Analytical discrimination of poisonous and nonpoisonous chemotypes of giant fennel (Ferula communis L.) through their biologically active and volatile fractions

J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Oct 4;54(20):7556-63. doi: 10.1021/jf061592t.


Giant fennel (Ferula communis L.) from Sardinia is characterized by two chemotypes with different biological activities. One chemotype is poisonous, due to prenylcoumarins, and responsible for ferulosis, which mainly affects sheep and goats, cattle, and horses; the other chemotype is nonpoisonous and contains daucane esters. The two chemotypes cannot be distinguished botanically. High-performance liquid chromatography-diode array-ultraviolet detection-mass spectrometry (HPLC-DAD-UV-MS) analysis of the composition of the fractions containing the biologically active metabolites and of the volatile fractions, by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), of both essential oil and headspace sampled by headspace solid-phase microextraction (HS-SPME) are here shown to be effective in discriminating the poisonous and nonpoisonous chemotypes. HS-SPME with CAR/PDMS/DVB in combination with GC-MS has also been found to be a successful, fully automated one-step method for rapid and unequivocal discrimination of the two chemotypes, using aristolene and allohedycaryol as markers of the poisonous and nonpoisonous chemotypes, respectively.

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Coumarins / chemistry
  • Coumarins / toxicity
  • Ferula / chemistry*
  • Ferula / classification
  • Ferula / toxicity*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Oils, Volatile / chemistry
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Plant Stems / chemistry
  • Protein Prenylation
  • Volatilization


  • Coumarins
  • Oils, Volatile