ARTEMISIA DURING THE VIETNAM WAR
Artemisia annua gained prominence during the Vietnam War. Viêt-Cong, which operated in swamps and rainforests, lost more soldiers to mosquito bites (Malaria) than to American bullets. Faced with this situation, Ho Chi Min asked for help from its ally China, who massively distributed Artemisia. This contributed greatly to the victory of the North Vietnamese armed forces.
Researchers at the Chines Materia Medica Institute found an area of China that did not report any cases of malaria. When they investigated, they found that its inhabitants drank a decoction of Artemisia annua at the first symptoms of malaria.
In fact, wild Artemisia has been used for millennia in many parts of China and is still used to treat fevers and malaria. It was easy to get tons of this dried herb for the Vietcong. Taken as an infusion, it worked wonderfully. Americans, stuck with their less effective quinine (chloroquine)-derived pills, never knew what happened.
As early as 1967, faced with a strong resurgence of malaria in the southern provinces, Chinese authorities launched a national program involving several hundred Chinese scientists. Part of this project, called “Program 523”, aimed to explore traditional Chinese herbal medicine.
More than 1000 samples of different plants have been studied using modern methods and the isolation of the active principles is monitored by antimalarial tests in animal models.
Many active substances have been isolated, for example yingzhaosu, from the traditional antimalarial drugs Dichroa febrifuga and Arbotrys uncinatus. So it appears that these activities started several years before the Vietnam War and the Vietcong's call for help. And that the scientific activities were part of a national program and not hidden somewhere in the cellars.
Reference: Xiao-Tian Liang, We-Shuo Fang, Medical Chemistry of Natural Bioactive Products. Edited by the Chinese Academy of Medicinal Sciences in Beijing.