Basil poses no health risks: DOH

The China Post staff

Officials at the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday said that basil (ocimum basilicum), a commonly used spice, should pose no health hazards. The DOH officials made the statements following a panic among consumers over the Internet that basil could cause liver cancer.

The consumers’ concern was intensified by Lee Chih-heng, a top DOH researcher, who said in a report published in a public health publication that basil contains eugenol, a cancer-causing substance, as in other spices like cinnamon, star anise, fennel (foeniculum vulgare), and hsari herba. These products cause cancer in animals in lab tests, according to the report. Basil is commonly known in Taiwan as “nine-layer pagoda” for the spiral growing of its evergreen leaves. It has been used along with fried oysters and fried salty chicken as well as other dishes to lend a special flavor. DOH officials said the basil and other spice products mentioned contain only extremely low levels of eugenol and will not pose physical harm because people normally take in only three or four leaves on average every week. This actually reduces the risks to nil because the product is used mainly as a spice for selected dishes rather than being used as staple dish, they said. These products have been used by people on all continents for centuries and there is no documentation that humans had suffered from cancer from eating such products, they added. But in order to alleviate consumers’ concern, the officials said the DOH plans to consign scholars and academicians at research institutes to conduct further tests to enhance food safety standards.