Early one morning this month, about 20 farmers in Yihuang county, Jiangxi province, rose early to tend a 24-hectare mugwort field nestled in a valley. To that end, they plucked weeds, cleaned trenches and applied fertilizers.
"We started planting mugwort here in December in the hope of bolstering the collective economy of the village and help lift some impoverished rural residents out of poverty," said Yang Zhenbao, head of a local agricultural cooperative that primarily grows the leafy plant.
"What we did not expect was that the introduction of mugwort plants in the county would coincide with the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic and play a positive role in fighting the disease."
Mugwort－ai cao in Mandarin－is an aromatic plant and a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. For centuries, Chinese people hung clusters of mugwort leaves on their door frames to repel insects and flies from their homes during the annual Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on June 25 this year.
The plant's pointed, pale green leaves are also dried and stuffed into embroidered sachets. During the festival, it is traditional for children to wear these scented little packets in order to ward off evil.
This year, the country's concerted efforts to curtail the COVID-19 epidemic have shone a light on the lesser-known medicinal properties of mugwort. TCM experts have recommended moxibustion therapy－which involves burning sticks of ground mugwort leaves near acupuncture points－as a means of strengthening people's immune systems. They have also created various formulas for antivirus sachets that can provide targeted prevention against the novel coronavirus.
A number of local authorities across the country where mugwort cultivation is a well-developed industry have voluntarily supplied the plant's leaves to households and medical institutions. It is believed that burning the leaves purifies the air in rooms and wipes out bacteria.
The growing attention being paid to the benefits of mugwort has proved to be a boon for Yang and his fellow villagers. "The number of orders from nearby regions and other parts of the country is rising. We are very optimistic about the future," he said.