I must admit I am writing this column with selfish motives. Let me explain. My interests run the gamut. However, there are two things that remain constant: my unwavering love of science and my unwavering love of food. I am a Ph.D. student studying molecular medicine by day, and I moonlight as a foodie. So when the opportunity to write a series for ASBMB Today presented itself, I immediately started dreaming up a way to incorporate (you guessed it!) science and food.
Now, even if you don’t have an overwhelming penchant for culinary delights like me, I hope you agree that spices and herbs are the foundation for good food. However, many overlook the contribution that the latter make to good health. An herb is a plant or plant part used for its scent, flavor or therapeutic properties. Herbs have been used for thousands of years in Indian, Chinese and African cultures as natural medicines and are rapidly gaining in popularity in the United States. According to the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, nearly one in five adults reported using a natural product, such as an herb, for health purposes in 2007. In fact, countless prescription drugs are actually derived from plants. Did you know Vincristine, a drug used to treat cancer, is derived from the Rosy Periwinkle? Or that the medicine cabinet mainstay aspirin was originally synthesized from the Willow tree? Yes, really.
In this column, I will highlight herbs such as these as they relate to human health and disease. In each article, I will explain the nature of the disease or condition, how it develops, and how and why the herb of interest can affect its outcome at the molecular level. Now, you may be wondering where food comes into the picture. Many of the herbs I’ll highlight can be found at your local grocery store. You’ve probably used several of them in your favorite recipes or may have seen them lining the shelves of your neighborhood health food stores as nutritional supplements.
The goal of the column is to give insight into how these herbs act in the human body using published data from some of the top scientific journals and firsthand knowledge from outstanding scientists who are experts in their respective fields. My vision is that this column will serve as the place where good science and practicality converge. I look forward to the journey and hope you will enjoy it too!
Shannadora Hollis (firstname.lastname@example.org) received her B.S. in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University and is a Ph.D. student in the molecular medicine program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Her research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that control salt balance and blood pressure in health and disease. She is a native of Washington, D.C., and in her spare time enjoys cooking, thrift-store shopping and painting.