Scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam are among a group of researchers from Germany and Denmark collaborating with the US company ArtemiLife to explore whether the Artemisia plant can be used against the novel coronavirus.
“It is the first study in which scientists are investigating the function of these plant substances in connection with COVID-19,” the head of the study, Peter Seeberger, told DW.
The cell study will use test extracts from the Artemisia annua plant, also known as sweet wormwood, as well as derivatives isolated from the plant such as artemisinin.An Artemisia compound has long been used as a treatment for malaria.
Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina touted a potion containing an Artemisia extract and other herbs as a “miracle cure” for the coronavirus.
Since then, media in Africa have plugged the drink’s potential, and several African countries have placed orders for the herbal tonic, sold under the name COVID Organics.
The director of Malagasy IMRA research institute, Charles Andrianjara, spoke vaguely of “tests on some people” when contacted by DW for details of any scientific studies on the potion, and referred to many years of experience with the concoction.
He was unable to cite any specific research proving the herbal drink’s ability to either prevent or treat COVID-19.
It’s also difficult for other scientists to test the potion as its formula is a secret – in his conversation with DW, Andrianjara said he couldn’t reveal its make-up to protect intellectual property rights.
The World Health Organization, however, warns on its website that there is “no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be prevented or treated with products made from Artemisia-based plant material.”
While it’s possible new treatments might come from traditional medicines, says Michel Yao from the WHO Regional Office for Africa, people should refrain from using untested remedies for coronavirus.
Artemisia annua is not the first malaria treatment to gain attention in the search for treatment against COVID-19.
The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has also been hyped in recent months despite little data supporting its effectiveness against coronavirus infection.
Artemisia has also been trialed “quite successfully” against diseases other than malaria, says Seeberger.
Studies found the Artemisia extract was effective in inhibiting the first SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) that surfaced in Asia in 2002, causing a respiratory illness.