The potential of anti-malarial compounds derived from African medicinal plants: a review of pharmacological evaluations from 2013 to 2019

Malar J. 2020 May 18;19(1):183. doi: 10.1186/s12936-020-03231-7.


Background: African Traditional Medicine (ATM) is used for the healthcare of about 80% of the rural populations of the continent of Africa. The practices of ATM make use of plant-products, which are known to contain plant-based secondary metabolites or natural products (NPs), likely to play key roles in drug discovery, particularly as lead compounds. For various reasons, including resistance of strains of Plasmodium to known anti-malarial drugs, local African populations often resort to plant-based treatments and/or a combination of this and standard anti-malarial regimens. Emphasis has been laid in this review to present the anti-malarial virtue of the most recently published phytochemicals or natural products, which have been tested by in vitro and in vivo assays.

Methods: The data was based on the current version of the African Compound Libraries, which are constantly being updated based on inputs from journal articles and student theses (M.Sc/Ph.D) from African University libraries. Emphasis was laid on data published after 2012. In order to carry out the original data collection, currently being included in the African Compounds Database, individual journal websites were queried using the country names in Africa as search terms. Over 40,000 articles "hits" were originally retrieved, then reduced to about 9000 articles. The retained articles/theses was further queried with the search terms "malaria", "malarial", "plasmodium", "plasmodial" and a combination of them, resulting in over 500 articles. Those including compounds with anti-malarial activities for which the measured activities fell within the established cut off values numbered 55, which were all cited in the review as relevant references.

Results and discussion: Pure compounds derived from African medicinal plants with demonstrated anti-malarial/antiplasmodial properties with activities ranging from "very active" to "weakly active" have been discussed. The majority of the 187 natural products were terpenoids (30%), followed by flavonoids (22%), alkaloids (19%) and quinones (15%), with each of the other compound classes being less than 5% of the entire compound collection. It was also observed that most of the plant species from which the compounds were identified were of the families Rubiaceae, Meliaceae and Asphodelaceae. The review is intended to continue laying the groundwork for an African-based anti-malarial drug discovery project.

Keywords: Africa; Malaria; Medicinal plants; Natural products; Traditional medicine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / chemistry
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Biological Products / chemistry
  • Biological Products / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Malaria / prevention & control*
  • Medicine, African Traditional
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry*


  • Antimalarials
  • Biological Products