Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 4(21), pp. 2256-2263, 4 November, 2010
Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/JMPR
ISSN 1996-0875 ©2010 Academic Journals
Full Length Research Paper
A study on elemental contents of medicinally
important species of Artemisia L. (Asteraceae) found in
Muhammad Ashraf1 and Muhammad Qasim Hayat1,2* and Abdul Samad Mumtaz2
1NUST Centre of Virology and Immunology, National University of Science and Technology, H-12, Islamabad, Pakistan.
2Department of Plant Sciences, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Accepted 7 September, 2010
Genus Artemisia is cosmopolitan in distribution and its several species are being used in folk
therapeutic treatments worldwide. In this study, elemental compositions of seventeen indigenous
species (A. scoparia, A. absinthium, A. indica, A. santolinifolia, A. maritime, A. vulgaris, A. japonica, A.
nilagirica, A. herba-alba, A. annua, A. brevifolia, A. moorcroftiana, A. dracunculus, A. roxburghiana and
A. dubia) that are commonly used against ailments in Pakistan were studied for the first time through
atomic absorption spectrophotometry methods. In this study we observed nine trace elements namely
Zn, Cu, Cr, Ni, Co, Cd, Pb, Mn, Fe and four major elements that are K, Na, Ca and Mg in these species.
Further it is observed that in few sepses the concentration of heavy metals are found over and above
the normal concentration levels than the international safety standards prescribed for medicinal plants.
This study also discusses the impacts of heavy metal toxicity in humans.
Key words: Artemisia, elemental analysis, medicinal herbs, medicinal plants, heavy metal poisoning.
The cosmopolitan genus Artemisia L. (Anthemideae:
Asteraceae) comprises about 500 species (this number
varies depending upon the authors: McArthur, 1979;
Mabberley, 1990; Ling, 1982, 1991a, b, 1994, 1995a, b;
Bremer and Humphries, 1993; Oberprieler, 2001; Valles
and McArthur, 2001; Valles and Garnatge, 2005). Many
species are economically important as food, forage,
ornamentals or soil stabilizers in disturbed habitats.
Some taxa are toxic or allergenic and others are invasive
weeds which can adversely affect the harvests (Pareto,
1985; Tan et al., 1998). In addition, several studies have
been done all across the world to unveil its medicinal
importance (Table 1).
The effectiveness of medicinal plants for therapeutic
reason is often accounted for by their organic
constituents like flavonoides, alkaloids, essential oils,
*Corresponding author. E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: +92-333-5232392
vitamins, glycosides, etc., and little attention has been
paid to their inorganic constituents (Desideri et al., 2010).
Excess doses or prolonged intake of medicinal plants can
lead to accumulation of trace elements which cause
various health problems (WHO, 1992; Sharma et al.,
2009). In this context, elemental contents of the medicinal
plants are very important and herbal preparations need to
be screened for toxic trace elements (Schroeder, 1965;
Somer, 1974; Liang et al., 2004; Arceusz et al., 2010).
Recently several studies on the elemental constituents
of medicinal plants have enhanced the awareness of
trace elements in products (Caldas and Machado, 2004
in Brazil; Wong et al., 1993 in China; Sharma et al., 2009
in India; Sheded et al., 2006 in Egypt; Jabeen et al., 2010
in Pakistan; Koe and Sari, 2009, Basgel and Erdemoglu,
2006 in Turkey; Ajasa et al., 2004 in Nigeria; Kanias and
Loukis, 1987 in Greece). These studies show that
essential metals can also result in toxic effects when the
metal ingestion is in high amounts, whereas non-
essential trace metals are toxic even in very low
concentrations for human health.
Ashraf et al. 2257
Table 1. Medicinally important species of Artemisia.
