Artemisia Annua (Sweet Wormwood) is named after Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the Moon and Hunting. There are several species of Artemisia, including Wormwood (A. Absinthium), and Southernwood (A. Abrotanum). These herbs have some similar properties, but I find the antimicrobial activity of Artemisia Annua is much more interesting! Also known as Qing Hao or Chinese Wormwood, this herb has a long history of use in the Middle Kingdom (China) and is considered to be very effective in clearing heat from the body. It is traditionally used for fevers and liver problems, and even malaria! In fact, Artemisia contains an alkaloid (which is a nitrogen containing substance from a plant) known as Artemisinin, which is a potent antimalarial drug used around the world to combat this horrible disease.
The story of how Artemisinin was discovered and developed into a drug is a fascinating one: A female Chinese scientist with the delightful name of Tu Youyou was trained in Chemistry and later in traditional Chinese Medicine. She was asked to help find new antimalarial drugs to combat resistant strains of the Plasmodium parasite, which had become resistant to chloroquine and was taking many lives. She looked through ancient Chinese Medical texts and discovered that the herbal medicine Qing Hao had been used for “intermittent fevers” since at least 400 AD! She isolated artemisinin, and tested it on herself to see if it was safe. In 2015, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, all without a medical degree, or a PhD. A truly remarkable woman who has undoubtedly saved millions of people from being infected with malaria.
So, does Artemisia do anything else apart from its antimalarial properties? Extracts of the herb have been shown to have antiprotozoal properties against leishmania (causing infections of the skin and organs), trypanosoma (sleeping sickness), and toxoplasma (fatigue, fever, aches and pains). These infections can be severe, so having a non-toxic method of treating or eliminating them is extremely valuable. The antiprotozoal properties of Artemisia may have to do with the structure of artemisinin: it appears to bind to haem iron inside the parasites and creates massive free radical attacks on vital proteins, destroying the invaders. This is similar to how some drugs work against cancer cells, and Artemisia has been shown to have significant anti-cancer effects in cell studies. Cancer cells also tend to accumulate high iron and this makes them much more susceptible to destruction form the Qing Hao. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to spend millions of dollars on studies to determine the effectiveness of a cheap, commonly grown traditional medicine, so publically funded Universities and other non-profit organisations will need to take up clinical research this extremely promising plant extract.
Another exciting property of Qing Hao are its virus-destroying actions. Research has shown Artemisia extracts to be active against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), SARS CoV1 – the coronavirus that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003 to 2005 and more recently, the SARS CoV2 virus. The antiviral properties of extracts of the Herbal Medicine were shown to be effective against cells infected with the virus that causes Covid-19, which has plagued our entire planet for the past 18 months. Researchers in the U.S.A used 7 samples of Qing Hao tea from 4 different continents, and found them all to inhibit the replication of the virus in cells.1 Another group of Scientists in Germany and the University of Copenhagen tested Qing Hao and Artemisinin against cells infected with SARS CoV2 and found them to prevent the virus from infecting other cells. Interestingly, the natural Artemisia Annua extract was more effective than the synthetic Artemisinin drug: this is probably due to the high levels of flavonoids in the whole herb extract, which tend to have significant antiviral activity on their own.2
Does this mean that Chinese Wormwood would protect you against Covid-19? Not necessarily; studies done in test tubes and petri dishes in laboratories don’t always translate to magical cures in real human subjects from oral doses of herbs, nutrients or drugs. However, Qing Hao is a safe herb to take for most people for several months and it may offer significant protective effects. It is contraindicated in the first trimester of pregnancy, and you should always contact a qualified Naturopath/ Herbalist who uses high quality herbal medicines to see what they would recommend for you. I have found Artemisia to be highly effective in people with chronic viral infections, night sweats and fatigue. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it should be used with caution in those with diarrhoea due to a “weak, cold, spleen”. Adverse reactions are rare, but may include digestive upsets and nausea. It has also been used in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus (discoid or skin, and SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus). It has a profound cooling, anti-inflammatory and immune modulating effect on the body.
In summary, this venerable herbal medicine has been used for at least 2000 years and due to the tireless work of Herbalists, Scientists, Doctors and Healers, it will be used for many more, as long as Complementary Medicine is allowed to flourish and help people as it’s meant to. Take care of yourself