Accuracy, precision, and reliability of chemical measurements in natural products research

Fitoterapia. 2011 Jan;82(1):44-52. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2010.09.011. Epub 2010 Sep 25.


Natural products chemistry is the discipline that lies at the heart of modern pharmacognosy. The field encompasses qualitative and quantitative analytical tools that range from spectroscopy and spectrometry to chromatography. Among other things, modern research on crude botanicals is engaged in the discovery of the phytochemical constituents necessary for therapeutic efficacy, including the synergistic effects of components of complex mixtures in the botanical matrix. In the phytomedicine field, these botanicals and their contained mixtures are considered the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and pharmacognosists are increasingly called upon to supplement their molecular discovery work by assisting in the development and utilization of analytical tools for assessing the quality and safety of these products. Unlike single-chemical entity APIs, botanical raw materials and their derived products are highly variable because their chemistry and morphology depend on the genotypic and phenotypic variation, geographical origin and weather exposure, harvesting practices, and processing conditions of the source material. Unless controlled, this inherent variability in the raw material stream can result in inconsistent finished products that are under-potent, over-potent, and/or contaminated. Over the decades, natural product chemists have routinely developed quantitative analytical methods for phytochemicals of interest. Quantitative methods for the determination of product quality bear the weight of regulatory scrutiny. These methods must be accurate, precise, and reproducible. Accordingly, this review discusses the principles of accuracy (relationship between experimental and true value), precision (distribution of data values), and reliability in the quantitation of phytochemicals in natural products.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical / methods
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical / standards*
  • Herbal Medicine / methods*
  • Plant Preparations / standards*
  • Reference Standards
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Plant Preparations