Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench, Echinacea angustifolia DC. var. angustifolia and Echinacea pallida (Nutt.) Nutt. are frequently used as medicinal plants and their preparations are among the most widely used herbal medicines. The extracts from these species have shown a highly complex chemical composition, including polar compounds (caffeic acid derivatives, CADs), non-polar compounds (alkylamides and acetylenic secondary metabolites; essential oil) and high molecular weight constituents (polysaccharides and glycoproteins). All these chemical classes of compounds have demonstrated to possess interesting biological activities.
In the light of all the above, this paper is focused on the analytical techniques, including sample preparation tools and chromatographic procedures, for the chemical analysis of bioactive compounds in medicinally used Echinacea species. Since sample preparation is considered to be a crucial step in the development of analytical methods for the determination of constituents present in herbal preparations, the strength and weakness of different extraction techniques are discussed. As regards the analysis of compounds present in Echinacea plant material and derivatives, the application of different techniques, mainly HPLC, HPLC-ESI-MS, HPLC-ESI-MS/MS, HPCE, HPTLC and GC, is discussed in detail. The strength, weakness and applicability of the different separation tools are stated.