It is still a major challenge to simultaneously isolate artemisinin and its precursors, especially dihydroartemisinic acid and artemisinic acid, from herbal Artemisia annua. A rapid, economical and automatical chromatographic separation process to isolate and purify artemisinin, dihydroartemisinic acid and artemisinic acid at the same time on a preparative scale was developed. The procedure included solvent extraction of ground Artemisia annua leaves by refluxing and purification of crude extract by preparative reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC). Fractions containing artemisinin and its precursors were collected and identified by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. High purity of artemisinin, dihydroartemisinic acid and artemisinic acid was obtained by preparative HPLC with a C18 column and 60% acetonitrile in water as the mobile phase. The techniques described here are useful tools for the preparative-scale isolation of artemisinin and its precursors in a fast, cost-effective and environmental friendly manner. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.