Herbs and Baiwei|Artemisinin and Artemisia annua

 [Fangcao Baiwei]   Fangcao, Qiqi, and herbs are fragrant. Traditional Chinese medicine is also called Chinese herbal medicine because it is mainly based on plants. From Shennong’s tasting of all kinds of herbs to Li Shizhen’s “Compendium of Materia Medica”, the people’s exploration of Chinese herbal medicines has never stopped, and more than 5,000 varieties have been used. They are either roots, stems, leaves, or flowers and fruits. …

“Artemisinin – a gift from traditional Chinese medicine to the world.”

     In 2015, Tu Youyou represented the field of traditional Chinese medicine at the Nobel Prize awarding ceremony for the first time, proving to the world the infinite potential of traditional Chinese medicine. After two years of discovery of artemisinin, more than 2,000 prescriptions including internal and external use, plants, animals, and mineral medicines were collected. “. “A grasp of Qinghao, soaked in two liters of water, twist to extract the juice, and take it.” This is the record of Qinghao in the treatment of malaria in the medical book “Elbow Hou Bei Ji Fang” written by the Eastern Jin physician Ge Hong. It is this sentence. Over a thousand years, Tu Youyou was inspired to successfully discover artemisinin.

     Chongqing Youyang enjoys the reputation of “the hometown of Artemisia annua in the world”. It is the world’s most important production base of traditional Chinese medicine Artemisia annua, and it is also the enrichment area of ​​high artemisinin content in the world, with an average artemisinin content as high as 8‰. Artemisia annua can now be said to be a blindly popular Chinese medicine. At this time, some netizens said, “Isn’t artemisinin extracted from Artemisia annua? What does it have to do with Artemisia annua? Artemisia annua does not contain artemisinin at all.” To answer this question We have to talk about the past and present life of the traditional Chinese medicine Artemisia annua.

     Open the “Chinese Pharmacopoeia”, the traditional Chinese medicine Artemisia annua is the dry aerial part of Artemisia annua L. of the Compositae. Cut when the flowers bloom in autumn, remove the old stems, and dry in the shade. Its aroma is specific, the taste is slightly bitter, and it has the effects of clearing deficiency heat, removing bone steaming, relieving summer heat, cutting malaria, and relieving jaundice. And now the botanical Artemisia caruifolia Buch.-Ham. ex Roxb. Although the effect is similar to the traditional Chinese medicine Artemisia annua, it does not contain artemisinin and has no effect on malaria.

Plant: Artemisia annua L. (the traditional Chinese medicine Artemisia annua)

Plant: Artemisia caruifolia Buch.-Ham. ex Roxb. (non-Chinese medicine Artemisia annua)

     Artemisia annua as medicine was first seen in the silk book “Fifty-two Prescriptions for Diseases” unearthed from the Han Tomb No. 3 in Mawangdui. In the Song Dynasty, Shen Kuo mentioned in “Mengxi Bi Tan”: “There are many types of Artemisia annua, such as Artemisia annua, and there are two kinds of them. There are yellow ones and blue ones. .”, “Mengxi Bi Tan” also mentioned: “There are sometimes one or two plants among the Artemisia clumps, which are completely blue in color”, indicating that the yellow ones are more common, which is consistent with the geographical distribution of Artemisia annua almost all over the country now. However, Artemisia annua in botany is scattered in low-altitude, wet riparian sands, valleys, forest edges, roadsides and coastal areas. In the “Compendium of Materia Medica”, Li Shizhen, a famous physician in the Ming Dynasty, for the first time separated the green and yellow of Artemisia annua separately. ‘s origin.

     Ge Hong, a physician from the Eastern Jin Dynasty, clearly recorded the anti-malarial effect of Artemisia annua in “Elbow Hou Bei Ji Fang”, and Tu Youyou successfully extracted the anti-malarial ingredient artemisinin from it. The description of Artemisia annua and the shape and smell of Artemisia annua in “Compendium of Materia Medica” are consistent with the present Artemisia annua. At the same time, Artemisia annua has a wider geographical distribution and richer resources and easier to collect, so Artemisia annua should be the main source of ancient Artemisia annua. Some scholars have investigated the medicinal materials of Artemisia annua on the market and found that almost all of them come from Artemisia annua, which also confirms this view.

Chinese medicine Qinghao decoction pieces

     So why is the name Qinghao not used in botany? The first is that Li Shizhen established Artemisia annua as a separate medicine; the second is that the earliest Japanese scholars put Artemisia annua containing artemisinin under Artemisia annua, which does not contain Artemisia annua when they marked the Latin name of plants for traditional Chinese medicine. The vegetarian Artemisia carvifolia was placed under the item of Artemisia annua, which caused today’s doubts.

     The plant Artemisia annua and the plant Artemisia annua belong to the same family and belong to the same family and look very similar, so how to simply distinguish the two? There are a few tips below. First, the growth environment assists judgment. Artemisia annua is more likely to be found in humid places. Artemisia annua is relatively short, generally 0.3-1.5 meters high; Artemisia annua is mostly born in arid places, about 1-2 meters tall. The second is the leaf shape judgment. The leaflets of Artemisia annua are fine and densely serrated, and the leaflets of Artemisia annua are wide and sparse. The third is fruit shape judgment. Artemisia annua inflorescence hemispherical, slightly larger; Artemisia annua inflorescence similar to ellipsoid and smaller.

Contrast chart of plant Artemisia annua and plant Artemisia annua

Comparison of inflorescences of Artemisia annua and Artemisia annua

     Due to various reasons, plants and traditional Chinese medicines often have the same name and different names. I also hope that the general public will consult more Chinese medicine professionals when picking and using Chinese herbal medicines, and only when they use the right medicine can they have a really good curative effect.


 [1] Tu Youyou. The discovery of artemisinin, the gift of traditional Chinese medicine to the world [R]. Sweden: Nobel Prize Foundation, 2015.

 [2] National Pharmacopoeia Commission. Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China [S]. Beijing: China Pharmaceutical Science and Technology Press, 2020: 207.

 [3] Zhang Yanzhen. Medicinal History and Variety Investigation of Artemisia annua [J]. Chinese Journal of Pharmacy, 1981, (4): 5-8.

 [4] Liu Bing, Liu Su. Rediscrimination of Artemisia annua, Artemisia annua and Artemisinin Progenitors [CP/OL]. 2016.8.29/2022.10.23.

Recommended pharmacist

     Zhou Ming, a Chinese pharmacist, won the third prize in the Hunan Provincial Traditional Chinese Medicine Skills Competition during his school days. He won the first overall and the first in the single item of Chinese medicine identification in the Chinese medicine skills competition held by the Pharmacy Department in 2021. He has successively won the Hengyang Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital. Engaged in the preparation of Chinese and Western medicines, currently engaged in drug production in the preparation room.

Source: Zhou Ming, Hengyang Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital

For the picture: from the Internet

Editor: Long Shijun