Recent Advances in Saponins Used in Foods, Agriculture, and Medicine
The variation of secondary metabolites produced by plants is enormous and differs greatly with the stages of growth and development. Saponins are being carefully examined because of their biological effects on humans, plants, and animals. Saponins are localized in plant organelles that have a high turnover rate, which implies that they are metabolically active as well as sequestered from the remaining parts of the cell. The biological activity is found in agriculture, forestry, natural and developed ecological systems, and may provide, in part, an explanation of the reason for plant survival in a hostile world. The advantage of saponins to the plant producing them is that they may function as protecting agents, growth regulators, and allelochemicals. Some saponins have cardiac activity, hemolytic activity, activity as fish poisons, cholesterol-reducing ability, bitterness, activity as sweeteners, cosmetics, herbs, nonalcoholic beverages, and growth-regulating effects on
crops. Chemical identification using NMR and mass spectrometry as well as a brief description of the types of saponins is described. Their use in plant drugs, folk medicines, etc. has generated great interest in the chemical characterization of these molecules.