In our post on the potential of aromatic plants in Meghalaya there was a mention of Artemisia annua or wormwood. It is a medicinal herb that has been tested and found favourable for growing in Meghalaya. The Zizira explorers were on to find out more. Read on to see where this path of discovery took us. Even as we were getting ready to dig out more info, a news item caught our attention. We are producing a part of it here:
Artemisinin, the mainline drug now used to treat malaria — and itself a plant extract — works by destroying the malarial parasite Source
[bctt tweet="Artemisinin, the mainline drug now used to treat malaria — works by destroying the malarial parasite" username="Zizira_Cb"] This brought excitement in the team. Why? Artemisinin is an extract of Artemisia annua! It became all the more important for the Zizira explorers to find out more.
What Exactly is Artemisia Annua?
An annual plant, it has been used in Chinese herbal medicines for centuries. Its bloom looks like a tallish cluster of tiny yellow flowers. A chemical in its essential oil called artemisinin is said to be effective in combination with other drugs for treating simple forms of malaria. In fact, a WHO report recommends a combination of artemisinin with other compounds for the treatment of Malaria. So, looks like artemisia's essential oil is used in the pharmaceutical industry.Download a copy of the 54 medicinal plants & herbal remedies of Meghalaya.
Is it Hard to Grow?
It is propagated from seed and from seed to maturity Artemisia annua takes 7 to 8 months. The best time to harvest the herbage is when the plant begins to flower. It is easy to harvest as the whole plant is cut. The herbage is then chopped into pieces and dried in the sun. Once dry, the leaves can be separated from the branches by vigorously shaking or thrashing them. The dried leaves are then put away for storage.
Did you know? For best yields, the dried leaves need to be stored for at least a year at 20°C with a moderate humidity. Source
Artemisia annua yields 45 tonnes of fresh herbage per hectare and prefers a warm climate. Rain of not less than 60 cm during the time of growth results in good yield. Light and well-drained soil is an added plus.
So, What is the WOW Factor?
Coming back to the WOW factor, a news article on the usage of regular kitchen herbs for treating disease highlights the menace of malaria as it kills 7,25,000 people annually. Making mosquitoes the "world's deadliest animal. Till date, the only effective drug used to treat malaria is a plant extract, artemisinin. It works by destroying the malaria parasite. Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), are used for the treatment of malarial parasites. Dr. Govindrajan Padmanabhan, former director of the Indian Institute of Science and biochemist, holds that
curcumin (a compound of turmeric) has a way of triggering the body's immune system to produce antibodies that can buffer damage by the malarial parasite,
but wait there's more! Curcumin alone can't treat malaria, but we found that when infused with artemisinin, animals have recovered with half the artemisinin currently used in standard drug for treating malaria. Dr Padmanabhan will be conducting a test with nearly 100 patients. Making it a rare trial to follow the clinical drug-testing system for testing a herbal extract in India.
Opportunity for farmers
Artemisia annua market trends
Rise in demand from the previous year (%)
Artemisia annua required (Hectare)
Source The increase in artemisinin demand from 197 metric tons (MT) in 2015 to 229 MT in 2016 is driven by an increase in quality assured artemisinin-based combination (QAACTs) procured in 2016. The global demand for antimalarial drugs in 2015 was estimated at 1.3 billion treatment courses and the demand is expected to grow to 1.4 billion by 2018.
How will This Help Meghalaya Farmers?
Now that we know how Artemisia annua can be used, let us look at the prospect of it being grown by the farmers. In July 2015, the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority inked a MoU with the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) to connect Meghalaya's farmers to the herbal industry that could provide a better livelihood for the farmers. On the eve of the event, Dr. Anil Kumar Tripathi, Director, CIMAP, shared his insights on the possibilities of growing medicinal plants in Meghalaya.
Meghalaya is the natural habitat of aromatic and medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua from which the most effective anti-malarial drug artemisinin is extracted. Currently, only one-fourth of the country's requirement of Artemisia annua is produced in India. The rest is imported. Artemisia grows in the wild and can be cultivated in degraded lands where it can be harvested 2-3 times a year. The important point is that the farmer must have a buy-back arrangement and we need to help create that bridge," said Dr Anil Kumar Tripathi, Director, CIMAP Source
What can the farmers do now? The farmers of the state have to focus on cultivating these medicinal and aromatic plants so as to have a sustainable supply and meet the demand of pharmaceutical industries. Zizira is spreading this message to the farmers of Northeast India. We are currently going through an uphill task in the world of medicinal and aromatic plants. Learning each day and finally hoping to carve out our very own brand of medicinal or aromatic products from Northeast India. Join us in our journey as we explore Northeast India, subscribe to our newsletter and get all our updates straight to your inbox.