For as long as humans have been around, we’ve used plants as natural remedies for illness and as antivirals to combat infection. According to The Herbal Academy, “The first written record of medicinal plants was transcribed on clay tablets over 5000 years ago by the Sumerians, in ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq).” All ancient cultures have proof of herbalists!
In short, we’ve always found plants to help us heal, no matter what type of illness. Herbs are rich sources of phytochemicals such alkaloids, anthocyanins, carotenoids, flavonoids, isoflavones, lignans, monoterpenes, organosulfides, phenolic acids, saponins– all phytochemicals with antimicrobial properties.
With all the information floating around about coronavirus, it’s easy to feel nervous or overwhelmed. We thought we would start by reviewing some basics.
What is a Virus?
Viruses are very tiny germs made of genetic material inside of a protein coating. They cause diseases you’ve definitely heard of before, such as the flu, colds, chicken pox, and warts. Viruses invade normal cells of the body and use their reproductive processes to multiply and produce other cells like themselves. Different viruses attack different parts of your body (liver, lungs, blood, etc). However, when you get a virus, you don’t always get sick– your body can fight off the infection. Essentially, herbs can be a powerful tool in supporting the immune system and fighting off infection!
Why Use Herbs to Fight Viruses?
Due to their concentration of potent plant compounds, herbs can help fight viruses. They are easy to access, uncontrolled by big pharmaceutical companies, and wonderful for supporting the body’s natural functions. Herbs are also filled with protective polyphenols, which are antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Plus, herbs taste delicious!
What are Antiviral Herbs?
“Antiviral herbs inhibit the development of viruses. Many of the best antiviral herbs boost the immune system, which allows the body to attack viral pathogens. This can be even better than attacking specific pathogens, which antiviral drugs are designed to do, because pathogens mutate over time and become less susceptible to treatment. Not only do antiviral herbs fight viral infections, boost the immune system and work as flu natural remedies, but they have a number of other health benefits, such as cardiovascular, digestive and anti-inflammatory support,” says Dr. Josh Axe.
What herbs boost the immune system?
Immunostimulant herbs, also known as immunostimulators, are herbs that activate the immune system by increasing its activity. Immunostimulants enhance or boost the body’s natural defense against illness and disease. These herbs can help our bodies naturally fight off infections, colds and other viral inflammations. Along with the herbs we’ll outline in further detail below, goldenseal, maca, and catnip can also boost the immune system. Cooking with garlic, onion, coconut oil, and shiitake mushrooms are all great ways to get doses of immunostimulators into your diet.
5 Powerful Herbs with Antiviral Properties
According to herbalist Steph Zabel, “Elder is one of the most treasured herbs of the herbalist’s materia medica, and for hundreds of years has been deemed “nature’s medicine chest” for its myriad beneficial applications. In Europe, elder was believed to hold such great power that it was thought that if a sick person were to simply touch an elder tree they would be healed. It is certainly one of the oldest and most popular plants of European herbalism, commonly planted in gardens, and a beloved staple of most homes….
Today elder is most highly regarded for its ability to address colds and flu. Modern research shows that elderberry can kill many strains of influenza, and shorten the duration of illness by stimulating the immune system. Elder can also help reduce upper respiratory congestion and swelling of the mucous membranes.”
Elderberry is high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and rich in flavonoids (compounds with wonderful antioxidant properties). The flower of elderberry can be used as a diaphoretic herb to help reduce fever. Take 1-2 tablespoons of elderberry syrup everyday to keep your immune system strong.
“To make a strong elderberry tea, the dried berries need to be gently simmered rather than steeped like most tea. To do so, add 1 Tbsp. of dried berries to 2 cups of water. Gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, in a small covered pot; then strain and drink. Elderberry tea can be simmered like this on its own, but also mixes well with other herbs such as rosehips, cinnamon and/or ginger for a delicious beverage,” says Steph Zabel.
Check out this Elderberry Plus Elixir. It’s a favorite at The Alchemist’s Kitchen! Ginger is added to ease nausea, arthritis, and menstrual pains, astragalus root to stimulate the immune system, plus several types of mushrooms to help the body deal with stress and fight off infections. This Elderberry Reishi Elixir can also help fight off viruses!
