Something interesting happens when you throw maples leaves in a blender, then add alcohol. Do you want to hear what?
I will start at the beginning.
One day I was sitting in a backyard watching my 2-year old wash maple leaves.
After the leaves are thoroughly washed, they are usually dried with towels. The whole activity (if I am lucky) lasts long enough for me to read a couple of pages in my book without pictures.
This particular day I didn’t have a book to read. I stared at the sky. I looked at the clean leaves and started wondering what else can we do with clean maple leaves.
Sitting is not my natural state of being so I got up, took some of the dried leaves in a house and put them in a blender.
I once read that the moisture content of fall leaves is 85-95%, so it came as a surprise that virtually no moisture came out of the leaves. Actually, after spinning in the blender for a few minutes the leaves felt pretty dry to the touch.
I don’t know what normal people would have done at this point, but I dumped the crushed maple leaves in a large pot, added some water and started boiling them. Testing them after 10 min, 30 minutes, 60 minutes.
I was just curious if the water will turn green and if yes, would the color be intense enough to use as a green paint for our art projects.
The water did turn green, but the color was pretty light. The lightness of the color didn’t stop one of my sons from wanting to paint with it.
From four-years of school chemistry classes I vaguely remembered that the mildly alkaline quality of baking soda sometimes helps to bring out colors (i.e., it does a good job of bringing out blue color out of red cabbage).
However, playing with baking soda didn’t do much to improve the intensity of color in our maple leave mixture.
So the next natural step seemed to be alcohol. My grandma, who was a chemist, used alcohol on everything, from bugs to kids and everything in between. (I’m sure you don’t want to try her cold remedy on your little kids. Do you want to hear about it? Ok, add crushed garlic to a tablespoon of food grade alcohol and make a child drink it.)
Alcohol turned out to be the best thing to extract the color from maple leaves! In case you want to try this experiment at home, I will now outline the steps for you.
How to Extract Chlorophyll
from Maple Leaves
What you will need
- Fresh Maple leaves (we washed them, but feel free to skip this step)
- Alcohol (we used the regular Isopropyl alcohol 91% sold at Walgreens as first aid antiseptic)
- Food processor or Blender (we used food processor equipped with a S-blade. I once blew up our smoothie blender doing one of my science experiments, so now I’m very cautious about using that kind for projects)
- Pot with water
- Mason Jar
1. Remove stems from maple leaves. (My kids LOVE this step. You can use the stems to practice alphabet).
2. Add maple leaves to the blender and process until all leaves are the same consistency. (NOTE: You can add whole leaves to the alcohol to achieve the same result, but you will need a bigger pot and more alcohol).
3. Fill a pot with a few inches of water and place over medium heat. Place mason jar with alcohol in the pot. Note: In our experiment: we used 2 Tablespoons of alcohol for each ½ cup of mashed leaves. Make sure your leaves are entirely covered.
4. Once alcohol warms up (NOTE: alcohol is highly flammable, you only need to get it warm and no more), add leaves to the mason jar and wait 15min, 30 min, 60 min. Check on the color as you are waiting. This is the exciting part! You can see the alcohol turning dark green color! It’s the pigment from the leaves moving into alcohol.
5. Now you can put a small portion of leaves onto a cheesecloth and squeeze the liquid out.
My kids were absolutely amazed! And so was I!
Look how strong the color is!
We used a dropper to transfer some chlorophyll to a wine glass just for the sheer pleasure of watching it swirl and twirl on the way down.
Another thing we will try next time is acetone.
Start by looking at green maple leaves with your kids. A magnifying glass makes it even more fun. Ask, Why are leaves green?
My favorite replies: This is a great guess! Interesting! I like how your mind works.
Have you heard of the word “chlorophyll”?
The green color in a leaf comes from chlorophyll [klor-uh-fill]. Chlorophyll absorbs sunlight and helps plants manufacture their own food by the process called photosynthesis.
Do you know why maple leaves turn yellow and red in a fall?
Along with chlorophyll leaves contain yellow and orange carotenoids. Those additional colors are masked by the greater amount of green coloring. As autumn days get shorter and colder, maple leaves stop producing chlorophyll. Once the chlorophyll is gone, green color disappears and other colors become visible. That’s why maple leaves become red, yellow and orange in a fall!
Painting with chlorophyll
This is a finger painting. This picture was painted by dipping an index finger into the extracted chlorophyll. Doesn’t the color look great? Conventional finger paint move over! What’s more: this chlorophyll paint didn’t fade over time!
Creating with pulp
And what about the pulp inside the cheesecloth? We couldn’t just toss it away! Oh, no!
I drew a maple leaf on a piece of paper. We covered it with A LOT of glue and then stuck the pulp to it. Voila, 3D maple leaf!!! Sprinkle it with green glitter generously and look at it lovingly any time you feel like you don’t do enough projects with kids.
If green plants are green because they contain chlorophyll, does it mean that adding chlorophyll to some plants will make them green or greener? I had to find out! I picked white flowers from the backyard and put them into a wine glass filled with water and extracted chlorophyll.