Medicinal plants to boost immune system against Covid-19

Dr Punyakishore Maibam and Dr Th Gopeshwor
Prevention and cure is part and parcel of the fight against any infectious and disease causing agent. Despite the advanced medical knowledge and skills, the present global pandemic situation due to COVID-19 has strengthened the importance of age old traditional therapeutic system based on medicinal plants as an alternative means to treat and cure several diseases.
So far, there have been reports of more than 1200 plant species of medicinal importance in the State of Manipur. The use of medicinal plants in the prevention and treatment of various diseases have been a common practice all around the world since time immemorial. Such practices are a part of the tradition and culture of any community. Apart from the Meitei community, almost all the tribal community residing in the State have their own traditional form of plant based medicine system. Medicinal plants are extensively used to treat and cure different types of infections and diseases. Such diseases include common ailments like cough, fever, headache, stomach problems, diarrhoea, dysentery, fungal infections, etc. Several chronic diseases affecting heart, lung, liver, kidney and nervous system are also subject to treatment with the help of medicinal plants in every community. These plants are used in different forms and extracts in fighting against several diseases. One of the most important aspects of the present Covid-19 prevention and treatment is the development of the innate immune system of the body. When the immunity is well developed inside the body, several disease fighting agents called antibodies are produced through complex biochemical and physiological processes. During normal biochemical reactions in our body there is a generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. This gets enhanced during patho-physiological conditions creating ‘oxidative stresses.’
These are some of the medicinal plants most commonly used by the local community of Manipur to boost the immune system during this pandemic situation.
1. Azadiracta indica (Neem)
It has been respected and widely used as an immunity booster. It is very effective in keeping the body safe from attacks by harmful pathogens and has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Neem can also keep our blood clean. It purifies the blood by flushing away toxins and this can strengthen immunity. The leaf of the tree is used for treating the ailments. The crushed leaves is mixed with little water and about 2-3 tea spoonful is taken twice a day before each meal
2. Ocimum tenuiflorum (Tulsi)
It is an aromatic perennial plant which is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread considered as a wonder plant. Tulsi contains the phytochemicals compounds like oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, eugenol, carvacrol, linalool and â-caryophyllene. Tulsi essential oil consists mostly of eugenol, âelemene and â-caryophyllene and with the balance being made up of various trace compounds mostly terpenes. This aromatic leaf can be our primary line of defence against COVID-19. Tulsi or basil is a powerful germicide. Because of its phytochemicals and antioxidants, it can effectively locate germs, viruses and bacteria the moment they enter our body and destroy them. In Manipur, people chew a few leaves first thing in the morning directly or by consuming tulsi tea.
3. Zingiber officinale (Sing) :Ginger has been an age-old remedy for flu and the common cold. It can also be effective against COVID-19.  It contains gingerol–an antioxidant that can power up our immune system and kill viruses. Ginger is particularly good in preventing respiratory tract infections. In Manipur, local people during this pandemic consume ginger tea.
4. Cucurma longa (Yaingang) : It is a rhizomatous aromatic herb extensively cultivated in both plain and hills of North Eastern States, The rhizome contains an essential oil consisting of sesquiterpenes, Zingiberene, cineol and the crystalline colouring compound known as cucurmin. This cucurmin which is a phytochemical can remove toxins from our body and strengthen our immune system to fight off germs and bacteria. It can be consumed with milk.
5. Allium sativum (chanam)
Allium sativum is a perennial flowering plant growing from a bulb. The major active components of garlic are its organosulfur compounds, such as diallyl thiosulfonate (allicin), diallyl sulfide (DAS), diallyl disulfide (DADS), diallyl trisulfide (DATS), E/Z-ajoene, S-allyl-cysteine (SAC), and S-allyl-cysteine sulfoxide (alliin). Like ginger, garlic too will protect us from coronavirus by stimulating our immunity. It contains allicin- a plant compound that acts as a germicide. Most people consume garlic as raw or partially cooked.
6. Rhus chinensis (Heimang)
It is underutilized crop belonging to the family Anacardiaceae, common name “Nutgall tree” or “Chinese sumac”. It is widely found in Manipur State of North-East India, where it is popularly called “Heimang”. The traditional folklore of Manipur use the ripe fruits of heimang for their antiviral, antibacterial, anti-diarrhea, antioxidant and digestive properties. The fruit of R. chinensis is an antioxidant rich source which provides protection to oxidative damage and ethanolic extract of leaves used as anticancer and antiviral actions. Due to its health benefits, people start consuming different value added products of heimang namely: heimang balls, heimang tablet and heimang candy.
The potential of the various plants having medicinal values found in Manipur must be explored to face the current pandemic situation. Since prevention is the foremost precautionary measure against any disease, we can be assured that medicinal plants available at our own backyard, when taken at the right form in the correct dose at the right time can be a healthy alternative in addition to the advanced medical practices.  
For further details, please contact Public Relations and Media Management Cell, CAU Imphal, by email to [email protected]