Healthy living

"Dung of the devil" plant roots may fight swine flu

The swine flu virus, yesterday Remedy last used a century ago during Spanish flu outbreak

Chinese scientists have discovered that a remedy used during the Spainsh flu outbreak contains substances with powerful effects against the Swine flu virus - at least in the lab.

Although the plant, Ferula assa-foetida, has a pleasant smell when cooked, in its raw state it smells so bad that it has been dubbed the "devil's dung". Nice.

It has been used in so-called folk medicine as a treatment for a number of different ailments, although this is not scientifically proven.

It is grown mainly in Iran, Afghanistan and mainland China and was used as a possible remedy during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 which was responsible for many millions of deaths. Until now there has been no scientific evidence of its effect on the virus.

The scientists, led by Fang-Rong Chang and Yang-Chang Wu, reviewed a number of natural remedies as possible treatments for flu, finding that a particular extract of Ferula assa-foetida was active against the Swine flu virus.

Investigating further, they identified a group of chemical compounds in extracts of the plant that showed greater potency against influenza A (H1N1) than a prescription antiviral drug available for the flu.

"Overall, the present study has determined that sesquiterpene coumarins from F. assa-foetida may serve as promising lead components for new drug development against influenza A (H1N1) viral infection," the authors write.

The study was published in the Journal of Natural Products.

This article was published on Thu 10 September 2009

Image © CDC C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish

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