The Cherry Blossom - More Than Just a Pretty Flower

This spring, more than a million people are expected to visit Washington, DC, to see the brilliant display of blossoming cherry trees.  Approximately 3700 cherry trees grow in three main park locations, with the most prominent display along the edges of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  Two cherry trees growing on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin were planted in 1912 in a ceremony to commemorate the arrival of 3000 cherry trees from Japan, "a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan."1

In Japan, not only are cherry trees valued for their fragrance and color during the blooming season, but their blossoms are also used to add flavor and color to food and beverages, most notably cherry blossom tea.  The tea, known in Japan as Sakura-cha, is prepared with cherry blossoms that have been immersed in salt water and stored in plum vinegar.  The leftover plum vinegar is then used as a flavoring and coloring agent in food production.

A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that "plum vinegar extract of cherry blossom" is a rich source of caffeic acid (CAS Registry Number® 331-39-5) and other phenolic antioxidants.2  Based on their findings, the authors suggest that the addition of plum vinegar extract of cherry blossom to food may impart health benefits by strengthening the body's ability to protect against oxidative damage caused by reactive oxygen species.

You can use SciFinder® or STN® to search the CAS databases for additional information about cherry blossoms, caffeic acid, and other naturally-occurring antioxidants.  If your organization is enabled to use the web version of SciFinder, you can click the links in this article to directly access details of the substances and references.

Contributed by
Peter S. Carlton, Ph.D.
CAS Communications


References
  1. National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/ (accessed March 31, 2009).
  2. Matsuura, R.; Moriyama, H.; Takeda, N.; Yamamoto, K.; Morita, Y.; Shimamura, T.; Ukeda, H. Determination of Antioxidant Activity and Characterization of Antioxidant Phenolics in the Plum Vinegar Extract of Cherry Blossom (Prunus Iannesiana). J. Agric. Food Chem. 2008, 56, 544-549.

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