Herbal Antimalarials
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Debbie Parry
Posted: Before April 1998

Despite numerous attempts I have been unable to locate any papers or details of studies on the use of natural substances (herbs, plants etc...) as antimalarials. Are you aware of any such papers/information and have you come across any information on whether certain herbs, plants or spices can enhance the efficacy of the commonly used antimalarial regimes?

This info is purely for my personal use and out of interest as a former pharamacist (biased towards natural cures) now preparing to take her family to West Africa in the summer.

The Chinese herb, qing hao, listed in our catalogue as sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), holds considerable promise as an effective agent against malaria. In fact, in some parts of Asia where malaria has become resistant to the standard arsenal of drugs this herb may be the last line of defense. There is an article in the Richters HerbLetter on work in Southeast Asia using this herb. The World Health Organization is sponsoring trials using artemisinin extracted from the plant.

There is a fair amount of literature on antimalarials from Artemisia. For a start consult the paper by O’Neill, Bray, Boardman, Phillipson and Warhurst entitled "Plants as Sources of Antimalarial Drugs Part 1. In vitro Test Method for the Evaluation of Crude Extracts from Plants" (Planta Medica, vol. 51, pages 394-398, 1985). A search of the scientific and medical literature on "artemisia", "artemisinin" and "malaria" will, no doubt, produce many more references.

Research is underway at Purdue University to develop strains with higher yields of artemisinin. There is also a project to determine whether sweet wormwood plants produce greater quantities of artemisinin under conditions of weightlessness in space. Richters contributed plant material to that project.

In West Africa neem steam baths and tea are commonly used to treat malaria. If malaria is accompanied by dehydration neem is not suitable, however, because it is also a diuretic.

Sweet wormwood is perhaps the most promising antimalarial right now. But James Duke in his Handbook of Medicinal Herbs (Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 1985) lists 73 other plants that have been used to treat or prevent malaria. He gives references from the scientific literature which you can follow up on.

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