Tamiflu, Star Anise(八角), Licorice(甘草), and SARS

  1. Tamiflu, a not-so-effective drug to treat virus infection, is now the front line drug to treat H5N1 bird flu. It was also used by the FDA to treat SARS back in 2003.
  2. Tamiflu has very similar chemcial structure to shikimic acid, which is abundant in the Chinese spice star anise (八角, picture on the right), in its natural form. Tamiflu is manufactured through a 10 step chemical process from shikimic acid.
  3. On a separate note, in July 2003, German scientists have shown that glycyrrhizin, the chemical that provides the sweetening flavor for Licorice, kills SARS virus in the test-tubes

Now, there is an interesting piece of fact: Star anise, is said to possess a "pungent, licorice-like flavor", according to Patent Baristas. I have eaten both, but I never noticed the connection. Star anise is widely used in beef soup and lamb stews in China. Licorice can be chewed like mint. Guangxi produces 80% of the world's star anise (rest from Yunnan, Vietnam neighborhood). Licorice grows in NE China and Inner Mongolia AR. (The root is usually used, sliced dried root in the figure, lower photo is the plant on top)

Perhaps we do have a chemical to fight bird flu, which can even serve as a wide-spectrum anti-viral drug, including AIDS (HIV). It is not Tamiflu, but could it be somewhere in the connection between licorice and star anise?

Now rush out to buy licorice tablet. It costs about RMB5 per bottle in Chinese Pharmacies and you can taste it like Polo mint candy. I had had a few when I boarded planes during the SARS terror era.

Update: WSJ reports on star anise as well. For temporary archive see here.

1 comment:

davesgonechina said...

If anyone is worried about bird flu and has no tamiflu on hand: get thee to a Hui restaurant and order some 大盘鸡! That stuff is loaded with star anise.