Kurt A. Reynertson and Edward J. Kennelly, The Grad-
uate Center, City University of New York and Lehman
College, Department of Biology, 250 Bedford Park Bou-
levard West, Bronx, NY 10468. U.S.A. allerslev@gmail.
Margaret J. Basile, University of Miami School of Medi-
cine, Department of Neurology, 1501 NW 9th Avenue,
Miami, FL 33136. U.S.A.
Many fruits of the Myrtaceae have a rich history of use
both as edibles and as traditional medicines in divergent
ethnobotanical practices throughout the tropical and sub-
tropical world. From South America to Southeast Asia,
these fruits have been used for a wide variety of ailments,
including cough, diabetes, dysentery, inﬂammation and
ringworm. These same fruits are also used to make many
food products. Based on information regarding ethnomed-
ical use, known phytochemistry, fruit color, popularity as
edibles and availability, the fruits of several edible species
from the subtribe Eugeniinae have been selected for phy-
tochemical analysis in an attempt to discover new antioxi-
dants. The fruits of six species in this group have shown
a strong antioxidant activity in the 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhy-
drazyl chemical assay. The UV absorbance spectrum of
the most active compound in Eugenia uniﬂora L. indicates
that it is a ﬂavonoid. Polyphenolic compounds like ﬂavo-
noids have an enormous range of biological activity and
are known to inhibit oxidative damage in vivo better than
the classical vitamin antioxidants. In plants, they protect
against lipid peroxidation and UV damage that can affect
tropical fruits growing under severe conditions including
high heat and intense sunlight.
In an initial screening of over thirty edible tropical fruits,
extracts of Eugenia uniﬂora L. (Myrtaceae) proved to be
highly active in the 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH)
antioxidant assay, and polyphenolic compounds are im-
plicated in this activity. A literature search of the plants
most closely allied to E. uniﬂora was therefore conducted
based on the hypothesis that allied species may contain
similar antioxidant compounds. The ethnomedical and
ethnobotanical uses of these plants was correlated with
known phytochemical data to ascertain a list of promis-
ing species for further research to ﬁnd new potent antioxi-
dant fruits and compounds. Increasing understanding of
the role oxidative stress plays in disease has made the
search for antioxidants more important.
Antioxidants and Disease
Oxidative damage in the human body plays an impor-
tant causative role in disease initiation and progression
(Yamaguchi et al. 1998). Oxidation of low-density lipo-
protein (LDL) is a major factor in the promotion of heart
disease and atherosclerosis (Frankel et al. 1993a, Jacob
& Burri 1996, Steinberg 1997). Damaging free radicals
and reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced natu-
rally through oxidative metabolism and have also been
linked to some cancers (Frankel et al. 1993a, Jacob &
Burri 1996). Damage is generally reduced by endoge-
nous antioxidants, but additional protection is necessary,
and nutritive elements from food are critical in disease
prevention. Repeated damage caused by ROS through-
out the span of a human life increases with time, and is a
major cause of age-related cancers and other oxidatively-
Antioxidant Potential of
Seven Myrtaceous Fruits
Kurt A Reynertson, Margaret J. Basile,
and Edward J. Kennelly
Diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in cholester-
ol and fats are inversely correlated with the incidence of
coronary heart disease (CHD) and cancer (Hertog et al.
1993, Hertog et al. 1995, Knekt et al. 1996, Ness & Pow-
les 1999, Pietta 2000, van Poppel et al. 1994). Natural an-
tioxidants from fruits and vegetables provide a measure
of protection that slows the process of oxidative dam-
age, and are implicated as the protective constituents of
these foods (Hertog et al. 1993, Hollman & Katan 1999,
van Poppel et al. 1994). Research in natural antioxidants
is becoming increasingly important both in understanding
the beneﬁcial aspects of plant foods and in improving the
quality of fatty foods. Antioxidants are routinely used by
the industry to prevent the oxidation of food in storage
and inhibit rancidity. The well-known vitamin antioxidants
in food include ascorbic acid, b-carotene and a-tocopher-
ol. Many clinical and epidemiological studies have sought
to demonstrate the efﬁcacy of these vitamins in prevent-
ing a wide variety of diseases (Blumenthal et al. 2000,
Giugliano 2000, Haegele et al. 2000, Jacob & Burri 1996,
Pellegrini et al. 2000, Scheen 2000). However, some of
these studies failed to show signiﬁcant antioxidative pro-
tection in vitro (Pellegrini et al. 2000, Scheen 2000), which
suggests that vitamins obtained via whole food or by a
balanced diet may be more effective than supplements,
possibly through synergistic interactions with other com-
Recent studies have shown that many ﬂavonoids and re-
lated polyphenols are actually better antioxidants than vi-
tamins (Frankel et al. 1993b, Pietta 2000, Vinson et al.
