Whenever we travel to countries where there is malaria, we bring a herb known as Sweet Annie with us. But, can a simple, inexpensive herb be the answer to as powerful a problem as malaria?

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium, a single cell parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. It can be deadly. According to the World Health Organization, in 2017, there were an incredible 219 million cases around the world.

Artemisia annua, or Sweet Annie, is a traditional herbal treatment for malaria in Asia. It is a species of wormwood. In 2015, Tu Youyou won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her work in 1972 in isolating  artemisinin as one of the antimalarial components of Artemisia annua and developing it into a drug that saved the lives of millions of people. The problem with the drug form was that the Plasmodium parasite began to develop resistance to the drug. The solution was to begin combining artemisinin with other antimalarial drugs into a cocktail known as Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs). But, in time, the clever little parasite began to adapt and develop resistance to that pharmaceutical treatment as well. The need became urgent for treatments that were more resilient to resistance.

Artemisia annua has a 2,000 year history of use that is backed up by research in China and at the Walter Reed Army Research Institute in the US. Though artemisinin got all the attention, Artemisia annua actually has more than twenty antimalarial components that work synergistically against the malaria parasite, making it a promising challenger to the drug. The herb has demonstrated a greater than 95% malaria cure rate in small studies with the important advantage that drug resistance was three times greater with the artemisinin drug.

A controlled unblinded study found that Artemisia annua tea was as effective at symptom relief as quinine and effective, but not as effective, at completely curing the malaria (Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg 2004;98:318-321).

Now Sweet Annie has been put to its most important test. A double-blind study compared Artemisia annua to an African species of wormwood known, very imaginatively, as African wormwood (Artemisia afra), and to ACT.

The study included 943 children and adults with malaria. The study did not include people whose malaria was already severe. Each person was given either ACT or .33 litres of tea made from one of the two wormwoods every 8 hours for 7 days. The tea was made from 5g of dried leaves and twigs that were steeped in boiling water for ten minutes.

After one day, the parasite count went down by 85.2% in the ACT group but by 97.7% in both of the artemisia groups. In both artemisia groups, by the second day, there was a total clearance of the parasite; some people in the ACT group still had parasites until day 14. By the second day, the malaria cure rate was 34.3% on the ACT but it was 88.8% in the African wormwood group and 96.4% in the Sweet Annie group.

By day 28, the cure rate for children was 49.5% on ACT, 91.2% on African wormwood and 100% on Sweet Annie. For adults, the cure rate was 30% on ACT, 90.7% on African wormwood and, again, a full 100% on Sweet Annie. In both wormwood groups, fever cleared in 24 hours versus 48 hours on ACT.

The two wormwoods were not only better, they were safer: 42.8% of ACT people experienced adverse events versus only 5% of the artemisia people.

This study shows that both wormwoods and, perhaps especially Artemisia annua, or Sweet Annie, are better than and safer than ACT drug therapy. Given that the cure rate in the ACT group was so poor, it has been suggested that Artemisia annua may be effective against ACT resistant malaria.

Artemisia annua is safe, effective, inexpensive and easy to get. Glad we travelled with it!

Phytomed 2019;57:49-56

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The Natural Path is intended for educational purposes only and is in no way intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. For health problems, consult a qualified health practitioner for a comprehensive program.

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