'Devil's Dung' Plant May Fight Swine Flu

Compounds in Plant Tackle H1N1 Flu Virus in Lab Tests

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 11, 2009 -- A plant commonly called "devil's dung" for its foul smell may have flu-fighting properties that include H1N1 flu, new research shows.

The plant, which has the scientific name of Ferula assa-foetida, grows mainly in Iran, Afghanistan, and mainland China. It's long been used in folk medicine in that part of the world.

Researchers in Taiwan recently analyzed the compounds in the plant and exposed them to an H1N1 influenza virus in test tubes.

Some of those plant compounds showed stronger antiviral properties than an antiviral flu drug called amantadine, according to the scientists, who included Chia-Lin Lee of the Graduate Institute of Natural Products at the College of Pharmacy of Taiwan's Kaohsiun Medical University.

Lee's team didn't test the "devil's dung" compounds against flu in people or in lab animals. And their lab tests were done before the current H1N1 swine flu outbreak began, so the virus they studied was in the same family of viruses as the "swine flu" that's made many people sick, but it's probably not the exact same virus.

Writing in the Journal of Natural Products, the researchers note that a standardized extract from the plant may deserve further study. But they're not recommending any products that contain that ingredient.

Earlier this year, the FDA warned the public to be wary of any product that claims to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure the H1N1 swine flu.

Lee's study was funded by Taiwan's National Science Council and Department of Health.