Nobel Prize Winning Plant Medicine

Many years ago, the Chinese government gathered 500 of their best scientists and launched a coordinated effort to find a cure for Malaria. Other countries had launched similar projects, but the studies were considered military secrets and none of the scientists were allowed to speak of their results. 

It was October of 1971, and after 2 years of intense research and clinical lab tests, a compound was found that had a 100% inhibition against the parasite that causes Malaria.

The source? A shrubby plant with foliage that looks a bit like a giant carrot top. Feathery and easy to grow, the plant is called Artemisia Annua. 

Artemisia is a common plant family with numerous species that unfortunately don’t share the same Malaria-crushing compounds as A. Annua. It was just this one specific strain of Artemisia, and it only stopped Malaria if it was prepared in a very specific way. 

As with most plants, Artemisia Annua contains over a hundred compounds. Some plant compounds are water soluble (which we can extract into a cup of tea), other compounds are soluble in ethanol, which we can access with an ethanol based tincture, while others are only lipid soluble and must be extracted into a lipid, or fat. And Artemisia Annua?  The specific compounds in Artemisia necessary to stop the Malaria parasite are - lipid soluble.

The scientist making this discovery was following the clues given in Ancient Chinese Medicine Texts on the use of herbs for Malaria. The scientist’s name was Youyou Tu, and on March 8th, 1972, she was able to share her discovery with the world in a presentation to the World Health Organization. 

In the years that followed, the use of Artemisia Annua has saved many thousands of lives that would otherwise have been lost. The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Professor Youyou Tu for her discovery of the compounds in Artemisia Annua and their impact on Malaria. 

Today, nearly 50 years after Youyou Tu’s original discovery, the Artemisia Annua plant and it’s key compounds are still considered by the World Health Organization to be the front line of defense in the ongoing global fight against Malaria.

One final note: During the week of this writing in late 2020, the President of Madagascar announced that students returning to school after sheltering in place would be required to consume a non-specific Artemisia Annua drink before being allowed to return to class, and went on to suggest that Artemisia Annua had immune boosting and 2020 virus protecting capabilities. This story from Madagascar was subsequently published by the BBC and in the Wall Street Journal. No tests have been published on A. Annua regarding it's super-plant virus healing powers, but- who knows?



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