More than 1,200 plants are used to treat malaria and fevers, and the two main sources of anti-malarial drugs used today are derived from plants that have been used traditionally for hundreds or thousands of years.
In this article in the British Medical Journal, Merlin L Willcox and Gerard Bodeker provide an overview of research on herbal medicines used to treat malaria. Few trials of anti-malarial plants have been conducted, and studies often do not have enough detail on how medicines are prepared or sufficient data on the efficacy of such plants. Although most studies provide little information on side effects, some patients in one trial stopped the treatment because of minor side effects.
Prioritising species for future research can be facilitated using the researchers' 'IVmal' index of how widely used different plants are. This allowed the identification of 11 species of plants used to treat malaria in all three tropical regions — Latin America, Africa and Asia. Although such plants may be the best targets for future research, the authors suggest that variations between formulations of individual remedies — rather than the species they are derived from — should also be considered.