Tea Time – Artemisia annua in a bag

malaria-tea-sm.jpgRecently in a small provisions shop in Abuja I bought a box of ‘Anti Malarial Tea’ bags. The 20 bags/sachets weighed 2 grams each. The instructions were to use “3 times daily, one bag each time.” The only ingredient listed was “Herba artemisiae annuae.”

Indications for the use of this dried herb product were as follows: “The Product can be used to eliminate plasmodium agamous body. It can also be used to control symptom and kill plasmodium. It has similar effect on resist virulent chloroquine malarias.”

The manufacturing date was blank, but the espiry date was listed as ‘2014.’ Storage was recommended as “Store in shade, light-avoided and airproofed.” In fact the tea bags were sealed in a silver colored bag.

This product was obviously not moving fast, and there was little likelihood that it was competing with orthodox antimalarial drugs. Still one might be concerned about monotherapy and drug resistance.

A recent article in the journal Molecules did address the potency of artemisia annua in different forms of extraction. The researchers found that …

the ancient Chinese methods that involved either soaking, (followed by wringing) or pounding, (followed by squeezing) the fresh herb are more effective in producing artemisinin-rich extracts than the usual current method of preparing herbal teas from the dried herb. The concentrations of artemisinin in the extracts was up to 20-fold higher than that in a herbal tea prepared from the dried herb, but the amount of total artemisinin extracted by the Chinese methods was much less than that removed in the herbal tea. While both extracts exhibited potent in vitro activities against Plasmodium falciparum, only the pounded juice contained sufficient artemisinin to suppress parasitaemia in P. berghei infected mice.

Here again one wonders if using the dried herb as tea would contribute to parasite resistance.  Another group of researchers tested the tea on malaria in mice and found that, “The tea does not decrease the parasitaemia fast enough.”

Herbal medicines form the base for many remedies throughout the world. Although a website for the actual company named on the box, Xiamen Jianxi Health Product Co., Ltd., was not found, another site listed 70 different teas including –

  • Eye Bright Tea
  • Kidney & Liver Mind/Care/Flush Tea
  • Anti-Hypertensive Tea
  • Anti Malarial Tea
  • Refreshment & Heat Clearing Tea
  • Cough Sputum Removing Tea
  • Stomach & Heart Burn Relieving Tea

In our quest for universal access to and appropriate use of ACTs, we forget that people still have many treatment alternatives.  Until we can make quality ACTs cheaply and easily available in endemic countries, people who suspect they have malaria will make all efforts – whether teas, antibiotics, analgesics, inefficacious malaria drugs and the like – to address their problems.

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