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8 Herbs to Manage Symptoms of COVID-19

With newer COVID-19 variants continuing the pandemic, more of us are getting infected. Learn about a few of the herbs that can help with symptoms of COVID-19.

Woman wearing surgical face mask coughing and holding her chest

At the time of writing, COVID-19 has infected about 3.1 million people in Malaysia. Nearly 38,000 have died from severe illness. Meanwhile, it is notable that 2.8 million have recovered from infection. It implies that the virus’ ability to infect a body and inflict severe illness largely depends on two factors. The first is the immunity of the host and the second is the effective treatment of symptoms. This gives us a lot of hope. In addition to current conventional treatment and vaccination, studies show that there are several herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that can help manage the symptoms of COVID-19. 

Pathology in TCM  

Person holding cup of tea in left hand and herbal pills in right hand with a positive antigen test cartridge on the table
Several TCM herbs have been used in clinical settings to manage the symptoms of COVID-19.

Pathology in TCM focuses on the specific syndromes of illness caused by pathogens. These can be categorised into Wind, Cold-Fire, Dampness, phlegm, Qi (vital life force) Stagnation, Blood Clot, and Fluid Retention. According to Real Health Medical TCM Physician Brandon Yew, “Once the specific pathogenic characteristics and traits are accurately identified, a TCM practitioner will prescribe herbs that target them and strengthen immunity. As the saying goes in TCM, if the immune system is robust and sufficient, pathogens will not be able to enter and cause disease”.

It reflects what has been seen in the past two years, that not everyone exposed to the virus gets infected. Also, not all infected people experience the same set of symptoms and the level of sickness; some are even asymptomatic.

Numerous studies are showing that many TCM herbal formulas help manage COVID-19 symptoms. A recent 2021 study published in Frontiers of Pharmacology analysed 58 different clinical trials with 2,773 COVID-19 patients. It concluded that combining TCM herbs and Western medicine led to better outcomes than clinical treatment alone.  

This analytical study also revealed that using TCM herbs in conjunction with conventional Western medicine did not increase the risk of adverse reactions. We look at eight herbs that show promise and efficacy in treating the different symptoms associated with a COVID-19 infection. 

TCM Herbs to Help with Symptoms of COVID-19  

Dried and sliced astragalus roots in a woven basket
Astragalus root or huang qi is one of the herbs that have been shown to help with COVID-19 symptoms.

TCM herbal formulas were created and developed with the concept of treating specific syndromes and imbalances that may have allowed the infection to take root in the first place. Many are efficacious in managing the symptoms of COVID-19.

Honeysuckle 

Honeysuckle (jin yin hua, 金银花) is a principal herb in the well-known formula for colds and flusYin Qiao San. It’s supposed to disperse external Wind-Heat and neutralise toxins to help with early stages of febrile infections with symptoms like fever, chills, sore throat and a headache. This flowering herb has a sweet, astringent taste and belongs to the category of ‘cold’ TCM herbs.

Forsythia 

Forsythia fruit (lian qiao, 連翹) is another well-known herb. It is available in many TCM herbal formulas, such as Lian Hua Qing Wen, which has assisted with conventional COVID-19 treatment. It’s a bitter and cooling herb that clears heat, especially in the Lungs and other parts of the respiratory system , relieving high fever, mild chills, and a sore throat.

Liquorice root 

Liquorice root (gan cao, 甘草) is a sweet TCM herb with a neutral nature when raw, and warm nature when dry-fried. It can tonify Spleen qi and promote qi circulation, helping with shortness of breath, weak pulse and palpitation. It’s hydrating for the Lungs; it can also promote the resolving of phlegm and relieve a cough. It’s also helpful for reducing painful muscle spasms in the abdomen and lower limbs. It helps modulate the harsh properties of other herbs, making them easier for the patient’s body to accept.

Chrysanthemum  

Chrysanthemum (ju hua, 菊花) is a bright yellow flower which is one of the key ingredients in the Sang Ju Yin formulation. The formulation clears the Heat Toxins within the Lungs to relieve cough. It’s a bittersweet and cooling herb that is primarily effective for dispersing Wind and clearing Heat Toxins. Its usage has therapeutic properties on the Liver as well.  

Bupleurum root 

Bupleurum root (chai hu, 柴胡) is available in many common cold and flu TCM formulations. These include Xiao Chai Hu Tang (小柴胡汤), Chai Ge Jie Ji Tang (柴葛解肌汤), and Qing Fei Pai Du Tang (清肺排毒汤). It is an acrid herb of cool nature. This root herb’s therapeutic tropism is towards the Liver, Gallbladder, Pericardium and triple warmer (San jiao) meridians. Thus it is effective in relieving fever and chills, vomiting, and tightness in the chest.

Tingli seed 

Tingli or Lepidium seed (ting li zi, 葶苈子) is a bitter spicy herb with of a cold nature. It is well-known in TCM to drain excess fluids from the Lungs, break down phlegm, thereby effectively calming wheezing coughs that are accompanied with lots of sputum.

Mulberry root bark  

Mulberry root bark (sang bai pi, 桑白皮), another ‘cold-natured’ TCM herb, has a similar yet less potent effect to Tingli seeds. It also drains heat from the Lungs to relieve heat-causing cough and breathlessness. Being a diuretic, it also promotes urination to reduce oedema. 

Astragalus root 

Astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪) has shown to not only help with symptoms of COVID-19 but also act as a great immunity building herb. In TCM terminology, it’s a sweet herb, of a slightly warm nature. Its main therapeutic effect lies in tonifying qi of both the Spleen and Lungs. This herb covers a lot of ground in terms of helping to improve symptoms such as cold-intolerance, shortness of breath, fatigue, diarrhoea, and many other respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments.

 

China uses these TCM herbs extensively as part of herbal formulas to manage the symptoms of COVID-19. There is with promising recent data that support what official TCM texts have indicated. As with all medicine, herbal or otherwise, these herbs will not necessarily work the same way for all COVID-19 cases.

We advise against purchasing these herbs to self-medicate without any consultation, especially for those who are unvaccinated, under the age of 12, elderly, or immunocompromised while suffering from multiple chronic conditions. As always, use TCM herbs and formulas under the supervision and with the prescription of an experienced and certified TCM practitioner.

References

  1. Ministry of Health – Malaysia. 2022. COVIDNOW in Malaysia. [online] [Accessed 16 February 2022]. 
  2. Phytomedicine. 2021. Prevention and treatment of COVID-19 using Traditional Chinese Medicine: A review. [online] [Accessed 16 February 2022]. 
  3. Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B. 2020. Analysis on herbal medicines utilized for treatment of COVID-19. [online] [Accessed 16 February 2022]. 
  4. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2021. Chinese Herbal Medicine Used With or Without Conventional Western Therapy for COVID-19: An Evidence Review of Clinical Studies. [online]  [Accessed 16 February 2022]. 
  5. Combinatorial Chemistry & High Throughput Screening. 2021. Analysis of Chinese Herbal Formulae Recommended for COVID-19 in Different Schemes in China: A Data Mining Approach. [online]  [Accessed 16 February 2022]. 

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