element chlorine also comes from the same source. Chlorine is a yellowish green gas. There is no chlorine in chlorophyl, but there is magnesium.

For more information see:

For chlorophyl experiment see: