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AGRICULTURE REPORT – March 5, 2002: Herbs - 2002-03-04

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Small plants called herbs have many uses. Some herbs are used in cooking to make foods taste better. Others are used as medicines.

Now, a new study shows that many herbs used in cooking contain helpful chemicals called anti-oxidants. Our bodies naturally produce oxidizing compounds. An anti-oxidant is one of many chemicals that reduce or prevent oxidation. This prevents damage to cells and tissues caused by atoms or molecules in the body called free radicals. Experts agree that oxidative damage causes many of the health problems common to older adults.

The new study found that herbs have more anti-oxidant power than some common fruits and vegetables. However, the strength of these anti-oxidants can depend on the kind of herb and growing conditions.

In the new study, scientists from the United States and China tested herbs that were grown in the same area under similar conditions. The scientists did their work at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. The United States Department of Agriculture reported the findings.

The scientists measured the ability of different kinds of herbs to fight oxidizing chemicals. They tested twenty-seven herbs used in cooking. They also studied twelve herbs that are used as medicines.

The highest level of anti-oxidant activity was found in three kinds of oregano used in cooking. They are Mexican, Italian and Greek mountain oregano. Their activity was stronger than the anti-oxidant Vitamin E. It was as strong as a chemical called B-H-A, which is added to food to protect against fat oxidation.

Several other herbs also showed strong antioxidant activity. They include bay and dill. However, their strength was about one-half to one-third as strong as that of the three kinds of oregano. Generally, the herbs used as medicines were low in antioxidant activity. The scientists say this suggests that any health effects from such herbs resulted mostly from other actions in the body.

The scientists say the antioxidant power of these herbs may be different, depending on where the plants are grown. Yet they suspect that their findings would have been similar had the study been done in another area. That is because of the substances found naturally in each kind of herb.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.