Artemisinin has startling effects on malaria patients; in its first clinical trial, all 18 patients given the herb felt better within hours and recovered within days.
Chinese herbalists have used the leaves of the Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood shrub, to treat malaria for more than 1,500 years. In the 1960s, artemisinin was identified as the active anti-malarial ingredient.
Today artemisinin is regarded as the best drug against malaria, a deadly disease that kills someone every 30 seconds, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria infects 300 million to 500 million people each year, killing more than a million, and there is no vaccine against it.However, small supplies of artemisinin have led to fake substitute drugs, some of which have caused deaths. Fakes containing no artemisinin have been seized in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Some 97 percent of the fakes are simply chalk.