Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) is a culinary, medicinal, and ornamental plant appreciated for its antioxidant properties, mainly attributed to high content of rosmarinic acid. This species also includes purple varieties, characterized by the accumulation of anthocyanins in leaves and flowers. In this work, we compared the main morphological characteristics, the antioxidant capacity and the chemical composition in leaves, flowers, and corollas of green ('Italiano Classico') and purple ('Red Rubin' and 'Dark Opal') basil varieties. The LC-ESI-MS/MS analysis of individual compounds allowed quantifying 17 (poly)phenolic acids and 18 flavonoids, differently accumulated in leaves and flowers of the three varieties. The study revealed that in addition to rosmarinic acid, basil contains several members of the salvianolic acid family, only scarcely descripted in this species, as well as, especially in flowers, simple phenolic acids, such as 4-hydroxybenzoic acid and salvianic acid A. Moreover, the study revealed that purple leaves mainly contain highly acylated anthocyanins, while purple flowers accumulate anthocyanins with low degree of decoration. Overall, this study provides new biochemical information about the presence of not yet characterized bioactive compounds in basil that could contribute to boosting the use of this crop and to gaining new knowledge about the roles of these compounds in plant physiology.
Keywords: LC-ESI-MS/MS; green/purple basil; nutraceutical properties; organ chemical differences.