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9 herbs China uses in the fight coronavirus (COVID-19)

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As we have stated earlier, 85% of those infected with the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and infected with COVID-19 in China received not only conventional treatment, but also therapy with herbs from Chinese traditional medicine. In this article, we will look separately at each of the herbs that have been used and what the science of them has to tell us. It's a pandemic, and hope lurks everywhere. :)

Author: Rositsa Tashkova, Master of Molecular Biology and Microbiology

As we told you earlier, 85% of those infected with thenew SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and infected with COVID-19 in China have received not only conventional treatment, but also therapy with herbs from Chinese traditional medicine. In this article we will look separately at each of the herbs that have been used and what science has to tell us about them.

Mongolian milkvetch (Astragalus membranaceus, synonym Astragalus propinquus)

Astragalus membranaceus [ref. 1] is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in Chinese traditional medicine. The root of the plant is known as Huang Qi. It is used as an immunostimulant, tonic, antioxidant, hepatoprotectant, diuretic, antidiabetic, anticancer and expectorant [ref. 2]. Many of the plants belonging to the same genus contain toxicglycosides or can accumulate dangerous amounts of selenium in themselves, but this is not the case with Astragalus membranaceus.

Photo by I, Doronenko, Wikipedia

It is assumed that the plant has many health benefits, including stimulation of the immune system [ref. 3] and anti-inflammatory effects. It is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including fatigue, allergies and the common cold. It is also used in heart disease [ref. 4], diabetes and others.

Chinese liquorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)

Glycyrrhiza uralensis [ref. 5] is also among the 50 most commonly used herbs in Chinese traditional medicine. The root of the plant is used, which has a very sweet taste. Licorice - Glycyrrhiza glabra - belongs to the same genus.

Photo by Michael Wolf, Wikipedia

In pharmacopoeia and traditional medicine, the plant is also used to soothe sore throats and as an expectorant in the treatment of cough and bronchitis. Also in the prevention and treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers [ref. 6] (duodenal) and dyspepsia. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory agent in the treatment of allergic reactions, rheumatism and arthritis [ref. 7], to prevent liver toxicity and to treat tuberculosis and adrenocorticosis.

Moreover, a 2003 study by the University of Frankfurt found that the substance glycyrrhizin, which is found in the herb, actively inhibits the reproduction of the SARS virus (which caused the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS) and recommended that this substance be used in the treatment of the dangerous disease.

But the intake of the herb is contraindicated in patients with hypertension, cholestatic disorders or cirrhosis of the liver, hypokalemia (low potassium levels) or chronic renal failure, as well as during pregnancy [ref. 8].

Saposhnikovia divaricata (Ledebouriella divaricata, Fang Feng)

Saposhnikovia divaricata [ref. 9] belongs to the Family of Senicoflower, as well as parsley and carrot, but is a single species in its genus.

In Chinese traditional medicine, the root of the plant is used. It is used in combination with various other herbs. Extracts from the plant have shown antioxidant and anti-proliferative action in several cancer cell lines, i.e. suppress the division of cancer cells in the cases studied - in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs such as campothecin or paclitaxel, the extract has shown aditative anti-proliferative effects on cells K562, HL60 and MCF7 and antagonistic effects on MDA-MB-468 cells [ref. 10].

The herb is used in traditional Chinese medicine to relieve inflammation, rheumatic conditions, cramps and other diseases.

Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Atractylodes Macrocephala Koidz root, Bai Zhu)

Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae [ref. 11] or in other words, the root of Atractylodis Macrocephalae is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to strengthen the spleen, boost vital energy, promote hydrohesis (perspiration). [ref. 12] It is also used for digestive problems, but more research is needed to scientifically confirm these properties of the plant.

Lonicerae Japonicae Flos (dried leaves and flowers of Lonicera japonica)

Lonicera japonica [ref. 13] is a type of Honeysuckle (Lonicera), which is often used as a decorative plant and although it originates in East Asia, today it is an invasive (imported) species in many places around the world.

Photo by 清水五月, Wikipedia

Dried leaves and flowers (Flos Lonicerae Japonicae) are used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of fever, headache associated with cold, cough, thirst, some inflammations, including sore throat, skin infections, and according to some studies may also have an antiviral effect, due to the fact that the plant is rich in chlorogenic acid [ref. 14].

Fructus Forsythiae (Fruit of Forsythia)

Pharmacology has proven that Fructus forsythia [ref. 15] or the fruits of the forsythia plant have various therapeutic effects, both in vitro (in laboratory conditions) and in vivo (in the living organism), such as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral, antioxidant, antitumor action, as well as hepatoprotective (liver protection), neuroprotective and cardiovascular protective effects [ref. 16].

The fruits of forsythia have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for the treatment of infectious diseases, such as acute nephritis, erysipelas (Red Wind) and ulcers, for more than 2,000 years.

Radix Platycodonis (Root of Platycodon grandiflorum, Jiegeng)

Radix platycodonis [ref. 17] or also called Jiegeng in Chinese traditional medicine is essentially the root of the plant Platycodon grandiflorum.

Photo by Atilin, Wikipedia

The root of the plant is used to treat upper respiratory tract infections, acute and chronic bronchitis, atopic dermatitis and other skin diseases [ref. 18]. In various studies, substances from the plant have shown anticancer action. the substance platicodine D, triterpenoid saponin, was found to have anticancer effects in several cancer cell lines - in hepatocellular carcinoma cells it caused apoptosis (cancer cell suicide) and suppressed cell adhesion (attachment), migration and invasion, showing promising characteristics such as a significant compound for the development of anticancer drugs [ref. 19].