“In the United States, researchers have looked at astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, astragalus supplements seem to help people recover faster and live longer…. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. It was often combined with other herbs to strengthen the body against disease. Astragaus is called an adaptogen, meaning it helps protect the body against various stresses, including physical, mental, or emotional stress,” according to the Penn State Medical Center.
Considered one of the best natural antiviral supplements, astragalus is often used to treat symptoms of AIDS, allergies, anemia, colds, fibromyalgia, flu, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and upper respiratory infections, and to strengthen and regulate the immune system.
The typical dose of astragalus is 2-4 teaspoons dried root decocted for 15 – 20 minutes in 1 cup water. (Astragalus safety: Should probably be avoided by those taking immunosuppressants.)
Click here for a soothing chai recipe (that includes astragalus) to boost your immune system!
Echinacea is a flowering plant that grows in Canada and the U.S. It’s also called Black Eyed Susan and Purple Cone Flower. According to herbalist Katie Rose Browning, “Echinacea stimulates the immune system by activating macrophages and elevating white blood cell levels in the body and can help inhibit the ability for viruses to enter and take over the cell. It is a fabulous antiseptic, anti-bacterial, and antifungal…
Echinacea is traditionally used for the onset of colds & flus, sore throats, respiratory infections, cystitis and other acute infections…. As a diaphoretic, Echinacea helps stimulate circulation and sweating and supports a fever to do its job. Its anti-inflammatory actions help relieve symptoms caused by the infectious stage of an illness. Echinacea also helps relieve allergic reactions and symptoms by working with histamine response.”
This herb is a powerful ally when fighting viruses and flus.
The plant originated in tropical Asia and is widely cultivated in the Caribbean and Africa. It has been used as a favorite “diffusive” circulatory tonic and warming agent, for calming occasional nausea, and aiding in a healthy immune respiratory response. It is ideal for boosting the circulation, lowering high blood pressure and keeping the blood thin in higher doses.
In her book ’10 Essential Herbs’ author Lalitha Thomas describes ginger’s properties:
“The major active ingredients in ginger are terpenes (quite similar to the chemical action of turpentine) and an oleo-resin called ginger oil. These two, and other active ingredients in ginger, provide antiseptic, lymph-cleansing, circulation-stimulating, and mild constipation relief qualities along with a potent perspiration-inducing action that is quite effective in cleansing the system of toxins.”
To add ginger into your diet, cook with ginger powder and fresh ginger root. If you have a juicer, add fresh ginger into your daily juice!
According to herbalist Sarah Levine, “In ancient China, Reishi was and continues to be revered as a miracle tonic elixir and is said to usher in many cycles of good health. Chinese paintings, embroideries, and sculptures of the gods and immortals depict Reishi as a sacred symbol of longevity and truly one of the most powerful tonics in all of existence….
Reishi is highly revered for its uniquely astounding myriad of medicinal properties. Reishi can restore, tone, and invigorate systems in the body while enhancing our overall vitality. In vivo and in vitro studies have found Reishi to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral (has been shown to be active against numerous viruses including Epstein-Barr, HIV, HBV, and the flu), antioxidant rich, analgesic (reduces pain), antiallergenic, stimulating and modulating to the immune system, liver protective, liver regenerative, antitumor (inhibiting or regressing tumors), and a wonderful tonic for the heart and lungs.
Reishi is traditionally used in a tincture or tea form, but can also be incorporated into a soup base, worked with in powdered form, or in a syrup decoction. It can be brewed in fermented beverages or infused into honey. It tastes really nice combined with coffee or cacao. There are endless possibilities for how one can work with it and there is no such thing as taking too much Reishi.”
You can take reishi in tincture form, in a powder, or in a hot cacao mix! One of the most studied mushrooms to date, reishi also helps maintain healthy blood sugar, healthy blood pressure and healthy liver function.
Know that plants are incredibly powerful allies during this stressful time… take a sip of tea, and know that it will all be okay. Stay tuned for herbal allies to help manage stress!