Say a person stranded in time, somewhere in a forest wants to make brass.

He has copper, but not zinc, so he tosses a bunch of zinc-rich beans and nuts in the smelting pot with copper and prays to god that zinc sticks to it and becomes brass.


The person has iron but wants spring steel, so he tosses bunch of manganese rich spinach into the molten steel.

Question : Will either of these work?

Assume that he has access to iron, copper, gold and silver but not any other metal. The forest has all plants and trees from Earth.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "zinc-rich beans" "Manganese rich spinach" How rich are we talking here? $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ Spring-steel doesn't require manganese, but it does require correct tempering. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 14:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There are no plants which contain zinc or manganese, neither a lot nor a little. Some plants contain zinc compounds or manganese compounds. If you want to extract the zinc or the manganese from the compounds you must do some chemistry. But the good news is that brass can be made directly from copper metal and zinc ores such as calamine; there is no need to smelt the zinc first, and in fact this is how brass was made for thousands of years, up to around 1750, well into the Modern Age. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP That would have been a fine answer :). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 15:49

1 Answer 1



Those are some zinc rich beans if they would work...

Your body only needs trace amounts of these elements, too much and you could die, too little and you get serious health problems (Toxicity is in the dose). So when we say that a food is "Zinc" or "Manganese" rich we are saying that food has (for dry black beans) ~3.37 mg per 100 grams.. which means that less than 0.05 % of the total weight of the food is the trace metal you need.

That leaves the "metal rich food" made up of 99.95% of other stuff that you don't want to add to your metal alloy including a lot of other trace metals.

Plants don't contain high enough concentrations of metals for you to use the plant to make an alloy. (Unless all you want to add is carbon, then its better to turn the plant into charcoal first).


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