Int J Med Sci 2020; 17(18):3125-3145. doi:10.7150/ijms.50260

Research Paper

Herbal plants coordinate COVID-19 in multiple dimensions - An insight analysis for clinically applied remedies

Yuejian Zhang1*, Yibo Li1*, Xiting Wang1*, Rendong Qu1, Juan Li1, Tengteng Li1, Tian He1, Zheyi Wang1,2, Yansong Liu1, Xiangming Shao1, Tao Lu1✉

1. The School of Life Science, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing 100029, China.
2. Beijing University of Chinese Medicine Affiliated Dongzhimen Hospital, Beijing 100700, China.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Zhang Y, Li Y, Wang X, Qu R, Li J, Li T, He T, Wang Z, Liu Y, Shao X, Lu T. Herbal plants coordinate COVID-19 in multiple dimensions - An insight analysis for clinically applied remedies. Int J Med Sci 2020; 17(18):3125-3145. doi:10.7150/ijms.50260. Available from

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The use of multipronged measures, including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), has greatly increased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we found the use of TCM and is positively correlated with the regional cure rate in China (R=0.77, P<10-5). We analyzed 185 commonly administered TCM recipes comprised of 210 herbs nationwide to reveal mechanistic insight. Eight out of the 10 most commonly used herbs showed anti-coronavirus potential by intersecting with COVID-19 targets. Intriguingly, 17 compounds from the 5 most commonly used herbs were revealed to have direct anti-SARS-CoV-2 potential by docking with the two core structures [CoV spike (S) glycoprotein (6SVB) and CoV 3CL hydrolase (6LU7)]. Seven reported COVID-19 drugs served as positive controls; among them, retionavir (-7.828 kcal/mol) and remdesivir (-8.738 kcal/mol) performed best with 6VSB and 6LU7, respectively. The top candidate was madreselvin B (6SVB: -8.588 kcal/mol and 6LU7: -9.017 kcal/mol), an appreciable component of Flos Lonicerae. Eighty-six compounds from 22 unlisted herbs were further identified among 2,042 natural compounds, completing our arsenal for TCM formulations. The mechanisms have been implicated as multifactorial, including activation of immunoregulation (Th2, PPAR and IL10), suppression of acute inflammatory responses (IL-6, IL-1α/β, TNF, COX2/1, etc.), enhancement of antioxidative activity (CAT and SOD1), and modulation of apoptosis (inhibited CASP3). It is of interest to understand the biological mechanisms of TCM recipes. We then analyzed 18 representative remedies based on molecular targets associated with 14 medical conditions over the disease course, e.g., pyrexia, coughing, asthenia, lymphopenia, cytokine storm, etc. The significant level of coherence (SLC) revealed, in part, the potential uses and properties of corresponding TCMs. Thus, herbal plants coordinate to combat COVID-19 in multiple dimensions, casting a light of hope before effective vaccines are developed.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, Ttraditional Chinese Medicine, anti-coronavirus, functional assessment, mechanistic insight