Medicinal herbs, immune system and COVID-19

By Dr C Hemavathi

Dr C Hemavathi

Mysuru, April 23:- Nature has blessed mankind with abundant medicinal herbs which provide timely and adequate remedies to several health disorders. The medicinal herbs enable the people to boost their immunity in times of health crisis like novel coronavirus. The people are required to know the new concepts of quarantine and self-isolation while trying to make use of medicinal herbs which boost immunities. It is necessary to understand the correlation among medicinal herbs, immune system and COVID-19 in the present times.

Immune system

When a pathogen breaches the body’s barriers, the immune system churns out a variety of immune molecules to fight it off. The infected cells make the ultimate sacrifice and invite their own destruction by displaying distress signals for T-cells, which swiftly detect and kill them. T-cells are cytotoxic – powerful serial killers that can recognise peptide fragments of virus displayed on the infected cell surface. They release a payload of toxic enzymes that kill the infected cell in a ‘kiss of death.’ This strategic martyrdom is organised by the immune system to deprive the virus of its replication factories. It also leads to the reduction of viral load in the patient. It takes several days for antiviral T-cells to expand and generate the antibodies.

Vaccination alone does not guarantee immunity. Natural immunity happens only after the recovery from the actual disease. The microorganism usually passes through many of the body’s natural immune defence systems— in the nose, throat, lungs, digestive tract and lymph tissue — before it reaches the bloodstream. The immune system remains sound when people are healthy. They are able to fight off infections faster and better. The immune system becomes weaker and more susceptible to fighting off infection in the absence of sound health. People focus on a Mediterranean style of eating, which contains a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, found in foods such as fatty fish, nuts and olive oil. This eating pattern is high in nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and other antioxidants. They help to reduce inflammation and fight infection. Adults between the ages of 65 and 79 who followed a Mediterranean type of diet, along with taking a daily 400 IU vitamin D supplement for a year, showed a marginal increase in disease-fighting cells such as T cells. It is important to limit meat, especially processed and fried foods which are more inflammatory.

Medicinal Herbs and Immune System

Scientists have focused on preventive measures and explored health remedies. Ayurveda experts have emphasised that medicinal herbs such as Kutki, Emblica, Tinosporacordifolia, Amla, Giloy, Shilajit, Garlic, Basil, Turmeric, Ginger, Ashwagandha, Neem, etc., are helpful in strengthening the immune system to fight against the deadly virus. Chawanprash also enhances immunity and prevents the spread of the virus. Strong immunity is necessary to fight any kind of foreign body or disease. Coronavirus primarily affects the lungs and the respiratory system. Chawanprash also enhances the immunity of the lungs and the respiratory system. The Ayurvedic herbs are helpful in building immunity and preventing the infection.

Kutki is widely used in Ayurvedic and Unani traditional medicine systems in India since the rhizomes are valued for their effectiveness as an antibiotic. The rhizome of a plant is also used in the treatment of high blood pressure, intestinal pain, eye disease, gastritis, bile disease, sore throats, blood and lung fever.

Emblica is a well-known herb in the Ayurveda. It is used to treat disorders of the liver and upper respiratory tract, chronic diarrhoea and scorpion sting. Emblica exhibits strong antioxidant activity. It is one of the most important plants in the traditional Ayurveda medical system for immune-modulatory, anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, hepatic protective and anticancer actions.

Guduchi is used for diabetes, high cholesterol, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), upset stomach, gout, lymphoma and other cancers, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), hepatitis, peptic ulcer disease (PUD), fever, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and to boost the immune system.

Basil is duly recognised as a holy herb in Indian mythology. The practical significance comes from the actual health applications of the herb which is recommended as first aid in the treatment of respiratory, digestive and skin diseases. The highly promising immune modulator, cytoprotective and anticancer agent in the treatment of diseases are also explored.

Garlic also helps fight cold and flu. It reduces the chances of illness and facilitates early recovery from diseases. Regularly eating garlic may help prevent the common cold or the flu. Garlic can also substantially reduce the severity of symptoms of illness and expedites the recovery. Garlic contains compounds that help the immune system fight against the germs which is called allicin, the main active ingredient in garlic. Allicin contains sulfur, which gives garlic its distinctive smell and taste which is unstable boost the disease-fighting response of some types of white blood cells in the body when they encounter viruses, which cause the common cold or flu.

Turmeric is a flowering plant filled with Curcumin, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. It is used to treat some forms of cancer. It is known as a preventive mechanism in times of disease (and viruses). It can be used as a spice. It can be cultivated during humid with warm weather and significant rain conditions.

Ginger contains anti-inflammatory, anti-emetic, and antispasmodic properties which are obtained largely from its rhizome. It is known for native treatment during pain like arthritis and indigestion. It lowers blood pressure, blood sugar and prevents infection with the use of fresh root for best results.

Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng) is well known for increasing the immune system through a substantial rise in energy and longevity in times of health crisis. The roots of the plant are turned into powder and used for cardiovascular problems, high cholesterol and stress management. The roots are also used for making tea which has medicinal value.

The historical legacy of the medicinal plants which are known for boosting the immune system during illness or health crisis requires a proper understanding by the doctors and uses. However, conscious efforts need to be made to properly identify, recognise and position medicinal plants in the design and implementation of these strategies. The core approaches – surveillance, outbreak investigations and immunisation are fundamental to the prevention of communicable diseases.


There are certain ways to boost the ‘immune system’ such as active life, physical exercise, healthy diet, stress-free life, relaxation and sound sleep which resist infections faster and better. The immune system needs proper rest to function effectively. Sound sleep reboots the immune system. There is no magic herb which can automatically prevent a cold, flu or other viruses. A moderate daily dose of vitamin D offers protection to the human body. Practically, the medicinal herbs play a supplementary role in developing the immune system and fighting the viruses including COVID-19 which has assumed alarming proportions in the present times.

(Dr C Hemavathi is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Botany, Government First Grade College for Women, Vijaynagar 4th Stage, Mysuru)


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