1999a). Fruits and vegetables are high in ﬂavonoid con-
tent; ﬂavonoids impart color and taste to ﬂowers and fruits,
and it is estimated that humans consume between a few
hundred milligrams and one gram of ﬂavonoids every day
(Hollman & Katan 1999, Pietta 2000). Flavonoids appear
in blood plasma at pharmacologically active levels after
eating ﬂavonoid-rich foods but do not accumulate in the
body (Cao et al. 1998, Hollman & Katan 1999). Consum-
ing ﬂavonoids regularly increases longevity by reducing
inﬂammation and contributing to the amelioration of ath-
erosclerosis from CHD (Frankel et al. 1993a). The range
of ﬂavonoid biological activity is large; in addition to scav-
enging free radicals and ROS, ﬂavonoid actions include
anti-inﬂammatory, antiallergenic, antiviral, antibacterial,
antifungal, antitumor, and antihemorrhagic (Formica &
Regelson 1995, Slowing et al. 1996). Flavonoids also in-
hibit a number of enzymes, including aldose reductase,
a-glucosidase, xanthine oxidase, monooxygenase, lipox-
egenase and cyclooxygenase (Middleton & Kandaswami
1993, Yoshikawa et al. 1998). Plant polyphenols interact
with LDL, enriching and protecting it from oxidation when
entering the bloodstream. The so-called “French Paradox”
refers to the fact that despite the high fat content of the
French diet, there is a lower incidence of CHD in France
than in countries where fat intake is similar. This has been
attributed to the high polyphenolic content of red wine and
other fruits and vegetables (Burns et al. 2000, Frankel et
There are over 4000 naturally occurring ﬂavonoids in sev-
eral subclasses. All have the same basic C6-C3-C6 phe-
nolic carbon skeleton (Figure 1). Flavonoids are ubiqui-
tous in the higher plants and play an ecological as well as
physiological role. The anthocyanins are the most impor-
tant ﬂower and fruit pigments; they attract pollinators and
seed dispersers and protect plant tissues from ultraviolet
(UV) radiation damage. Some ﬂavonoids act as antifeed-
ants to herbivorous pests. The isoﬂavones are responsi-
ble for the chemical signaling involved in legumous root
node formation (Dewick 1997, Harborne & Baxter 1999,
Figure 1. Basic structures of A a ﬂavonoid and B an
Studies suggest that the antioxidant potential of pheno-
lics is mainly due to their ability to act as reducing agents
(Burns et al. 2000, Kähkönen et al. 1999, Vinson et al.
1999b). It is well established that the efﬁcacy of ﬂavonoids
as antioxidants stems from the number and position of the
hydroxyl substitutions on the basic structure; an increase
in number of hydroxyl groups is directly correlated with
increasing activity, and the 3’,4’ -dihydroxy substitution is
signiﬁcant (Cao et al. 1997, Rice-Evans et al. 1996, Rice-
Evans et al. 1997).
Anthocyanins (Figure 1B) are the glycosides of anthocy-
anidins, and contribute greatly to the antioxidant proper-
ties of certain fruits. As pigments, they produce the or-
ange, red and blue colors in fruits and ﬂowers. The anti-
oxidant anthocyanidin that colors blueberries and grapes
bluish-red is delphinidin. Other known antioxidant antho-
cyanins include cyanidin (orange-red), pelargonidin (or-
ange), malvidin (bluish-red) and peonidin (red) (Wang et
al. 1997). Fruit color is therefore an important indicator of
possible polyphenolic compounds.
