The flu flower
If ever a cliche was worth its salt it is that well-worn piece of homespun, pre 21st century, wisdom; you can’t judge a book by its cover. Who would think by looking at it that a beautiful box jellyfish is one of the most venomous creatures in the world? You might never guess from appearances too that a chilli, any more than a tomato, could threaten to cause your head to explode if you bite into it. It is unlikely too that you would look at a willow tree and guess that it harbours powerful pain relief. Equally, you probably never guessed from his appearance that the sandal-wearing neighbour with the long hair and Japanese tattoo who lets his dog relieve itself on your lawn is actually an award-winning climate change scientist. Life is full of many instances where the outward appearance gives no hint what lies within and a new study has confirmed that honeysuckle fits into that category.
Growing in many gardens in Australia and around the world you will find a honeysuckle plant (Lonicera japonica). The berries of the plant are poisonous but the flowers have a delicious aroma and the flowers, leaves, and stems have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a long time to treat colds and fever. Now researchers have conducted trials on honeysuckle that have them claiming it could be a virological penicillin.
The research focussed on a microRNA present in honeysuckle dubbed MIR2911 and its effect on influenza A viruses. There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B and C. Human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics. Whereas influenza B viruses live only in humans, influenza A viruses find a reservoir in animals from which they can spread to the human population. The devastating Spanish Flu outbreak of 1919 was due to an influenza A virus. Swine flu and bird flu are also of the influenza A type.
The research first found that MIR2911 acts to stop influenza A viruses from replicating by attaching to the viruses and blocking viral genes PB2 and NS1. They then prepared a decocotion of honeysuckle tea by taking 10 grams of honeysuckle flowers and boiling them in 100ml of water for 30 minutes resulting in a decoction (tea) volume of 50mls. Tests showed that MIR2911 survived this decoction process.
This tea was then given to mice with influenza A virus and tracking methods allowed the researchers to establish that MIR2911 did make it from the intestines into the lungs, blood, and other tissues of the mice. In those mice with influenza infections including H1N1, H5N1 and H7N9, the honeysuckle reduced viral replication, prevented viral infection-induced weight loss, and even reduced mortality caused by infection.
Human trials need to be done, although thousands of years of TCM use should count for something, but the broad-spectrum nature of the honeysuckle effects is what has led to the researchers calling it a virological penicillin. The researchers expect that isolated MIR2911 products as well as enriched honeysuckle decoctions will soon be widely used for influenza A infections.
Maybe honeysuckle will become known one day as the flu flower, and if it can alleviate flu then that would be a sweet smelling result indeed.
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