The current practice of ingesting phytochemicals to support the immune system or to fight infections is based on centuries-old tradition. We review reports on seven Chinese herbs, (Aloe vera Mill. (Aloaceae), Angelica species (Umbelliferae), Astragalus membranaceus Bunge. (Leguminosae), Ganoderma lucidum (Fr.) Karst. (Ganodermataceae), Panax ginseng C.A Mey. (Araliaceae), Scutellaria species (Lamiaceae) and Zingiber officinale Rosc. (Zingiberaceae) with emphasis to their immunomodulatory and antimicrobial activities. While some of these herbaceous plants have a direct inhibitory effect on microbial organisms, we observe that each plant has at least one compound that selectively modulates cells of the immune system. The successful derivation of pure bioactive compounds from Ganoderma lucidum, ginseng and Zingiber officinale supports the traditional practice of using these plants to stimulate the immune system. As many modern drugs are often patterned after phytochemicals, studying the influence of each compound on immune cells as well as microbes can provide useful insights to the development of potentially useful new pharmacological agents.
Keywords: anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, chinese herbs, immune system, phytochemicals, tcm, herbal toxicology
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