CNAP Artemisia Project

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glandular trichome on the plant surface: the site of artemisinin production
Artemisia annua L. (A. annua)

Quick Facts:

  • Artemisia has been used in China to treat malaria for over 400 years
  • Chinese scientists isolated and chemically characterised the malaria drug artemisinin from Artemisia in 1972
  • Artemisia makes and stores artemisinin in special plant glands
  • Artemisia's Chinese name is Qing Hao and its English name is Sweet Annie or Sweet Wormwood


Artemisia annua L. is an annual aromatic herb originating from Asia . The 184 species of the Artemisia genus are members of the family Asteraceae, (formerly known as Compositae), and include a range of plants that have been used in medicine, perfumes and flavourings such as French tarragon, absinthe, southernwood and mugwort. Artemisia forms part of the natural steppe vegetation in China and extends as a native species from Southern Siberia through to Vietnam and Northern India . It now grows wild in Europe , North and South America . Artemisinin is synthesised and stored in specialised groups of cells, known as glandular trichomes which protrude from the epidermis of leaves, stems and flowers of the plant.

Artemisinin yield

Until recently most artemisinin is thought to have been harvested from wild-crafted natural stands of Artemisia. Now it is grown as a crop in China , Vietnam and a number of countries in Africa including Tanzania and Kenya . The crop is harvested near to flowering when artemisinin concentration is highest and leaf biomass is greatest. It is dried and the leaf and flower tissue are separated from the stems. Artemisinin is usually extracted using solvents such as hexane or petroleum ether.

The yield of dry leaf per hectare varies from 1.5 to 2 tons dry material per hectare. It usually yields 0.5– 1.2% artemisinin, 50 – 80% of which can be extracted. Estimates of typical yield per hectare therefore vary significantly, but reports indicate a yield of 6 – 14 kg of artemisinin per hectare can be expected from well managed plantations . Yield of artemisinin is highly heritable. Development of cultivars of Artemisia with high yield of artemisinin will both reduce the costs of cultivation and the costs of extraction associated with artemisinin production. It will also produce better returns to farmers who grow the crop.


Artemisia has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The first mention of the name Qing Hao is in a silk book excavated from a tomb from 168 BC. In 340 AD the first record of its application for treatment of fevers appeared in a medical book, “Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergency Treatment”. In 1596 the famous Chinese materia medica “Ben Cao Gang Mu” described its use for treatment of chills and fevers caused by malaria. In 1967, the Chinese government began a systematic screen of plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine with a specific focus on malaria treatments. Chinese scientists isolated and chemically characterised the active principle, artemisinin, in 1972.


“Artemisia” in Book Series “ Medicinal and Aromatic Plants - Industrial Profiles” edited by Colin W. Wright, published London , Taylor and Francis 2002, ISBN 0-415-27212-12

"Ensuring sustained ACT production and reliable artemisinin supply."Jean-Marie Kindermans, Jacques Pilloy, Piero Olliaro and Melba Gomes 2007. Malaria Journal 2007, 6:125

"Artemisia annua: the plant, production, processing and medical applications" Peter Griffee and Per Diemer

"Artemisia, agriculture and malaria In Africa: the interplay of tradition, science and public policy". Dana Dalrymple 2006



cnetre for novel agricultural products - CNAP department of biology - unversity of york
Department of Biology