As early as 1897, Baker and Smith investigated the es-
sential oils of Eucalyptus (Myrtaceae) and found a close
connection between the chemistry of the oils and the tax-
onomy of the plants (Gibbs 1993). It has since been es-
tablished that chemistry is very useful in plant systemat-
ics. Likewise, systematics can be used in the search for
bioactive compounds, and ﬂavonoids are considered ex-
cellent taxonomic guides (Bate-Smith 1963). While ﬂavo-
noids are ubiquitous in the higher plants, certain subclass-
es of ﬂavonoids can be taxa-speciﬁc. It is unusual for rare
ﬂavonoids to occur outside a group in which they have
been discovered. Glycosidic combinations are proving to
be highly speciﬁc within families, and some morphological
characteristics can be linked to particular ﬂavonoid pat-
terns (Harborne 1963). Some methylation patterns occur
only in certain families (Pierpoint 1986). Anthocyanins can
occur in any part of a plant, and different parts of the same
plant often have different anthocyanin pigments. The gly-
cosylation pattern is often consistent in a plant, and cor-
relates with systematic information (Harborne 1963). Har-
borne found that species which do not conform to genera
glycosidic patterns are exceptional in other respects as
well. Leaves and fruits tend to have simpler pigments than
ﬂowers, and there is an evolutionary trend toward more
complex anthocyanin structures (Harborne 1963). Com-
plex pigments with several glycosylations are more stable
to light degradation and enzymatic attack. The evolution-
ary trend towards complexity is paralleled by a trend to-
ward the blue color, which in ﬂowers is related to the color
preference of insect pollinators.
Anthocyanin content of fruits tends to increase as the fruit
matures, becoming complexed with metals and other ﬂa-
vonoids (Pierpoint 1986, Silva 1997). The most common
anthocyanidin is cyanidin, which occurs in 80% of perma-
nently pigmented leaves, 69% of fruits and 50% of ﬂowers.
The next two most common anthocyanidins are delphin-
idin and pelargonidin. Delphinidin is wholly absent from
some families, and abundant in others. As of 1995, only
about 1000 species had been examined for anthocyanins,
and only about one-ﬁfth of those species have had the
sugar groups fully described. This represents a tiny frac-
tion of the 250,000 known species of angiosperm. Har-
borne believes that there must be a considerable number
of new anthocyanin structures yet to be discovered (Har-
borne 1963, Pierpoint 1986).
The chemotaxonomic approach to antioxidant discovery
includes reviewing species that have been phytochemi-
cally examined. Information can be extrapolated to allied
plants. Species closely related to plants containing known
polyphenolic antioxidants are likely to have similar poly-
phenolic constituents. Therefore, the phytochemistry of
one plant may be used as a clue for a related plant. The
hypothesis is that antioxidant activity may “run in the fam-
Plant Selection and Collection
Ethnobotanists regularly structure questionnaires to
probe indigenous knowledge for the medicinal uses of
plants. Most indigenous knowledge does not include a list
of plants that help scavenge free radicals. Researchers
looking for new antioxidants can, however, use ethnome-
dicinal information as a guide, paying special attention to
plants that are used for illnesses or conditions that are
ameliorated by compounds also linked to antioxidant ac-
tivity. Polyphenolics are diverse in their biological activi-
ties, so ethnomedical information that hints at polypheno-
lic content could point to possible antioxidants.
For this study, the plants closely allied to E. uniﬂora were
reviewed for ethnobotanical and phytochemical data.
Several databases were queried, including NAPRALERT,
Chemical Abstracts and Biological Abstracts. The number
of NAPRALERT hits for each species studied is given in
Table1. Some of the species queried had little or no phy-
tochemical or ethnobotanical data. Those that are widely
used as food or medicine have often been phytochemi-
Several species were selected, and seven have been col-
lected and tested: Eugenia aggregata (Velloso) Kiaersk.,
E. foetida Pers., E. stipitata McVaugh, E. uniﬂora
Alston and S. samarangense (Blume) Merr. & L.M. Perry).
Several other species have also been marked for testing,
and analysis will be undertaken when fruits ripen. All are
closely related species of the Myrtaceae subtribe Euge-
niinae, and most are cultivated for their edible fruits. Some
of these species are also used medicinally, although thor-
ough phytochemical studies have not been done for each.
