UPLB botanist cites medicinal plants with potential for use vs. COVID-19

Published October 6, 2020, 3:02 PM

by Alexandria Dennise San Juan

A botany professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) said two plants considered by locals as weed could potentially be harnessed for their medicinal properties in treating patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

(Photo from University of the Philippines Los Baños Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a recent webinar entitled “Rummaging nature’s arsenal: botanicals versus SARS-CoV-2,” Dr. Lourdes Cardenas presented medical plants Berberis barandana and Curculigo orchioides which she said could be used against COVID-19.

Cardenas said the Berberis barandana, also called “bagis” or “subit” in Igorot, is a common weed with small yellow flowers found in cold climates in Luzon, which is usually cleared out to make way for farming crops due to its non-assuming appearance and thorny leaves.

However, Cardenas said this plant contains “berberine,” an isoquinoline alkaloid that can act as an antiviral and antimicrobial agent.

While the Curculigo orchioides, named as “sulsulitik” in Northern Luzon or “talaongi” in Southern Mindanao, is also a medicinal plant that contains “saponin,” a compound that can boost the immune system and can be useful in treating weakened COVID-19 patients.

It is also considered as a weed by the locals because it commonly grows in grasslands where it is grazed upon by livestock, she added.

Cardenas, who is also a curator for medicinal plants at the UPLB Museum of Natural History (MNH), noted that while these materials are freely available in nature, “fully realizing its medical benefits will require further efforts to confirm their medicinal value, secure ample supply for production, and inform the public about their importance.”

The professor also pointed out the need to protect biodiversity and prioritize significant plant species in the quest to use these medicinal plants.

The government has been studying the effectiveness of other herbal medicines such as lagundi and tawa-tawa against COVID-19, while clinical trials of Virgin Coconut Oil are being conducted on its possible benefits to infected patients.