Monthly Medicinal Plants:

by Jessica Slavic, Clinical Herbalist

In these months of winter cold I have taken a break from foraging wild plants. I have decided to write instead about a favourite plant in my practice that is not native to B.C., but comes instead from western China. It is called Artemesia annua, sweet annie, or quinghao in Chinese. In the same plant family as Artemesia annua are wormwood, mugwort and sagebrush, all of which have some similar properties.

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Artemesia annua is an annual and is very easy to grow, I have been growing it for several years now. Seeds can be found online at Strictly Medicinal Seeds. It is tall and slender with fragrant leaves, reaching up to 6 feet. It is best harvested just after flowering in early fall, and is most potent if tinctured fresh, although the dried leaf in tea can be effective as well. Taking the right dose can be important with Artemesia, as artemisinin, one of the main constituents, becomes less effective the longer it is taken. A good strategy is to take it for 7 days, then take 2 weeks off and repeat if necessary.


Traditionally, in Chinese Medicine, Artemesia annua is used to reduce fevers and heat, for gastro-intestinal problems and infections, to balance female hormones, for liver problems, and most importantly for parasites of the blood and liver. It has gained much popularity in recent years, and now is used commonly to treat malaria, cancer, and more recently, Covid-19. If prepared and dosed properly, Artemesia annua is extremely effective (98%) for malaria, often even more effective than pharmaceuticals. The reason for this is that malaria quickly learns resistance to single ingredient drugs, but a whole plant extract of Artemesia has hundreds of active constituents. In fact a comm on malaria treatment has been made from artemisinin, one of those constituents, but is in the long run less effective than the whole plant. Artemesia has become so well known for malaria that its seeds have been distributed widely by NGOs in Africa where it is now commonly used. Aside from malaria, Artemesia is effective for many other parasites of the blood, liver or intestines, one example being liver flukes.


Artemesia annua and its isolated constituent artemisinin have both become widely used in cancer treatment. It can slow growth in many tumours, disrupts blood supply to them, is a strong anti-oxidant, and can bind to the iron in cancer cells, which tend to accumulate iron. As Artemesia balances hormones, reducing excess estrogen and prolactin, it is commonly used in hormone affected cancers like breast or ovarian, but can be helpful in other cancers as well.


As Artemesia annua was found to be effective during the SARS outbreak in China, it has been studied in connection to Covid-19. Studies have found that it impedes viral replication and attachment with all known Covid variants. It has anti-viral properties and also lowers overall inflammation. Its traditional use in China of clearing fever and heat correspond with this. Here
are some links related to studies with Covid:


https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874121010278
 

https://www.wpi.edu/news/early-research-finds-extracts-sweet-wormwood-plant-can-inhibitcovid-19-virus


Some other properties of Artemesia annua are: it relives constipation, detoxifies the liver, is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-candida, and anti-inflammatory. Artemesia annua can sometimes cause stomach upset, and should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding. Whenever I have gone travelling in countries where malaria is a risk I have brought a bottle of Artemesia annua, just in case. I have ended up using it, not for malaria, but for cuts and scrapes, stomach upset, fevers and funguses, and found it invaluable.

 

For more info, you can contact me at: hydrax23@gmail.com.

 

Thanks for reading, Jessica Slavik, Clinical Herbalist.

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