Table 1 summarizes the known phytochemistry and eth-
nobotany of the fruits.
Several institutions in southern Florida dedicated to the
propagation of tropical fruits generously permitted us to
collect fruit. Collecting within the United States eliminates
the need for international collection permits, and these in-
stitutions represent collections of plants that have been
pre-selected and imported as edibles, medicinals or both.
Fruit was collected from The Kampong (The National
Tropical Botanical Gardens), The Broward County Rare
Fruit and Vegetable Council Experimental Plot, the Fruit
and Spice Park and The University of Florida Tropical Re-
source and Education Center. Fruits were shipped frozen
to the laboratory, where they were kept at –20° C until ex-
traction. Voucher specimens have been deposited in the
New York Botanical Garden herbarium.
The Myrtaceae is a well deﬁned family, with leathery glan-
dular leaves containing viscous aromatic terpenoid and
along with antioxidant activity expressed as a DPPH IC50. A lower IC50 value indicates greater activity. Known vitamin
antioxidants ascorbic acid and a-tocopherol have IC50 values of 18.3mg/mL and 53.3mg/mL, respectively.
Brazil: eaten fresh, used
for jams and jellies1
desserts, liqueurs, wines
(syrups and wines used
high blood pressure5
Ascorbic acid, b-
carotene, and a few
Jaboticaba Dark red
jam, tarts, strong wine and
liqueur, as a treatment for
hemoptysis, asthma, diarrhea
dysentery and chronic
inﬂammation of the tonsils.7
Rose apple Yellow
for liver problems, as an
astringent, and digestive,8
distilled to make rosewater.7
Wax jambu Pink to
India: eaten fresh;9
are eaten raw with salt or
cooked as a sauce7
glycosides as well as
A and B.10
Rücker et al. 1977, 7Morton 1987, 8Kirtikar & Basu 1988, 9Anonymous 1952, 10Harborne & Baxter 1999,
*Fruit and seed.
polyphenolic substances and ﬂowers with numerous sta-
mens (Landrum 1988). The family is divided into two sub-
families, the Leptospermoidieae and Myrtoideae. Edible
fruits and useful spices, including guava, pitanga, clove and
bay rum are produced by the closely related genera of the
Myrtoideae, which can be divided into three subtribes. The
subtribe Eugeniinae represents a large and morphologically
diverse group, and most of these species have at one time
been assigned to the genus Eugenia. Splitting the group de-
pends on deciding which species to remove from Eugenia
(McVaugh 1966), and the full taxonomic arrangement is still
under debate (Mabberley 1993). They are pantropical in oc-
currence, concentrating in South America and Southeast
Asia-Eastern Australia. The genus Eugenia is now mostly
considered the neotropical group, numbering around 1000
species, and the plants designated Syzygium are gener-
ally considered by many to be the Old World genus. Oth-
er genera in this subtribe include Myrciaria, Plinia, Catinga
and Calycorectes. Researchers disagree on the exact taxo-
nomic arrangement, and many of these plants have multiple
synonyms in at least one of these genera (Facciola 1998,
McVaugh 1966, Popenoe 1920).
The fruits of this subtribe are often described by their bright
anthocyanin colors, including orange, red, purple and black
(dark purple). Examples of fruits in the subtribe are shown
in Figure 2. They are sweet to tart, aromatic and many are
astringent, indicating the presence of tannins. The taste is
often described as somewhat acid. New shoot growth for
many species is wine-colored (Facciola 1998, Popenoe
1920), suggesting a high anthocyanin content. Many
known antioxidant ﬂavonoids have been isolated from all
parts of many species in this group. Haron et al. found that
ﬂavonoid composition of New World and Old World Euge-
nia species is similar (Haron et al. 1992). Seventeen Eu-
genia species were tested, and myricetin was present in
leaf extracts of 100%, quercetin in 71%, and kaempferol
in 24%. Ellagic acid, procyanidin and prodelphinidin were
found in most species tested, and Nair and Subramanian
(Nair and Subramanian 1962) found that ellagic acid and
myricetin are common throughout the family, as is meth-
ylellagic acid (Hegnauer 1990). In dicots, ellagic acid is
usually conﬁned to certain families and plants containing
trihydroxy ﬂavonoids, just as caffeic and p-coumeric acids
are found along with corresponding di- and monohydroxy
ﬂavonoids (Bate-Smith 1963). Theoduloz showed that ﬂa-
vonoids in the ﬁve species of the Myrtaceae tested inhibit
xanthine oxidase activity (Theoduloz et al. 1988), Schm-
eda-Hirschman credits this activity to the presence of the
ﬂavonoids quercitrin, quercetin, myricitrin, and myricetin
(Schmeda-Hirschmann et al. 1987). High doses of the
leaves showed no toxicity.
