Materia Medica, Pharmacology & Bio-Prospecting

Huang Hua Hao from Kew Gardens

Sweet wormwood, also known as Artemisia annua, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine, in the name of "qing hao," for over 2,000 years to treat various medical symptoms and conditions. It is used to alleviate fevers. Traditionally, it is often prescribed alongside other herbs and plants in order to treat fevers, jaundice, headache, dizziness, nosebleeds, and more. It is an aromatic herb from Asia. The genus, Artemisia, is a part of the Compositae, which includes plants like daisies and sunflowers. Plants in this genus are often used commercially in medicine, perfumes, food, and drinks. Some examples include: A. dracunculus (tarragon), A. absinthium (absinthe) and A. vulgaris (mugwort).

Research on the antimalarial activity of sweet wormwood began in the early 1970s in an attempt to alleviate the increasing resistance to current antimalarial drugs. The plant naturally produces a chemical called artemisinin, which is made in the leaves of sweet wormwood. Artemisinin is a potent anti-malarial agent, and can attack the deadly malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. Since its identification and use, artemisinin extracted from sweet wormwood has become an incredibly important force in treating malaria, considering that the resistance to many other antimalarials has become widespread globally. Sweet wormwood is also valued for its essential oil which is sometimes used in cosmetics and perfumes. The oil has been reported to also have some antimicrobial activity. 

The provenance of the plant is an important factor in considering the potency of the artemisinin content. Research programs are working on evaluating and refining the selection and cloning of high artemisinin-yielding chemotypes. Chemotypes have the same morphological characteristics of structure and function, but varied chemical components. In addition to these efforts, several chemically engineered artemisinin derivatives are being developed using the natural chemical.


Kew Gardens. n.d. “Artemisia annua L.” Plants of the World Online. Accessed June 11, 2021. /

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