Plants and Trees With Real Health Benefits

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


May 30, 2017

Artemesia annua

Artemisia annua, a member of the aster family, has several common names including sagewort, mugwort, and sweet annie. In Chinese medicine, the plant has been used to treat fevers, a characteristic it shares with willow bark. More recently, it has become a highly valued source of artemisinin, an agent used in the treatment of malaria. The history of this plant's discovery is unusual. In the 1970s, Tu Youyou, a Chinese researcher, sought to identify the potentially beneficial chemical ingredients of Chinese medicinal herbs. One of the texts she consulted was Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One's Sleeve from Ge Hong (A.D. 284-346). This ancient text mentioned wormwood (A annua) and indicated that the active ingredient contained within the plant could be extracted with cold water. Tu Youyou's modification was to use a low temperature ether extraction technique rather than cold water to obtain the active ingredient, artemisinin. For her discovery, she was one of the three winners of the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine.[3] Tu Youyou is unusual among Nobel Prize winners in not having any postgraduate degree. The agent now available as artesunate is widely used and has been credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives.[4,5]

Figure 3. Image from istock


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