Promising Studies on Medicinal Herbs and Coronavirus

Clinical studies from China on COVID-19 coronavirus patients indicate that certain herbs and herbal formulations can significantly reduce COVID-19 recovery times. Research on other herbs also show promise for using natural plant medicines to fight the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the COVID-19 conditions it causes.

(Note: The research illustrated in this article is not to be considered a substitute for medical treatments or vaccination against COVID-19. See your doctor if you have symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.)

Recent research from China finds that certain herbal medicines increase recovery times and reduce symptoms for COVID-19 patients.

Despite being the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, China appears to have come out the other side, with some of the highest and fastest recovery rates around the world.

China has also integrated the use of herbal medicines in their COVID-19 response.

Meanwhile, in Western countries, there has been a downplay of the potential benefits of herbal medicines for use in the treatment of the COVID-19 condition – caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pathogen.

Indeed, there have been fraudulent claims and anecdotal articles without evidence. This is not one of those articles.

COVID-19 patients tested with TCM herbs

A March 2020 study by researchers from China’s Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine treated 102 patients with symptoms of COVID-19 and compared their outcomes with similar patient outcomes.

The researchers found the Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal formulations had significant benefits. The TCM-treated had:

  • Shortened symptom period by an average of 2 days
  • Recovery of body temperature shortened by 1.7 days
  • Shortened length of stay in hospital by 2.2 days
  • CT scan improvements increased by 22 percent
  • Clinical cure rate increased by 33 percent
  • Reduction of severe cases to common cases by 27 percent
  • Immune system marker (lymphocyte) increase by 70 percent

The researchers also document that among severe coronavirus patients treated with TCM herbs, the average length of stays in the hospital was shortened by 2 days.

TCM herbs are individually prescribed according to a patient’s condition and general physical weaknesses. Formulations that have been suggested for COVID-19 patients include:

  • Qingfei paidu decoction (QPD)
  • Gancaoganjiang decoction
  • Sheganmahuang decoction
  • Qingfei touxie fuzheng recipe

The researchers also document a study of 701 confirmed cases of COVID-19 that were treated specifically with Qingfei paidu decoction (QPD). Here are the outcomes of this treatment on coronavirus patients:

  • The effective cure rate was over 90%
  • 130 patients were cured and discharged from the hospital
  • In 51 patients, clinical symptoms disappeared
  • In 268 patients, symptoms improved
  • In 212 patients, symptoms stabilized without worsening

QPD becomes official prescription for COVID-19

The researchers documented that the QPD herbal formulation has been officially approved to be part of the “New Coronavirus Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment Plan.” This is the official position of the General Office of the National Health and Health Commission Office of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The primary reason for the success of the QPD formulation has to do with an understanding of the body’s meridian systems. This is part of the ancient Chinese method of stimulating recovery by modulating the energy channels that circulate through the body.

The medicinal herbs in this QPD formulation have been documented in clinical experience to stimulate and regulate the lung meridian. A meridian that involves a specific organ can be dampened, stimulated, regulated or warmed according to this ancient medical science – one of the world’s oldest and most documented forms of medicine.

Read more:  COVID-19 Plant Medicine Research Flourishes

In the case of the QPD formulation, the herbs have the effect of drying the lungs and supporting organs according to TCM doctors. 

This rings consistent with clinical observations among severe COVID-19 patients whose lungs fill up with fluid, producing a pneumonia effect. In critical cases, this may require a ventilator to keep the patient alive.

The QPD formulation contains the following herbs:

  • Alisma orientalis stem (Alismatis Rhizoma)
  • Asarum heterotropoides root or tuber (Asari Radix et Rhizoma)
  • Atractylodes root (Atractylodis Macrocephalae Rhizoma)
  • Belamcandae chinensis stem (Belamcandae Rhizoma)
  • Bitter Apricot Seed (Armeniacae Semen Amarum)
  • Bupleurum (Bupleuri Radix)
  • Chenpi citrus fruit (Citri Reticulatae Pericarpium)
  • Chinese yam (Dioscoreae Rhizoma)
  • Cinnamon twig (Cinnamomi Ramulus)
  • Citrus aurantium fruit (Aurantii Fructus Immaturus)
  • Ephedra herb (Ephedrae Herba)
  • Ginger root (Zingiberis Rhizoma Recens)
  • Gypsum (Gypsum Fibrosum)
  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhizae Radix)
  • Patchouli leaves (Pogostemonis Herba)
  • Pinellia ternata stem (Pinelliae Rhizoma)
  • Polyporus mushroom
  • Poria mushroom
  • Purpose Aster root or tuber (Asteris Radix et Rhizoma)
  • Scutellaria baicalensis root (Scutellariae Radix)
  • Tussilago farfara flower (Farfarae Flos)

In an April 2020 study from China’s University of Maca, researchers gave Chinese herbal medicines to 54 COVID-19 pneumonia patients and compared their hospital stays and recovery times with similar patients.

