LJUBINJE, Bosnia/POTSDAM, Germany: After years of struggling for business in the sunny southeastern corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina, herbalist Petar Mihic's phone hasn't stopped ringing since German scientists discovered that sweet wormwood might help treat COVID-19.
The Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam conducted a study in cells in May which showed the common herb could help combat the disease that has claimed more than one million lives worldwide.
"In recent months, the demand has risen more than ever before. Many people have contacted me from Germany," Mihic told Reuters at his plantation near his hometown of Ljubinje.
There's a long way to go before sweet wormwood, or artemisia annua, is proven to help treat COVID-19.
Clinical trials are underway in Mexico, with results expected in the next 2-3 months, Peter Seeberger, director of the Max Planck Institute, told Reuters.
"Cell studies show that the pure substance artesunate as well as aqueous and ethanolic extracts of one-year-old wormwood act against the coronavirus at the cellular level," he said.
"The idea is to use these substances from wormwood in the body to block the multiplication of the virus and at the same time make the patient's illness milder."
But with few treatment options, some people and companies are prepared to bet on sweet wormwood before trial results.
While Mihic uses traditional techniques to prepare tea and extracts of wormwood to sell on the internet, Bosnia's leading pharmaceutical producer of herbal medicines is planning to launch similar products on a larger scale.
Pharmamed, based in central Bosnia, has conducted its own tests of the herb and is now awaiting approval from the country's scientific institute to go into production, it said.
"We will produce tea from sweet wormwood and aqueous and ethanolic extracts, which have so far shown the best effects in treating COVID-19," said Sejla Mehic, Pharmamed's development director. "When the studies are done, we plan to expand the programme to include solid forms (tablets and capsules)."
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Ljubinje and Lucas Kuite in Potsdam; Editing by Mark Potter)