Plant trichomes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and cellular composition. Some types, commonly called glandular trichomes, produce large amounts of specialized (secondary) metabolites of diverse classes. Trichomes are implicated in a variety of adaptive processes, including defense against herbivores and micro-organisms as well as in ion homeostasis. Because trichomes protrude from the epidermis and can often be easily separated from it and harvested, the mRNAs, proteins and small molecules that they contain are unusually accessible to analysis. This property makes them excellent experimental systems for identification of the enzymes and pathways responsible for the synthesis of the specialized metabolites found in these structures and sometimes elsewhere in the plant. We review the literature on the biochemistry of trichomes and consider the attributes that might make them highly useful targets for plant metabolic engineering.