Medicinal Plant Analysis: A Historical and Regional Discussion of Emergent Complex Techniques

Front Pharmacol. 2020 Jan 9;10:1480. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2019.01480. eCollection 2019.


The analysis of medicinal plants has had a long history, and especially with regard to assessing a plant's quality. The first techniques were organoleptic using the physical senses of taste, smell, and appearance. Then gradually these led on to more advanced instrumental techniques. Though different countries have their own traditional medicines China currently leads the way in terms of the number of publications focused on medicinal plant analysis and number of inclusions in their Pharmacopoeia. The monographs contained within these publications give directions on the type of analysis that should be performed, and for manufacturers, this typically means that they need access to more and more advanced instrumentation. We have seen developments in many areas of analytical analysis and particularly the development of chromatographic and spectroscopic methods and the hyphenation of these techniques. The ability to process data using multivariate analysis software has opened the door to metabolomics giving us greater capacity to understand the many variations of chemical compounds occurring within medicinal plants, allowing us to have greater certainty of not only the quality of the plants and medicines but also of their suitability for clinical research. Refinements in technology have resulted in the ability to analyze and categorize plants effectively and be able to detect contaminants and adulterants occurring at very low levels. However, advances in technology cannot provide us with all the answers we need in order to deliver high-quality herbal medicines and the more traditional techniques of assessing quality remain as important today.

Keywords: advances; analysis; complexity; herbal medicine; medicinal plant; pharmacopoeia; quality.

Publication types

  • Review