Evaluation of volatile bioactive secondary metabolites transfer from medicinal and aromatic plants to herbal teas: Comparison of different methods for the determination of transfer rate and human intake.
A correct botanical identification and analytical quality control of volatile key-markers responsible for aroma and biological activities is necessary to monitor volatile compounds transferred from a plant to the related herbal tea and human intake to guarantee their safe use. This is mainly true for markers limited by regulations or by a recommended maximum amount of consumption per day. GC-MS is the elective technique to analyze volatiles, provided that for aqueous samples (herbal teas) an appropriate sample preparation procedure, and/or a water-compatible GC stationary phases are applied. Solid Phase Micro Extraction (SPME) on-line coupled to GC-MS in a fully automatic approach is here applied to sample and quantify key markers in plant material (headspace) and in the corresponding herbal tea (direct immersion). In parallel, a new generation of GC columns coated with ionic liquid based stationary phases compatible with aqueous samples (Watercol™) was applied to test direct injection of aqueous samples (DAI-GC-FID). The latter approach fully bypasses sample preparation thus speeding up quality control. This study deals with the quantitation of menthol, α- and β-thujone, estragole, and anethole contained in several plant species commonly used for herbal teas (i.e. peppermint, sage, wormwood, fennel, aniseed) and regulated by International Organizations. The two methods gave comparable results and are characterized by high repeatability, linearity and accuracy, although, as expected, their sensitivity was different because DAI-GC-FID implies injection of the sample as such without analyte concentration as for DI-SPME-GC-MS. For instance, LOD and LOQ of estragole were 0.03 and 0.1 mg L-1 with DI-SPME-GC-MS and 0.1 and 0.8 mg L-1 with DAI-GC-FID. The two methods are fully complementary and their adoption depends on the amount of marker(s) to be quantified.