Skin burns, Ear pain
Malaria, Abdominal pain, Helminths
Fever and Moxa
Malaria, breast cancer
Leprosy, hysteria asthma, scabies, ulcer
Neghahban et al., 2004; Hayat et al., 2009c
Qurashi et al., 2006; Hayat et al., 2009c,d
Bunyapraphatsara, 1986; Farnsworth, 1992
Ahmed et al., 2006; Hayat et al., 2009c
Valecha et al., 1994; Aziz, 1996
Khan et al., 2003; Anderson, 1988
Valecha et al., 1994; Hayat et al., 2009c,d
Valecha et al., 1994
Iriadam et al., 2006; Hayat et al., 2009c
Duke et al., 1994; Singh and Lai, 2001
Iqbal et al., 2004; Gilani et al., 2003
Hayat et al., 2009d
Aglarova et al., 2008; Hayat et al., 2009c
Hussain et al., 2004; Hayat et al., 2009c,d
Anisuzzaman et al., 2007; Sapkota, 2008
Use of plants from the genus Artemisia is fairly
common in herbal medicine in different parts of the world,
and its use goes back beyond recorded history (Hayat
2009c; Ashraf et al., 2010), but published reports are
scanty with respect to their elemental constituents. Only
A. elegantissima has a published analysis (Kaneez et al.,
1998). The primary aim of this study is to establish the
trace (Zn, Cu, Cr, Ni, Co, Cd, Pb, Mn and Fe) and major
(K, Na, Ca and Mg) elemental levels in 17 of the most
medicinally important Artemisia species which are
reported in literature. This will establish whether the use
of these Artemisia species is safe for the consumers
according to the world health standards (Bowen, 1966;
FAO/WHO, 1984; NRC, 1984; WHO, 1992; WHO, 2005).
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Field trips were arranged through out the Pakistan in order to
collect Artemisia species in previously reported localities by
Ghafoor (2002) and Sterwart (1972) from January 2007 to
December 2009. The identification and nomenclature of these
plants was based on The Flora of Pakistan (Ghafoor, 2002). Detail
of voucher specimens is presented in our previous studies (Hayat
et al., 2009a, b).
Plant samples belongs to 17 Artemisia species were washed with
deionized water and oven dried at 80°C for 2 days, and then
subjected to crushing and grinding for fine powder formation.
Two gram powder of each plant sample was dissolved in 10 ml of
nitric acid for over night and then heated until the reddish brown
fumes disappeared. 4 ml of perchloric acid was mixed to the above
solution and heated for 5 min then 10 ml of aquaregia was added
and heated to small volume and up to marked 250 ml by adding
deionized water (Jabeen et al., 2010).
Atomic absorption spectrophotometery
Major and trace elemental concentrations were determined using
flame atomic absorption spectroscopy using Perkin Elmer AAnalysit
700 system at National Center of Excellence in Geology, University
of Peshawar, Pakistan. The instrument was calibrated with
specified standards in which Artemisia sample were ranged. After
every ten sample run the credibility of instrument is again checked.
Five independent runs are carried out for all the elements of the
every sampled plant.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Potassium ions are the most abundant cation in the
human body (Osorio, 1999). The array of K values varies
between 11458 ppm in A. stenocephala and 18375 ppm
in A. tournifotiana (Table 2 and Figure 2-B). All the
examined species gave evidence for high K contents and
our findings matched with the earlier studies on healing
plants (Badri and Hamed, 2000; Ozcan and Akbulut,
2007; Jabeen et al., 2010).
A healthy human body contains 90 to 130 g of Na
(Robert, 2006). The lowest concentration of Na that is
1005 ppm was found in A. japonica and maximum
2258 J. Med. Plant. Res.
Table 2. Average concentration (ppm) (n=5) along with standard deviation of the elements in studied Artemisia species.