The researchers said that hospital stays and recovery times were both significantly shorter among the patients receiving Chinese herbal medicines.

More research on Chinese herbal medicine is underway. A 2020 review of clinical research protocols from Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine screened 49 clinical trials using Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Of these, 30 were controlled, randomized parallel studies. The combined number of cases studied were 30,562 among these trials, ranging from 20,000 to 30. While the final documentation of these cases has yet to be published, preliminary protocol results range from preventive to symptom relief, depending upon the study.

Western medicine currently does not teach or even acknowledge the science of modulating meridians in disease treatment, let alone using herbal medicines.

Eastern and Western medicine do, however, agree that diseases often accumulate and condense within certain organs and in some cases, certain regions of the body. These have been termed “humors,” utilized in medical practice by the father of Western Medicine, Hippocrates. 

UK research identifies antiviral Chinese herbs

2020 study from China’s Institute for Tibetan Medicine and the London South Bank University reviewed the research evidence that might reveal Chinese herbs useful for COVID-19.

The researchers analyzed clinical studies that used Chinese herbs for the prevention of SARS and H1N1 viruses. These viruses have many similarities with COVID-19 as documented above.

The researchers found three studies that tested Chinese herbs against SARS, and four studies that tested Chinese herbs against H1N1.

In all the studies, the herbs were tested with people who had not yet contracted the viruses, but were in a contagious environment.

The studies found that the infection rate of H1N1 was an average of 64 percent lower among those given the Chinese herbs, compared with the placebo group.

For the three SARS studies, none of the subjects contracted SARS.

The herbs used among these studies included:

  • Astragalus Root (Huangqi)
  • Licorice Root (Gancao)
  • Siler Root (Fangfeng)
  • Atractylodis Macrocephala Root (Baizhu)
  • Japanese Honeysuckle flower (Lonicera japonica – Jinyinhua)
  • Forsythia Fruit (Forsythia sp. – Lianqiao)

In their conclusion the scientists wrote:

Based on historical records and human evidence of SARS and H1N1 influenza prevention, Chinese herbal formula could be an alternative approach for prevention of COVID-19 in high-risk population.

The authors of the study also noted that 23 provinces in China have thus far begun programs to apply Chinese herbs to help the spread of COVID-19.

Read more:  Herbal Formula for H1N1 Swine Flu

Licorice inhibits SARS, MERS coronaviruses

One of the key medicinal herbs in the QPD formula is Licorice. Licorice was also found by the UK researchers to have some of the most promise for treating and preventing COVID-19 infections.

Licorice root has been used for thousands of years for lung infections with similar symptoms as coronavirus.

We have published evidence that licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) can fight SARS and MERS CoV infections. Studies have found that licorice root extracts were able to reduce SARS and MERS-CoV replication.

A 2008 study from the UK’s Luton & Dunstable Hospital NHS Foundation Trust tested licorice root extracts against a number of viruses, including HIV and SARS. They found that the extract broke down the viral envelope and also boosted immune activity.

The researchers stated that their studies,

“revealed antiviral activity against HIV‐1, SARS related coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, arboviruses, vaccinia virus and vesicular stomatitis virus.”

For the mechanisms, the researchers stated,

“Mechanisms for antiviral activity of Glycyrrhiza spp. include reduced transport to the membrane and sialylation of hepatitis B virus surface antigen, reduction of membrane fluidity leading to inhibition of fusion of the viral membrane of HIV‐1 with the cell, induction of interferon gamma in T‐cells, inhibition of phosphorylating enzymes in vesicular stomatitis virus infection and reduction of viral latency.”

Other herbs with antiviral properties

Scientists have authenticated that certain medicinal herbs have antiviral properties. Illustrating this, a 2020 study from China’s Yantai University tested five different compounds derived from the Forsythia suspensa medicinal herb (mentioned above).

This study found that all five compounds showed antiviral activity against the H1N1 virus and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) coronaviruses.

We can add to this some of the herbal medicines that have been utilized with success against influenza. These may or may not be applicable to COVID-19.

A 2019 study tested three herbs against H1N1, which included one of the herbs in the Chinese herb section above:

  • Brassica juncea (also called brown mustard)
  • Forsythia suspensa (also called forsythia or Lian Qiao)
  • Inula britannica (also called British yellowhead)

Another study tested Forsythia suspensa and Japanese Honeysuckle, and they successfully inhibited influenza. They also significantly stimulated the body’s own immune system.

