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Chromatographic Fingerprint Analysis of Herbal Medicines: Thin-layer and High Performance Liquid Chromatography of Chinese Drugs

Chromatographic Fingerprint Analysis of Herbal Medicines: Thin-Layer and High Performance Liquid Chromatography of Chinese Drugs, 2nd edition, revised and enlarged by Hildebert Wagner, Rudolf Bauer, Dieter Melchart, Pei-Gen Xiao, and Anton Staudinger (eds.). New York: Springer; 2011. Hardcover, 1024 pages (Vols. 1 & 2). ISBN 9783709107621. $319.00

The second edition of Chromatographic Fingerprint Analysis of Herbal Medicines builds on the foundational knowledge of Plant Drug Analysis: A Thin Layer Chromatography Atlas by Wagner & Bladt (Springer Verlag, 2001). Spread over 2 volumes, this work provides analytical overviews of 80 frequently used Chinese medicinal herbs. Each herb is described in a separate monograph with each volume containing 40 monographs. Although the order of the monographs may appear random to some readers, the tables of contents are organized by the herbal drugs’ pharmacopeial name (frequently used in China, Europe, and elsewhere, but seldom used in the United States), Latin binomial, and Chinese pinyin name. There is an index devoted solely to chemical compounds and classes as well, which greatly aids in locating monographs of interest.

The monographs follow a general template to convey the pertinent information. A brief description of the herbal drug—including medicinal effects, constituents, pharmacology, and toxicology—is followed by a description of the analytical methodologies for the fingerprinting methods. This information is derived from the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China (2005) and other sources, all of which are referenced at the end of each monograph. The monographs are substantially supplemented with figures showing chemical structures, TLC (thin-layer chromatography) plates, chromatograms, and UV (ultraviolet) spectra, thereby providing excellent visual representations of analytical results. In some cases, profiles of common adulterants are also shown, which can be extremely valuable information, particularly in the context of setting product specifications.

Although all the monographs follow the same general template, there are inconsistencies across the monographs, such as the presentation of chromatography conditions and the amount of discussion provided; plus, the literature reviews vary with respect to how current they are in each monograph. These inconsistencies are likely the result of the collaborative nature of the book and a reflection of the many years of work since the publication of the first edition. Overall, this does not detract from the intent of the work, which serves as a condensed summary for the identity and use of these herbal drugs. However, readers should remain aware that the most current information on these herbal drugs may not be reflected in these monographs. For example, the main active compound in Salvia miltiorrhiza (Lamiaceae) is now known to be lithospermic acid B, not salvianolic acid as is listed in the second volume on page 903.1

The appendices of this book are a fount of useful information, including tables summarizing the herbal entries covered, along with the significant marker compounds and associated chemical classes of interest. Further, there is a section describing basic solvent systems, reagents, and columns that can be used as a starting point for the analysis of the major chemical classes via TLC, GC (gas chromatography), and HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography)-fingerprint techniques. Combined with the general guidelines presented in the first volume’s introduction, this table is a welcome reference point from which to start the development of fingerprint methodologies.

The analytical methodologies described were designed to meet the European Drug Regulatory Authority’s identity standards to prove the authenticity of Chinese herbal drugs. In this respect, the book serves as a valuable resource, although I was surprised there was no discussion of reference materials, either botanical or chemical. Additionally, with these methods being mainly qualitative, they do not provide quantitative information of chemical constituents that may be necessary for establishing specifications for drug strength.

The most significant omission for this work is the absence of a section describing system suitability and validation parameters. For a variety of reasons, analytical methods seldom work exactly as envisioned or described when transferred into a new setting. Method validation aside, at the very least there are system suitability elements that should be included with any test methods that are established prior to use. Including general requirements in an appendix, for example, would have been helpful. Taking this extra step would better enable the direct application of these methods into an industrial setting for manufacture of products. Although this book is a good place to start, users, especially those complying with the United States Dietary Supplement Good Manufacturing Practices, are responsible for ensuring methods employed are suitable for their intended use. With a lack of information or discussion on method validation parameters and authentication of botanical reference materials, including inherent botanical and chemical variability, this work does not rise to the level of pharmacopeial monograph or official method.

It must be recognized that this is a monumental body of work, representing over a decade of collaborative efforts, and I applaud the new addition of other chromatographic fingerprinting techniques in addition to the traditional TLC methods. Overall, the monographs and the supplemental information provided in the appendices and beginning chapters of this work provide an excellent foundation from which methodologies can be tested and developed. Essentially, these volumes serve—in both research and industrial settings—as a useful laboratory manual for the analysis of Chinese herbs using commonly employed analytical techniques and readily available equipment.

—Paula N. Brown, PhDDirector, Natural Health and Food Product Research GroupCentre for Applied Research and Innovation, BC Institute of TechnologyVancouver, BC, Canada


1. Jia J-Y, Lu Y-L, Li X-C, Liu, G-Y, Li S-J, Liu Y, et al. Pharmacokinetics of depside salts from Salvia miltiorrhiza in healthy Chinese volunteers: A randomized, open-label, single-dose study. Current Therapeutic Research. 2010;71(4):260-271.