Species Pb Cu Zn
13.200±0.23 09.525±1.64 35.730±0.90 10.250±0.09 0.950±0.75 47.500±0.95 0018.730±0.84 11.300±0.21 0.400±0.35 1078.100±0.28 18238.00±0.34 6480.000±0.37 0760.000±0.34
00.525±0.14 11.600±1.47 30.300±0.13 07.875±0.50 0.380±0.03 27.500±0.93 0935.630±0.14 07.380±0.44 0.230±0.79 1391.900±0.75 14438.00±0.28 5462.500±0.11 1480.000±0.82
08.850±0.82 08.975±0.31 38.650±0.06 09.800±0.75 0.530±0.06 39.230±0.14 0695.000±0.55 05.950±0.83 2.030±0.11 1187.500±0.83 17513.00±0.33 8695.000±0.30 2246.300±0.50
A. stanosephala 00.150±0.35 07.300±0.36 23.430±1.03 03.425±0.26 0.530±0.43 62.380±0.82 0504.380±0.23 03.000±0.90 1.250±0.93 1083.800±0.49 11458.00±5.02 5615.000±0.34 0742.500±0.88
00.100±0.28 12.500±1.84 19.600±0.73 01.325±0.44 0.400±0.69 23.350±0.23 0501.250±0.49 02.050±0.29 1.080±0.68 1010.000±0.59 14338.00±0.49 1025.000±0.41 0157.500±0.74
25.800±1.95 13.600±0.46 31.700±0.70 05.375±0.41 0.500±0.79 41.650±0.05 0393.130±0.67 00.000±0.14 2.050±0.27 1118.800±0.52 15325.00±0.67 7177.500±0.67 0910.000±0.12
01.750±0.20 07.275±0.82 18.680±0.74 07.375±0.83 0.350±0.33 16.180±0.36 0264.380±0.74 05.530±0.71 0.750±0.72 1005.000±2.14 17313.00±0.09 0577.500±0.12 0260.000±0.60
09.700±0.74 10.050±0.62 19.830±0.75 09.400±0.25 5.250±0.63 39.630±0.20 0936.250±0.84 03.730±0.43 2.830±0.12 2368.800±0.08 14150.00±0.74 1850.000±0.91 0475.000±0.71
03.950±2.63 13.330±0.76 32.380±0.49 06.225±0.86 0.980±0.84 42.500±0.36 0336.880±0.94 05.050±0.74 0.780±0.96 1329.400±0.98 17463.00±0.94 5172.500±0.83 1357.500±0.31
10.400±0.35 21.730±0.69 24.400±0.60 15.780±0.67 0.900±0.42 75.250±0.40 3126.900±0.36 05.550±0.25 3.650±0.05 1201.900±7.49 15450.00±0.45 0800.000±0.31 0077.500±0.81
08.700±0.60 13.300±2.70 29.350±0.13 06.975±0.22 1.000±0.84 51.800±0.38 0560.000±0.89 06.430±0.58 1.000±0.18 1519.400±0.88 18375.00±0.21 10503.00±0.76 1665.000±0.50
08.700±3.59 88.700±0.89 25.900±2.41 09.050±0.93 0.930±0.35 40.430±0.69 0765.000±0.45 05.280±0.27 1.980±0.45 1105.000±0.48 15663.11±0.23 0755.000±0.54 0302.500±0.98
12.180±0.63 09.900±0.98 13.730±0.90 03.400±0.74 1.400±0.18 35.250±0.70 1056.300±0.42 00.100±0.84 2.080±0.11 1067.500±3.92 15875.00±0.42 0897.500±0.60 2072.500±0.47
A. roxburghiana 13.050±0.67 18.080±1.13 20.680±0.41 03.850±0.65 0.780±0.75 40.300±0.80 0415.000±0.78 03.280±0.56 0.330±0.70 1030.000±0.05 14913.00±0.78 8778.800±0.41 1420.000±0.21
11.030±2.62 14.300±0.51 33.850±0.93 08.150±0.35 1.200±0.44 55.950±0.58 0595.630±0.40 06.830±0.39 1.380±0.37 1158.800±0.69 17313.00±0.10 10693.00±0.18 1733.800±0.91
09.550±0.39 10.050±0.53 13.850±0.74 03.300±0.23 0.650±0.17 44.650±0.44 0346.880±0.48 01.430±0.03 0.280±0.21 1107.500±0.66 15800.00±0.55 3235.000±0.35 2927.500±0.14
06.925±0.43 26.930±0.97 20.230±0.73 28.280±0.87 0.050±0.49 69.530±0.71 3048.100±0.29 08.930±0.16 1.850±0.15 1873.100±0.22 13913.00±0.45 0715.000±0.40 0055.000±0.45
content of Na was projected as 2368.8 ppm in
Artemisia herba-alba (Table 2 and Figure 1-H). All
species show moderate accumulation of Na
except A. herba-alba and Artemisia turanica.
One of the most resourceful and common
signalling agent in the human body are calcium
ions (Berridge et al., 1998). Artemisia dubia
showed the higher Ca content that is 10693 ppm
as compared to the other species and A. japonica
results the minimum concentration that is 577.5
ppm (Table 2 and Figure 2-D). High concentration
of Ca is considered important in medicinal plants
because of its role in bones, teeth, muscles (Chizzola and Franz, 1996; Lavilla et al., 1999;
Cr Cd Mn Fe Ni Co Na K Ca Mg
system and heart functions (Brody, 1994). Studied
plants showed satisfactory
accumulation in genus Artemisia.
