Essential oils of three cow parsnips – composition and activity against nosocomial and foodborne pathogens and food contaminants
Although some widespread, native cow parsnips (Heracleum L. spp., Apiaceae) had broad medicinal and culinary applications throughout history, the knowledge about their volatile constituents is insufficient. This work investigates the composition and bioactivities of H. sphondylium L. (HSPH), H. sibiricum L. (HSIB) and H. montanum Schleich. ex Gaudin (HMON) essential oils. The composition was tested by GC and GC-MS. (Z)-β-Ocimene was the most abundant in HSPH (28.9%) and HMON (20.4%) root oils, while in HSIB root oil, β-pinene (26.2%), methyl eugenol (22.3%) and elemicin (25.6%) prevailed. Leaf and flower oils were dominated by various sesquiterpenes (germacrene D, β-sesquiphellandrene, (E)-β-farnesene and/or (E)-caryophyllene) and/or phenylpropanoids (apiole, methyl eugenol, elemicin and/or (Z)-isoelemicin). Octyl acetate (57.5–67.1%) was the main constituent of all fruit oils. The antimicrobial activity was screened by a microdilution method against eight bacteria and eight fungi. The strongest antimicrobial effect, in several cases better than the activity of antibiotics, was shown by HSPH (MICs = 0.12–3.30 mg mL−1) and HMON (MICs = 0.10–1.30 mg mL−1) flower oils against bacteria, and HSIB fruit oil against fungi (MICs = 0.15–0.40 mg mL−1). The MTT test revealed that the oils were not or weakly cytotoxic against human malignant HeLa, LS174 and/or A549 cells (except HSPH root oil; IC50 = 5.72–24.31 μg mL−1) and that tested oils were not toxic against human normal MRC-5 cells (at 200.00 μg mL−1). Significant activity observed against microorganisms that are the common cause of foodborne diseases, food contamination and/or hospital-acquired infections justifies certain traditional uses of the investigated plants and represents a good basis for further research of these Heracleum oils.