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The Japanese Maoto formula has also been tested successfully against influenza. A 2019 review of clinical research found it effective against influenza A and others.

Napal smartweed (Polygonum nepalense), an herb used for centuries, has also been found to inhibit influenza in laboratory research.

Lomatium dissectum is also noted as an antiviral in laboratory research from British Columbia. This herb was apparently used by the Washoe Indians to help avoid and recover from the 1918 influenza pandemic. It was called “Tohsa.”

The reality that plant medicines have multi-pronged effects has become evident from over 50 years of clinical and laboratory research on herbs. Most medicinal herbs have dozens, even hundreds of medicinal compounds within each one. Ginger – also within the QPD formula – has over 400 medicinal compounds.

The expanse of different medicinal compounds within many medicinal herbs means they can have multiple medicinal effects within the body. As such, some of the herbs mentioned above will boost the immune system while at the same time offer specific antiviral effects against infections.

Read more:  Herbs for Shingles

Talk to your doctor and get tested if you or a family member has symptoms of coronavirus COVID-19.

Scientific References

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Luo H, Tang QL, Shang YX, Liang SB, Yang M, Robinson N, Liu JP. Can Chinese Medicine Be Used for Prevention of Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)? A Review of Historical Classics, Research Evidence and Current Prevention Programs. Chin J Integr Med. 2020 Feb 17. doi: 10.1007/s11655-020-3192-6.

Zhang DH, Wu KL, Zhang X, Deng SQ, Peng B. In silico screening of Chinese herbal medicines with the potential to directly inhibit 2019 novel coronavirus. J Integr Med. 2020 Mar;18(2):152-158. doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2020.02.005.

Ho LTF, Chan KKH, Chung VCH, Leung TH. Highlights of traditional Chinese medicine frontline expert advice in the China national guideline for COVID-19. Eur J Integr Med. 2020 Apr 3:101116. doi: 10.1016/j.eujim.2020.101116.

Luo E, Zhang D, Luo H, Liu B, Zhao K, Zhao Y, Bian Y, Wang Y. Treatment efficacy analysis of traditional Chinese medicine for novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19): an empirical study from Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Chin Med. 2020 Apr 15;15:34. doi: 10.1186/s13020-020-00317-x

Zhang YS, Cong WH, Zhang JJ, Guo FF, Li HM. [Research progress of intervention of Chinese herbal medicine and its active components on human coronavirus]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2020 Mar;45(6):1263-1271. doi: 10.19540/j.cnki.cjcmm.20200219.501.

Wang H, Jin XY, Pang B, Liu CX, Zheng WK, Yang FW, Pang WT, Zhang JH. Analysis on clinical study protocols of traditional Chinese medicine for coronavirus disease 2019. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2020 Mar;45(6):1232-1241. doi: 10.19540/j.cnki.cjcmm.20200220.501.

Notice on Issuing a New Coronavirus Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment Plan (Trial Version 6). Medical Administration and Hospital Authority National Health Office Medical Letter. 2020 Feb. No. 145

Pu JY, He L, Wu SY, Zhang P, Huang X. Anti-virus research of triterpenoids in licorice. Bing Du Xue Bao. 2013 Nov;29(6):673-9.

Fiore C, Eisenhut M, Krausse R, Ragazzi E, Pellati D, Armanini D, Bielenberg J. Antiviral effects of Glycyrrhiza species. Phytother Res. 2008 Feb;22(2):141-8.

Cinatl J, Morgenstern B, Bauer G, Chandra P, Rabenau H, Doerr HW. Glycyrrhizin, an active component of liquorice roots, and replication of SARS-associated coronavirus. Lancet. 2003 Jun 14;361(9374):2045-6. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)13615-X

Feng Yeh C, Wang KC, Chiang LC, Shieh DE, Yen MH, San Chang J. Water extract of licorice had anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jul 9;148(2):466-73. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.04.040.

McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, Ellis SM, Babiuk LA, Hancock RE, Towers GH. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 1995 Dec 1;49(2):101-10.

Bae WY, Kim HY, Choi KS, Chang KH, Hong YH, Eun J, Lee NK, Paik HD. Investigation of Brassica juncea, Forsythia suspensa, and Inula britannica: phytochemical properties, antiviral effects, and safety. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019 Sep 11;19(1):253. doi: 10.1186/s12906-019-2670-x.


  • Case Adams, PhD

    Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, Doctorate in Integrative Health Sciences, Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner, California Naturopath. Diplomas in Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Colon Hydrotherapy, certificates in Pain Management and Case Management/Contact Tracing. Has authored more than 30 books and hundreds of periodical articles on natural medicine. Recreational activities include surfing, sailing, running, biking, swimming, SUPing, hiking. Contact: [email protected]

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