Mg is the fourth most abundant element in the
human body and is essential to good health
(WHO, 2009). The content of Mg ranged between
55.00 ppm in Artemisia turanicum and 2927.50
ppm in. Artemisia incisa (Table 2 and Figure 2-E).
This result signified that the examined herbal
plants showed a high content of Mg (except
Artemisia brevifolia and Artemisia turanica) which
is in an agreement with the previous findings
level of Ca
Ajasa et al., 2004).
The content of Zn ranged between 13.73 ppm in
Artemisia kurramensis and 38.65 ppm in
Artemisia biennis (Table 2 and Figure 1-B). The
maximum tolerable zinc level has been set at 500
ppm for cattle and 300 ppm for sheep (National
Research Council, 1984). The permissible limit set
by FAO/WHO (1984) in edible plants was 27.4
ppm. After comparison with the metal limits those
proposed by FAO/WHO (1984) it is found that
only Artemisia stenocephala, Abronia maritima, A.
brevifolium), Artemisia persica, Artemisia biennis,
A. brevifolia (S.
Ashraf et al. 2259
Figure 2. Concentration levels of elements in Artemisia.
A. roxburghiana, A. incisa and A. turanica (S. turanicum)
are within this limit while all others Artemisia accumulate
Zn above this limit. However, for medicinal plants the
WHO (2005) limits have not yet been established for Zn.
According to Bowen (1966) and Allaway (1968)
estimates, the range of Zn in agricultural products should
be between 15 to 200 ppm.
The lowest content of Cu that is 7.275 ppm was in A.
japonica and the maximum concentration was estimated
as 88.700 ppm in A. persica (Table 2 and Figure 1-C).
The permissible limit set by FAO/WHO (1984) in edible
plants was 3.00 ppm. After comparison of the metal limit
in the studied medicinal plants with those proposed by
FAO/WHO (1984), it was found that all plants accumulate
Cu above this limit. However, for medicinal plants, the
WHO (2005) limits had not yet been established for Cu.
Although in medicinal plants, permissible limits for Cu set
by China and Singapore, were 20 and 150 ppm
respectively (WHO, 2005). According to Bowen findings
(1966) and Allaway (1968) explanations, the range of Cu
2260 J. Med. Plant. Res.
Figure 1. Concentration levels of elements in Artemisia. Alphabets A to Q represents the studied species
(see Figure 2)
in agricultural products should be between 4 to 15 ppm.
Reddy and Reddy (1997) pointed out that the range of Cu
contents in the 50 medicinally important leafy material
growing in India were 17.6 to 57.3 ppm.
The range of Cr varied between 1.325 ppm in A. maritima
and 28.280 ppm in S. turanicum (Table 2 and Figure 1-D).
Chronic exposure to Cr may result in liver, kidney and
lung damage (Zayed and Terry, 2003). The permissible
limit set by FAO/WHO (1984) in edible plants was 0.02
ppm. After comparison of the metal limit in the studied
medicinal plants with those proposed by FAO/WHO
(1984), it was found that all plants accumulate Cr above
this limit. However, in medicinal plants, the WHO (2005)
limits had not yet been established for Cr. Although in
medicinal plans, permissible limits for Cr were set by the
Canada which was 2 ppm in raw medicinal plant material
and 0.02 mg/day in finished herbal products (WHO,
Artemisia vulgaris accumulated lowest Ni that is 0.001
ppm and Artemisia scoparia maximum that is 11.300 ppm
(Table 2 and Figure 2-A). The permissible limit set by
FAO/WHO (1984) in edible plants was 1.63 ppm. After
comparison, metal limit in the studied medicinal plants
with those proposed by FAO/WHO (1984) it is found that
all plants accumulate Ni above this limit. However, for
medicinal plants the WHO (2005) levels and limits are not
yet been established for Ni. Ni toxicity in human is not
very common occurrence because its absorption by the
body is very low (Onianwa et al., 2000).
A. brevifolia had higher Co concentration that is 3.650
ppm than the other, while Artemisia absinthium recorded
the minimum accumulation that is 0.230 ppm (Table 2
and Figure 1C). There are no established criteria for Co
in medicinal plants. Basgel and Erdemoglu (2006)
determined Co concentration ranged between 0.14 to
0.48 ppm in seven herbs in Turkey.
In studied plants, Cd concentration ranged between
0.050 ppm in A. turanicum and 5.250 ppm in A. herba-
alba (Table 2 and Figure 1-E). The permissible limit set
by FAO/WHO (1984) in edible plants was 0.21 ppm.
