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J Chromatogr A. 2009 Mar 13;1216(11):1954-69. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2008.07.072. Epub 2008 Jul 29.

Chemical analysis of the Chinese herbal medicine Gan-Cao (licorice).

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  • 1Department of Natural Medicines, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Peking University Health Science Center, No. 38 Xueyuan Road, Beijing 100191, China.


Gan-Cao, or licorice, is a popular Chinese herbal medicine derived from the dried roots and rhizomes of Glycyrrhiza uralensis, G. glabra, and G. inflata. The main bioactive constituents of licorice are triterpene saponins and various types of flavonoids. The contents of these compounds may vary in different licorice batches and thus affect the therapeutic effects. In order to ensure its efficacy and safety, sensitive and accurate methods for the qualitative and quantitative analyses of saponins and flavonoids are of significance for the comprehensive quality control of licorice. This review describes the progress in chemical analysis of licorice and its preparations since 2000. Newly established methods are summarized, including spectroscopy, thin-layer chromatography, gas chromatography, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS), capillary electrophoresis, high-speed counter-current chromatography (HSCCC), electrochemistry, and immunoassay. The sensitivity, selectivity and powerful separation capability of HPLC and CE allows the simultaneous detection of multiple compounds in licorice. LC/MS provides characteristic fragmentations for the rapid structural identification of licorice saponins and flavonoids. The combination of HPLC and LC/MS is currently the most powerful technique for the quality control of licorice.

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