Surinam cherry (E. uniﬂora) is widely regarded as one
of the best tasting of the Eugenia species, and the fruits
average about 1 inch in size. They have a characteris-
tic ribbed appearance, and several cultivars have been
developed with fruits ranging from orange to crimson to
black (Facciola 1998, Morton 1987). There is an exten-
sive amount of literature documenting the ethnomedi-
cal uses of the leaves of Surinam cherry (Consolini et al.
1999, Duke 2000, Rücker et al. 1977, Schapoval et al.
1994, Schmeda-Hirschmann et al. 1987, Weyerstahl
al. 1988), and most of the phytochemical work has sub-
sequently focused on characterizing the essential oil of
the leaves (Weyerstahl et al. 1988). Ascorbic acid, b-caro-
tene, and a few sesquiterpenes have been identiﬁed from
the fruits (Duke 2000, Rücker et al. 1977), but no studies
of ﬂavonoid content of the fruit have been done. Sever-
al well-known antioxidant ﬂavonoids have been reported
from leaf extracts, including myricetin, myricitrin, gallocat-
echin, quercetin, and quercitrin (Schmeda-Hirschmann et
al. 1987) as well as the tannins eugeniﬂorin D-1 and D-2
(Lee et al. 1997). Popenoe notes that the Brazilians pre-
pare a liqueur from the fruits, and consider syrups and
wines to have a medicinal value (Popenoe 1920). In Ma-
deira, fruits of E. uniﬂora are eaten for intestinal troubles
(Rivera & Obón 1995). Fruits and leaves are also used
for their astringent qualities, and are active against high
blood pressure (Bandoni et al. 1972). Water decoctions
of E. uniﬂora leaves are used in Paraguay to lower cho-
lesterol and blood pressure (Ferro et al. 1988), and have
a highly signiﬁcant anti-inﬂammatory action (Schapoval,
et al. 1994). Ferro showed that leaf extracts were slightly
active on lipid metabolism, and may exert a protective ef-
fect on triglycerides and very low-density lipoprotein lev-
els (Ferro et al. 1988).
Other fruits in this subtribe are also colorful, with an ex-
tensive ethnobotanical and ethnomedical use that sug-
gests a possible ﬂavonoid content. S. jambos fruit is used
as a tonic for the brain and for liver problems, as an as-
tringent, and digestive and diuretic (Kirtikar & Basu 1988,
Morton 1987). The leaves contain seventeen different ﬂa-
vonoids (Constant et al. 1997, Slowing, et al. 1996, Slow-
ing et al. 1994) and are used as an anesthetic, anti-in-
ﬂammatory, and astringent, for apoplexy, asthma, bron-
chitis, cough, diabetes, dysentery, inﬂuenza, and rheu-
matism (Rivera & Obón 1995). S. samarangense, which
is cultivated in India for its edible fruit (Anonymous 1952)
contains two ﬂavonol glycosides as well as epigallocat-
echin 3-O-gallate, epicatechin 3-O-gallate, and sama-
rangenin A and B (Harborne and Baxter 1999). In Taiwan,
the ﬂowers, which contain tannins, are used to treat fever
and halt diarrhea. Flowers also contain desmethoxymat-
teucinol, 5-O-methyl-4’-desmethoxymatteucinol, oleanic
acid and b-sitosterol (Morton 1987). The jaboticaba (Myr-
ciaria cauliﬂora) is a popular edible in Brazil, much like
grapes in the U.S. (Popenoe 1920). They are a dark red
to maroon-purple and black, and are used to make jam,
tarts, strong wine and a liqueur (Facciola 1998). E. ag-
fresh or used to make jams and jellies (Facciola 1998)
which has not been phytochemically examined. In pre-
paring this study, the phytochemistry and ethnobotany
of each plant was reviewed and noted, but those uses
and compounds associated with the fruit only were given
more emphasis, and are summarized in Table 1.
