Extracts of herbs and spices are increasingly of interest in the food industry because they retard oxidative degradation of lipids. There is also increasing interest in the antiviral activity of plant products. A liquid, deodorized rosemary extract and an oily extract of a mixture of Provençal herbs were tested for antioxidant and antiviral action in vitro. The rosemary extract (Herbor 025) and the extract of Provençal herbs (Spice Cocktail) inhibited peroxidation of phospholipid liposomes with 50% inhibition concentration values of 0.0009% (v/v) and 0.0035% (v/v), respectively. Herbor 025 and the spice cocktail (at 0.2%, v/v) reacted with trichloromethylperoxyl radical with calculated rates of 2.7 x 10(4) s-1 and 1.5 x 10(3) s-1, respectively. The main active components in the herbal preparations, carnosol and carnosic acid, at 0.05% (v/v) react with rate constants of (1-3) x 10(6) M-1 sec-1 and 2.7 x 10(7) M-1 sec-1, respectively. Both extracts show good antioxidant activity in the Rancimat test, especially in lard. Herbor 025 and the spice cocktail inhibited human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection at very low concentrations which were also cytotoxic. However, purified carnosol exhibited definite anti-HIV activity at a concentration (8 microM) which was not cytotoxic. Both preparations promoted some DNA damage in the copper-phenanthroline and the bleomycin-iron systems. The two herbal preparations possess antioxidant properties that may make them useful in the food matrix.