The Role of Minerals in Plant and Animal Nutrition (Indeed, in all life)*

By Gary Kline

Surprisingly, plants are basically made of air and water.  If you combine carbon from the small percent of carbon dioxide in the air with oxygen and hydrogen, also from air and from water, you have the basic building block for starch, sugar or carbohydrates.  Add nitrogen to this basic formula and you can have an amino acid that is a basic building block for protein, which makes life possible.  There are thousands of kinds of proteins that make muscle tissue, but also, enzymes, hormones and other complex organic compounds.  There is no life without these.

If you burn a plant, thereby reducing it to ash (with most of the burned matter going up in smoke and steam), you are left with that part of the plant that came from the soil, usually around 5% of what you started with.  This portion is minerals --- and mineral elements are essentially indestructible.  Thus, 95% of the makeup of plants comes from air and water, combined together with a small amount of minerals by the sunshine-generated  miracle of photosynthesis to create the plant.  Photosynthesis is run by the enzyme chlorophyll, at the heart of which is a single atom of the mineral magnesium which somehow energizes the process; but other minerals are also involved in this exceedingly complicated process and construction machinery.

Minerals often function as nature’s “tools” that enable this process to proceed.  They are basic to the enzyme systems that catalyze the storage of the sun’s energy into the chemical bonds within the plant itself.  The major elements are the big wrenches and the smaller ones are the trace minerals.  Big or small, all are essential.  Any deficiency or imbalance limits the production and the quality of the plants or crops grown.  If some elements are lacking in the soil, they will be lacking in the crop.  If they are lacking in the crop, they will be lacking in the animal or human that eats the crop.  As the saying goes, you are what you eat;  but also reflects what you don’t eat that you might need.

Using the analogy of building a house, the lumber, bricks, wires and nails are building blocks or materials that get used up in the construction to make the house.  The tools used to build the house, however, are not used up and they can be taken to the next job site to build another house or succession of houses.  While the tools do not get used up, they can wear out and eventually break and so, may need replacement.

When an animal consumes plants the same tools used by the plant to combine the CHO and N to store energy are needed to break down chemical bonds and release energy to power the metabolic processes of life and production, as well as reproduction.  If the plant doesn’t have enough built-in tools (minerals), extra tools must be provided.  Most of our soils are so depleted of minerals now that it is almost a given that some sort of mineral supplementation is necessary, especially to arrive at the high levels of productivity that we strive for today.  Without the needed mineral tools, proper digestion and assimilation of the energy in the animal’s feeds does not take place and malnutrition and disease can ensue.  The same is increasingly true for us.

It is possible, with some experience and skill to detect mineral deficiencies from visible symptoms in plants.  However, the best way to determine what minerals are needed and how much is through professional soil testing.

*This article is amplified and paraphrased from a passage attributed to a Dr. Bob Scott as told to Dr. Richard J. Holladay, DVM in a 2007 publication (page 21) titled “Building a Holistic Foundation for Animal Health”.

©2014 Gary L. Kline  All Rights Reserved

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