Herbal Chemistry in the Lab: Identifying the Many Compounds in Herbs Using Mass Spectrometry

A key part of the “seed to feed” philosophy when it comes to herbals is the ability to determine the complex composition of an herb such as ginseng. It has some well-known compounds thought to be the active ingredients called ginsenosides, but ginseng also contains many other types of naturally occurring compounds such as flavonoids. In order to be able to measure these compounds as well as the marker compounds, an instrument called a Liquid Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer also called an LCMS is used. The LC part purifies the extract so that similar groups of chemical compounds are grouped together before being broken up and shot over a magnet. As they are thrown over the magnet, the heavier particles land earlier and the lighter particles are thrown further.  As these particles are detected, a fingerprint characteristic of the chemical structure is formed. This fingerprint can be used to assure that an herb is pure and consistent from batch to batch. A few key compounds or in some cases a single compound is used to standardize herbal extracts.

Categories: Nutrition

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