However, for medicinal plants the permissible limit for Cd
set by WHO (2005), China and Thailand was 0.3 ppm.
Similarly, permissible limits in medicinal plants for Cd set
by Canada were 0.3 ppm in raw medicinal plant material
and 0.006 mg/day in finished herbal products (WHO,
2005). After comparison, metal limits in the studied
medicinal plants with those proposed by FAO/WHO
(1984) and WHO (2005) it was found that all studied
plants accumulate Cd above this limit. Cd causes both
acute and chronic poisoning, adverse effect on kidney,
liver, vascular and immune system (Heyes, 1997).
Ashraf et al. 2261
Among the investigated medicinal plants A. vulgaris
exhibited higher Pb concentration that is 25.800 ppm and
A. maritima possess minimum concentration of Pb that is
0.100 ppm (Table 2 and Figure 1-A). The permissible
limit set by FAO/WHO (1984) in edible plants was 0.43
ppm. However, for medicinal plants the limit was 10 ppm
set by China, Malaysia, Thailand and WHO. Similarly,
per-missible limits in raw medicinal plans materials, for
Pb set by Canada, were 10 ppm in and 0.02 mg/day in
finished herbal products (WHO, 2005). After evaluation,
the metal limits in the studied medicinal plants with those
proposed by WHO (2005) it was found that A. scoparia,
A. vulgaris, A. brevifolia, A. biannus, A. roxburghiana and
A. dubia accumulate Pb above these limits. Pb causes
both acute and chronic poisoning, and also poses
adverse effects on kidney, liver, vascular and immune
system (Heyes, 1997).
The range of Mn varied with values between 16.180 ppm
in A. japonica and 75.250 ppm in A. brevifolia (Table 2
and Figure 1-G). The permissible limit set by FAO/WHO
(1984) in edible plants was 2 ppm. After comparison of
the metal limit in the studied medicinal plants with those
proposed by FAO/WHO (1984), it is found that all plants
accumulate Mn above this limit.
However, for medicinal plants the WHO (2005) limits
not yet been established for Mn. Sheded et al. (2006)
investigated that the range of Mn in their study was
between 44.6 to 339 ppm in selective medicinal plants of
The range of Fe in the studied plants was high with a
minimum of 18.730 ppm in A. scoparia and maximum of
3126.900 ppm in A. brevifolia (Table 2 and Figure 1-F).
The maximum tolerable level for cattle was suggested as
1000 ppm by National Research Council (1984). The
permissible limit set by FAO/WHO (1984) in edible plants
was 20 ppm. After comparison, metal limit in the studied
medicinal plants with those proposed by FAO/WHO
(1984) it is found that all plants accumulate Fe above this
limit except A. scoparia.
However, for medicinal plants the WHO (2005) limits
not yet been established for Fe. Sheded et al. (2006)
reported that the range of Fe in their study was between
261 to 1239 ppm in selective medicinal plants of Egypt.
Fe is necessary for the formation of haemoglobin and
also plays an important role in oxygen and electron
transport in human body systems (Kaya and Incekara,
2262 J. Med. Plant. Res.
This study concluded that investigated Artemisia species
accumulates significant amount of Na, K, Ca, Mg and Fe.
However, in few cases they carry a high amount of toxic
metals which can cause metal poisoning in humans. The
possible reasons to accumulate hazardous metals in
Artemisia may include the growing of Artemisia in
contaminated soils such as near roadways or mining and
industrial areas or irrigated by toxic water. The other
reasons were may be that the studied plants were
hyperaccumulators even their soil contain the lower
elemental level (McLaughlin, 1999; Pip, 1991). Therefore,
special care must be taken during the administration of
Artemisia species as a remedy. It is also necessary to
have a look on good quality control methods and
research practices for Artemisia based herbal medicines
screening in order to protect humans from heavy metal
We are thankful to Higher Education Commission (HEC),
Pakistan for their financial support through out research
on genus Artemisia. We acknowledge Prof. Dr.
Muhammad Tahir Shah, National Center of Excellence in
Geology, University of Peshawar, Peshawar Pakistan for
technical facilities to do elemental analysis. We are also
grateful to Dr. Katherine Kidner, Royal Botanical Garden
Edinburgh/University of Edinburgh, Scotland UK for her
help in the manuscript preparation.
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