The herbal products come in granular form and trace their origins to “ancient Chinese prescriptions,” said the statement. They were developed from TCM remedies that had been used early in the pandemic, and that were “screened by many academics and experts on the front line.”
The three products are “lung-clearing and detoxing granules,” “dampness-resolving and detoxing granules,” and “lung-diffusing and detoxing granules,” said the statement.
The safety and effectiveness of TCM is still debated in China, where it has both adherents and skeptics. Though many of the remedies in TCM have been in use for hundreds of years, critics argue that there is no verifiable scientific evidence to support their supposed benefits.
In recent years, ancient remedies have been repeatedly hailed as a source of national pride by Chinese President Xi Jinping, himself a well-known TCM advocate.
“Traditional medicine is a treasure of Chinese civilization embodying the wisdom of the nation and its people,” Xi told a national conference on TCM in October 2019. Throughout the outbreak, Xi has repeatedly exhorted doctors to treat patients with a mix of Chinese and Western medicines.
Tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients received herbal remedies alongside mainstream antiviral drugs last year, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.
“By adjusting the whole body health and improving immunity, TCM can help stimulate the patients’ abilities to resist and recover from the disease, which is an effective way of therapy,” said Yu Yanhong, deputy head of China’s National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in March 2020.
By late March last year, China had gotten its outbreak largely under control — and though it has endured occasional flare-ups in various locations, numbers have stayed low and daily life has resumed. Restrictions have been lifted, allowing people to travel around the country and gather without face masks.
Now, authorities are looking to expand the industry, which was estimated to exceed 3 trillion yuan ($430 billion) by 2020.
The World Health Organization, which gave its first-ever endorsement of TCM in 2018, had originally advised against using traditional herbal remedies for Covid-19 on its website — though that line was later removed due to it being “too broad.”
Some in the biomedical community say WHO overlooked the toxicity of some herbal medicine and the lack of evidence that it works, while animal rights advocates say it will further endanger animals such as the tiger, pangolin, bear and rhino, whose organs are used in some TCM cures.
CNN’s Carol Yuan contributed to this report.