Sweet wormwood – a new product for malaria

Sweet wormwood
contains a substance that
helps against malaria.
Photo: Michael Ashton.

Sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua, grows mainly in South East Asia and is related to common mugwort and absinth. Linnaeus cultivated sweet wormwood in Linnaeus’ Garden in Uppsala but it was probably not because he was aware of its medicinal properties. In China at the end of the 1960s they began extracting malaria-active substances from plants. One of the plants studied was sweet wormwood, which had been recommended in China for fevers as early as 340 BC. They extracted a substance which was named artemisinin after the scientific name Artemisia.

Today, Artemisinin is widely used in certain countries in South East Asia, since the malaria parasite has developed resistance to many of the other anti-malaria products. A normal period of treatment lasts for 5 to 7 days.

So far, artemisinin is effective against most of the malaria parasites, but if it is used too frequently, the parasites may become resistant. Resistance may develop when the parasite gets used to otherwise lethal substances in low concentrations.

The advantage with artemisinin is, among other things, that the amount of parasites in the blood is reduced by half within just a few hours, thus making it difficult for the parasite to develop resistance. On the other hand, quinine has a half-life of 2-3 weeks.

Valerian – a natural sedative

The calming and sedative valerian.
Photo: Håkan Tunón.

Common valerian, Valeriana officinalis, has a rhizome which when fresh has hardly any smell but when dried has a strong and very typical odour. The name valeriana appears in writing for the first time in a manuscript from the 10th century but it had, even then, long been known as a medicinal plant.

It is still used mainly as a tranquilliser and mild sedative. Linnaeus noted that it was also used as a diuretic and against intestinal worms.

Apart from its medical uses, it has a history within folklore as a magic herb, which could break the spells of elves and wights. It was used to avert evil and even change illness to health.

Valerian extract is registered nowadays both as a drug and a herbal remedy. Scientific studies have shown that sleep quality is improved if you use valerian. Valepotriates are contained in the rhizome. They are chemically unstable and are decomposed during storage to, among others, valerenic acid giving rise to the characteristic smell.

Last modified: 2021-11-08