Medicinal herbs have a long history of use in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine and a substantial body of evidence has, over recent decades, demonstrated a range of important pharmacological properties. Western biomedical researchers are examining not only the efficacy of the traditional herbal products but, through the use of a range of bioassays and analytical techniques, are developing improved methods to isolate and characterize active components. This review briefly describes the different extraction methodologies used in the preparation of herbal extracts and reviews the utility of chromatography-mass spectrometry for the analysis of their active components. In particular, applications of gas or liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry for the isolation and characterization of active components of ginseng are critically assessed. The analysis of toxic substances from herb extracts with mass spectrometric techniques is also discussed along with the potential for mass spectrometric methods to investigate the proteomics of herbal extracts.