This could be a way to gather commercially useful compounds from leaves that would otherwise be burned or composted.
Leaves in autumn contain pigment, carbohydrates, proteins and compounds that could inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Some of these substances could be extracted and, subject to necessary approvals, be suitable for use in foods, preservatives and nutritional supplements.
Autumn leaves’ colour stem from orange and yellow carotenoids as well as red anthocyanins. Different tree species have different chemical compositions in their leaves, allowing researchers to focus on certain species that contain the most of these beneficial compounds.
Carbohydrates left over from the extracted residue could also be used to produce protein-rich livestock feed, or protein supplements for consumers.
While leaves have not been used for food before, rising consumer interest in natural products and novel foods could spell a difference. This means that leaf-derived products, while still “some time” away, will be subject to testing under the EU’s Novel Foods Regulation.