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Basil, More than a Simple Flavor

Adolfina Koroch, Science

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I have been studying medicinal and aromatic plants for more than ten years; my colleagues call me the "Basil Lady," with affection.  In this new Faculty Focus Wellness Column, I am pleased to share with you some of the healthful properties of this popular aromatic edible.

Basil is an herb originally from tropical Asia and Africa, but now it is widely cultivated around the world. Basil’s leaves have been long recognized by their spicy flavor, wonderful taste and sweet aroma. The main species for cooking is Italian Basil (Ocimum basilicum) that has been selected and cultivated for a long time for its flavor and appearance. Today we can find many different types of basils, with a wide range of sizes, colors and aromas or scents. We can enjoy basils with unique aromas such as anise, licorice, and lemon among others. They are used for ornamental, medicinal and culinary purposes.

Recently it was reported that the leaves of basils are also a rich source of other natural compounds or products that are good for our health and may help to prevent some degenerative diseases. These chemicals have multiple biological activities, including antioxidants. In other words they have the capability of protecting us against the damaging effects of oxidation in our tissues. In addition to fruits and vegetables, today it is recommended to supplement our diet with herbs, especially with those that are rich in antioxidants. Because of the increasing restrictions in the use of synthetic antioxidants in foods, today we can consider basil not only a flavor for our food but most importantly a natural source of antioxidants. Not all the type of basils accumulates the same amounts of antioxidants. This offers new opportunities to study this “new use” of this interesting plant.

Any question about scientific basil research should be directed to Prof. Adolfina Koroch at akoroch@bmcc.cuny.edu.  Currently she is interested in developing in vitro regeneration protocols so as to obtain large amounts of unique types of basil plants in short periods of time.

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