From folklore to the pharmacy laboratory

The whole world is entangled in the coronavirus disease (COVID‐19) pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS‐CoV‐2).

By Ghulam Abbas Narejo*, H. U Khan, Muhammad Ismail Bhatti, Zil-E-Haleefa, Amir Hussain

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, due to its rapid transmission and infection rates around the world. This disease is characterized by progressive and severe pneumonia, and the most common symptoms are fever, dry cough, fatigue and headache. However, recent evidence indicates that multiple neurological complications may present in patients with COVID-19. Thousands of people die every day without real medicine.

Currently, research to identify treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is ongoing. The desperation within the community, especially among middle and low income groups heavily affected by the economic impact of the enforced lockdowns, has led to increased interest in exploring alternative herbal therapy choices.

Medicinal plants have been used in the field of health since time immemorial. Studies have been conducted globally to verify their effectiveness and some of the discoveries have led to the production of herbal medicines.

Many misinterpretations of the use of herbal medicines to treat or prevent COVID-19 have spread around the world.

This is evident with the increase in unsubstantiated claims of effectiveness of these interventions circulating on social media. Based on the inquiries received, scientists and researchers from around the world were given the opportunity to produce evidence summaries assessing the potential for complementary interventions in the management of COVID-19.

Natural products have been constantly used since ancient times, and their effectiveness has been proven by time. Crude extract or pure compounds isolated from medicinal plants and/or herbs such as Artemisia annual (Sweet Absinthe), Rough Agastache (Korean mint), Astragalus membranaceus (mongolian milkvetch), Cassia alata (Bush candle), Ecklonia cave (brown algae), Gymnema sylvestre (australian cowplant), Houttuynia cordata (chameleon plant), Lindera aggregate (lindera), Radiated Lycoris (red spider lily), Mollugo cerviana (Threaded shaft), Polygonum multiflorum (tuber fleece flower), Tinospora cordifolia (Guduchi), etc. showed a promising inhibitory effect against the coronavirus. Several molecules, including acacetin, allicin, curcumin, daidzein, diosmin, emodin, herbacetin, lycorin, etc. isolated from plants could also be potential drug candidates against COVID‐19. This research creates determined hope for future phyto-vaccines.

In China, Nepal and other Asian countries, researchers have discovered the usefulness of more than 60 plant species, namely ginger, garlic, neem, lemon, black cumin (Kalonji), etc. ., against antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects in the management of COVID-19.

Similarly, China, India, Bolivia, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Brazil and Colombia are using traditional medicine against COVID-19. There are about 50,000 species of medicinal plants and the WHO has estimated that 80% of people in developing countries use traditional medicine as their main source of medicine. In Europe, the WHO reported that 71% and 40% of the population of Chile and Colombia, respectively, use traditional medicines to treat COVID-19.

A recent study reported an association between the use of 17 herbal medicines and the treatment or prevention of respiratory symptoms related to COVID-19, and the most used herbs were eucalyptus, ginger, hot pepper and Garlic.

Recent literature also suggests that some of the antiviral medicinal plant species such as orange tree (Citrus sinensis), Allium sativum (garlic), Allium cepa (onion), Mentha piperita (peppermint), and Nigella sativa (Kalonji) are the most researched herbal drinks or fruits that can introduce effective adjuvant components in the management of COVID-19.

Traditional herbal medicine appears to have shown encouraging results in reducing the overall mild and severe mortality rate and in shortening the total duration of illness. When combined with modern biomedicine, medicinal plants could exert antiviral effects; relieve chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypoxemia, immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory activities. Likewise, traditional medicines are being used for the management of COVID-19 alongside modern medicine and vaccinations.

In Pakistan, some herbal medicines described above are also found and can be well used for the treatment of COVID-19 respectively. But there is still a need for research and development to extract valuable drugs for future phyto-vaccines.


Ghulam Abbas Narejo*, HU Khan, Muhammad Ismail Bhatti, Zil-E-Haleefa, Amir Hussain

Botanical Science Division, Natural History Museum of Pakistan, Islamabad

Alvin J. Chase