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Metabonomic analysis of water extracts from Chinese and American ginsengs by 1H nuclear magnetic resonance: identification of chemical profile for quality control

Pui Hei Chan1, Ken YZ Zheng2, Karl WK Tsim2 and Henry Lam1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong, China

2 Divison of Life Science and Centre for Chinese Medicine, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong, China

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Chinese Medicine 2012, 7:25  doi:10.1186/1749-8546-7-25

Published: 12 November 2012



With the gaining popularity of commercially prepared decoctions of herbal medicines on the market, an objective and efficient way to reveal the authenticity of such products is urgently needed. Previous attempts to use chromatographic or spectroscopic methods to identify ginseng samples made use of components derived from methanol extracts of the herb. It was not established that these herbs can be distinguished solely from consumable components, which are responsible for the clinical efficacy of the herb.

In this study, metabonomics, or metabolic profiling, based on the application of 1H-Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), is applied to distinguish the water extracts of three closely related ginseng species: P. ginseng (from two different cultivated regions in China), P. notoginseng and P. quinquefolius.


A water extraction protocol that mimics how ginseng decoctions are made for consumption was used to prepare triplicate samples from each herb for analysis. High-resolution 1H NMR spectroscopy was used to acquire metabolic profiles of the four ginseng samples. The spectral data were subjected to multivariate and univariate analysis to identify metabolites that were able to distinguish different types of ginseng.


H NMR metabolic profiling was performed to distinguish the water extracts of P. ginseng cultivated in Hebei and Jilin of China, both of which were distinguished from extracts of P. notoginseng and P. quinquefolius, by unsupervised principle component analysis based on the entire 1H NMR spectral fingerprint Statistically significant differences were found for several discriminating features traced to common metabolites and the ginsenosides Rg1 and Rd, in the 1H NMR spectra.


This study demonstrated that 1H NMR metabonomics can simultaneously distinguish different ginseng species and multiple samples of the same species that were cultivated in different regions. This technique is applicable to the authentication and quality control of ginseng products.