A little-known raw material used in the most widely used antiviral flu medicine comes from the fruit of trees native to China. It turns out it also comes from pine trees in Maine’s backyard.

Researchers at the University of Maine at Orono say they’ve found a new and relatively easy way to extract shikimic acid – a key ingredient in the drug Tamiflu – from pine tree needles.

It remains to be seen if the process can be applied commercially. The extract could be valuable because Tamiflu is the world’s most widely used antiviral drug for treating the flu.

The major source of shikimic acid now is the star anise, an unusual star-shaped fruit that grows on small trees native to China.

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