With cases now in New Zealand we have had a lot of requests for cold and flu remedies a lot earlier this season! So is there any evidence for Herbal Remedies treating Coronavirus? We like to keep a traditional and up-to-date evidence based approach here at the Apothecary. We dont want to sell you anything that over-promises and under-delivers but we also want to give you something that works as well as prepare people’s immune system should they come into contact with any cold or flu virus.  The simple truth is that Covid-19 is a completely new virus so there is not much evidence in relation to helping cure or prevent it, except good old hand washing, containment and disinfectants. However, this is not the first type of Coronavirus to transfer to humans, and luckily the Chinese actually research these things so we have a little to go by. Stand by while I review the relevant evidence.

Research done so far on Coronavirus including the SARS and MERS outbreaks give us welcome news that there may be herbal constituents that provide some antiviral action and relief of symptoms. This paper published on the 13th Feb, 2020 called “In silico screening of Chinese herbal medicines with the potential to directly inhibit 2019 novel coronavirus” (1) has started to look at potential herbal extracts, of Chinese origin and their constituents. In their discussion section they outline their reserach methodology.

“In this work, we undertook a multiple step selection process and screened out 26 herbal plants with a high probability of directly inhibiting the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), possibly providing instant help in the prevention and treatment of the pneumonia…First, we extracted natural compounds verified in PubMed as being effective in treating SARS or MERS coronavirus and then cross-checked these compounds in the Chinese herbal databases…This is important, as the anti-coronavirus effects of the selected compounds have been biologically confirmed, and the genetic similarities between coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and SARS or MERS coronavirus are high…Two principles guided our screening work. The first is that the anti-coronavirus (2019-nCoV) components contained in the source plants should be absorbable via oral prescription…..Among the 115 compounds highlighted by our first step, only 13 passed this screening, showing the necessity of such a test….The novel coronavirus has some mutations when compared to SARS or MERS coronavirus, so the natural compounds effectiveness against the two previous coronaviruses might not be present in the new virus. To reduce this risk, and as the third step of our first principle, we reconstructed the 3D structure of the new coronavirus using the reported structures of SARS and MERS coronavirus proteins as a guide, and then used molecular docking technology to simulate whether the 13 natural compounds selected could combine with the structures we constructed for the new coronavirus proteins. All 13 compounds could bind to the proteins as predicted for the new coronavirus. We believe that the high success rate of our docking screening was due to the high genetic similarity between the new coronavirus and the SARS or MERS virus….as a further condition for the medicine screened here, we verified that they have been routinely used to treat viral pneumonia…..For all the plants analyzed, nearly half of the top 30 pathways…are related to antiviral, immune/inflammatory responses and hypoxia response indicating that these herbs are suitable for anti-viral usage. In fact, some of the herbal plants selected here had been reported effective in against SARS-CoV infection in 2003″.

Another paper by Zheng Chen and Tsuyoshi Nakamura called “Statistical Evidence for the Usefulness of Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of SARS” (2) suggests that after analysis of the data comparing 2 outcomes, death vs cured, Traditional Chinese Medicine appeared to improve outcomes.  “Our results appear to indicate that combining Western and traditional Chinese medicine, which probably started between late May and early June, drastically improved the treatment used in Beijing. This improvement explains the conspicuous upward trend in the later phases (in Fig. 1C – i.e. a sharp decline of the death cases). By contrast, the treatments used in Hong Kong and Singapore involved essentially the same Western medicine, throughout the study period. In other words, our results support the findings of Jia and Gao statistically, based on the data”.

Jia and Gao 2003 (3) comment that “Over the past two months, there have been extensive news reports on the use of herbal therapies to prevent or treat SARS in south east Asia, especially in the mainland of China, and it has become a general knowledge that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was responsible for the relatively low death rate of SARS patients in China.”

This also suggests that we are not looking to merely prevent the disease with antiviral agents but need to look to herbal medicine to treat the disease once it has progressed.

In conclusion, Covid-19 is too new for there to be any solid reserach on treatments especially herbal treatments but we can extrapolate from past Coronavirus research papers and the emerging research. It appears that the SARS and MERS epidemics that were treated with both allopathic and Chinese medicine had good results and that this was perhaps common knowledge in China but not well reported internationally.

As herbalists we believe in the co-treatment with western medicine and herbal medicine and believe that using the 2 together gives us the best chance to fight many health conditions. The treatment of novel viral illness should be no different. We will do the best we can as herbalists within the herbal community to come up with the best herbal preparations we can based on the details provided by the evidence so far in order to either prevent or treat the condition, should we be asked by members of the community.

References: (1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32113846
(2) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.1485
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12916093