In the current study, fruits were homogenized in a blender
with methanol and extracted for one to two hours. Metha-
nolic extracts were concentrated in vacuo and partitioned
using a solvent-solvent procedure depicted in Figure 3.
Hexane extracts contain lipid-soluble antioxidant vitamins
such as b-carotene and a-tocopherol. Aqueous extracts
contain sugars and ascorbic acid. The EtOAc fraction,
being moderately polar, contains the polyphenolic com-
indicator of radical scavenging capacity.
EtOAc fractions were tested in a simple DPPH chemi-
cal assay following Yamaguchi (Yamaguchi et al. 1998).
DPPH (Figure 4) produces a stable free radical, and is a
good indicator of radical scavenging capacity. The 50%
inhibition concentration (IC50) value is obtained using se-
rial dilutions. A lower IC50 value indicates greater activity.
An IC50 less than 50 µg/mL is considered very active, 50
– 100 is moderately active, 100 – 200 is slightly active and
a value above 200 µg/mL is considered inactive. Ascorbic
acid and a-tocopherol are used as positive controls, with
IC50 values of 18.3 µg/mL and 53.3 µg/mL, respectively.
The EtOAc fraction of E. uniﬂora was separated by vac-
uum-liquid chromatography and the most active fraction
(SC_10) was analyzed by high performance liquid chro-
matography (HPLC) using an on-line DPPH assay de-
veloped by Koleva (Koleva et al. 2000) and adopted in
our laboratory (Figure 5). This assay demonstrates the
antioxidant activity of individual phytochemicals. Spec-
tral data is collected both at 517 nm (for DPPH activity)
and 230-500 nm (for ﬂavonoid detection). After reacting,
the radical absorbing activity is depicted on the chromato-
gram as a negative peak. As seen in Figure 6, the detec-
tion of compounds is graphically correlated to the activity
in the assay. The main constituent eluted at 11.9 minutes
and was very active in the assay as can be seen from the
negative peak. The identity of this compound remains to
be determined. Based on its UV absorbance proﬁle it is
very likely a ﬂavonoid. The proﬁle (Figure 6, Inset A) is
very similar to quercitrin, which has been isolated from
leaf extracts of E. uniﬂora.
Conclusions and Discussion
Renowned pantropically as both food and medicine, these
fruits have long been incorporated into traditional holistic
health systems. Western medicine has, for the most part,
overlooked them as potentially beneﬁcial dietary compo-
nents. Most of the pharmacological studies have not fo-
cused on the fruits. This study demonstrates that there are
antioxidant compounds in these fruits. The most active
fruits in the DPPH assay are E. foetida (15.9 µg/mL) and
E. uniﬂora (19.6 µg/mL). M. cauliﬂora was also very active
at 35 µg/mL. E. aggregata, E. stipitata and S. samaran-
µg/mL, 79.0 µg/mL and 76.8 µg/mL, respectively. Only S.
compare favorably with known antioxidants ascorbic acid
(18.3 µg/mL) and a-tocopherol (53.3 µg/mL). Table 1 sum-
marizes the DPPH assay results. Further understanding
of the polyphenolic content of these fruits may be of great
beneﬁt in understanding the health aspects of both the
traditional and modern uses of these fruits.
Active compounds from these species will be isolated
and analyzed to determine chemical identity. Novel com-
pounds will be elucidated using modern well-established
analytical methods. Finally, the antioxidant capacity of
beverages, vinegars and jams made from the most active
fruits will be tested to see if the antioxidant compounds re-
mained intact during the juicing and fermenting process.
A negative peak at 517 nm corresponds to DPPH quenching, indicating an active compound. The UV absorbance
spectrum of the major constituent is shown as inset A.
Many thanks is given to those who have generously aided
this project by allowing us to collect fruit: Larry Schokman,
Director of The Kampong; Chris Rollins, Director of the Fruit
and Spice Park; Dr. Jonathan H. Crane of the University of
Florida Tropical Research and Education Center; and the
Broward County Rare Fruit and Vegetable Council.
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