Artemisia annua has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine in China. The leaves were harvested in the summer, before the flowers appear, and dried for later use. The dried leaves are generally used in the treatment of fever, malaria, colds, diarrhea, as a digestive, and, externally, as a wound remedy. As recently as 1971 a Chinese research group isolated the active principle, the sesquiterpene lactone artemisinin, which proved to be very effective against the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and particularly towards chloroquine-resistant malaria.
In an attempt to overcome the frequent problem of many patients having a recurrence of the illness one month after the treatment, a number of derivatives of artemisinin have been developed (ethers, such as artemether and arteether, and esters, such as sodium artesunate and sodium arten-linate). Although artemisinin has been synthesized, this process is complex and not economically viable, and it is currently still extracted and isolated from the aerial parts of A. annua. Today arte-misinin and its derivatives represent a promising group of antimalarial agents.
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