Agastache rugosa (Korean mint)

Agastache rugosa [ref. 20] has an anise flavor and leaves can be used as a spice to salads or to make tea. The plant is one of the 50 main herbs in traditional Chinese medicine.

Photo by cultivar413, Flickr

The leaves and stems have antibacterial, antifungal [ref. 21], aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic (sweating), low-temperature-lowering properties, and also used for stomach problems. They are used internally to improve appetite and strengthen the digestive system, relieve symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, nausea and vomiting. Tea from the leaves is also used to relieve angina pain. [ref. 22]

Cyrtomium fortunei J. Sm. (a type of fern)

It is believed that the root of Cyrtomium fortunei J. Sm. [ref. 23] has analgesic, antihelmintic (anti-parasitic worms), antibacterial, anti-clotting, antiviral, cleansing, lowering high temperature and hemostatic action. Decoction is used in the treatment of ankylostoma, tania, ascariasis, filariasis, acute infectious hepatitis.

Credit: Krzysztof Golik, Wikipedia

In one study, aqueous extract of Cyrtomium fortunei J. Sm. has shown antiviral activity against eneroviruses Coxaki virus B3 and B5, Polio virus I, Echo virus 9 and 29, chroate by suppressing their inactivation, absorption and replication during infection [ref. 24].

Another study shows that most of the substances in the roots of the plant can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. In addition, the substance pipinelin inhibits the growth of tumor cells by inducing programmed cell death - apoptosis, of tumor cells. [ref. 25]

It is important to keep in mind that a number of ferns contain carcinogens, as well as the enzyme thiaminase, which deprives the body of B vitamins.

More about the treatment of coronavirus infection in China, read here:

Chinese experience in the treatment of COVID-19

  1. Mongolian milkvetch (Astragalus membranaceus, synonym Astragalus propinquus)
  2. Chinese liquorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)
  3. Saposhnikovia divaricata (Ledebouriella divaricata, Fang Feng)
  4. Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Atractylodes Macrocephala Koidz root, Bai Zhu)
  5. Lonicerae Japonicae Flos (dried leaves and flowers of Lonicera japonica)
  6. Fructus Forsythiae (Fruit of Forsythia)
  7. Radix Platycodonis (Root of Platycodon grandiflorum, Jiegeng)
  8. Agastache rugosa (Korean mint)
  9. Cyrtomium fortunei J. Sm. (a type of fern)


  1. Scientific articles about Astragalus membranaceus

  2. Review of the botanical characteristics, phytochemistry, and pharmacology of Astragalus membranaceus (Huangqi). Phytotherapy research: PTR. 2014

  3. A study on the immune receptors for polysaccharides from the roots of Astragalus membranaceus, a Chinese medicinal herb. Biochemical and biophysical research communications. 2004

  4. Effect of astragalus injection on immune function in patients with congestive heart failure. 2003

  5. Scientific articles about Glycyrrhiza uralensis

  6. Anti-Helicobacter pylori flavonoids from licorice extract. Life sciences. 2002

  7. Liquiritin from Glycyrrhiza uralensis Attenuating Rheumatoid Arthritis via Reducing Inflammation, Suppressing Angiogenesis, and Inhibiting MAPK Signaling Pathway. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2019

  8. Nutrition and Diagnosis-related Care: information about Glycyrrhiza uralensis

  9. Scientific publications on Saposhnikovia divaricata

  10. Anti-proliferative and antioxidant activities of Saposhnikovia divaricata. Oncology Reports. 2007

  11. Scientific publications on Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae

  12. Fast determination of two atractylenolides in Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae by Fourier transform near-infrared spectroscopy with partial least squares. Spectrochimica acta. Part A, Molecular and biomolecular spectroscopy. 2014

  13. Scientific publications on Lonicerae Japonicae Flos

  14. Antiviral activity of chlorogenic acid against influenza A (H1N1/H3N2) virus and its inhibition of neuraminidase. Sci Rep. 2017

  15. Scientific publications on Fructus forsythia

  16. Forsythiae Fructus: A Review on its Phytochemistry, Quality Control, Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics. Molecules. 2017

  17. Scientific articles about Radix platycodonis

  18. Radix Platycodonis – Jiegeng

  19. Platycodin D induces apoptosis, and inhibits adhesion, migration and invasion in HepG2 hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Asian Pacific journal of cancer prevention: APJCP. 2014

  20. Scientific publications on Agastache rugosa

  21. Antifungal activity of the essential oil of Agastache rugosa Kuntze and its synergism with ketoconazole. Letters in applied microbiology.2003

  22. Microscopic identification and in vitro activity of Agastache rugosa (Fisch. et Mey) from Xinjiang, China. BMC complementary and alternative medicine. 2017

  23. Scientific articles about Cyrtomium fortunei J. Sm.

  24. In vitro screening of traditionally used medicinal plants in China against enteroviruses. World journal of gastroenterology. 2006

  25. Discovery and antitumor activities of constituents from Cyrtomium fortumei (J.) Smith rhizomes. Chemistry Central journal. 2013

The author

👩 🔬 Rositsa Tashkova-Kacharova has a Bachelor degree in Molecular Biology and a Master's degree in Microbiology and Microbiological Control. She completed her Master's thesis at the University of Nantes, France. At that time she painted a Christmas tree of bacteria and inspired the announcement of the first competition for drawing with microorganisms Agar Art. For 3 years she was the editor of the journal Bulgarian Science and continues to write about science and medicine.


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