What We Know
We have been shaken and stirred, angered and outraged. We may be fighting rising sensations of panic and fear. We may be healthcare workers on the frontlines of this pandemic or kitchen herbalists arming our cupboards with the best of immune and lung support for an uncertain future.
As herbalists, our medicine is nourishment on the daily. At its best, herbal medicine is simple, safe, and effective. Broths and minerals. Whole plant remedies harvested at their peak phytochemical production. Plants for people and planet.
There is so much of what we don’t know – see below. There are many questions of scale, sustainability, and skepticism – you’ll find these below, too.
What we do know is that this international disturbance has revved the herbal community into collection action and a wealth of shared knowledge.
What we can offer is a hub of what we have seen as the best resources out there to help you and your community navigate your way through this crisis.
What We Don’t Know
Much of the information coming from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners out of China is testifying to doctors using both acupuncture and herbal medicine to deal with the virus. One CNN article referenced a clinical trial in which those being treated ‘holistically’ with herbal medicine were having a 33% higher recovery rate as opposed to those who were not given herbs.
While some of the herbs we offer are common staples in TCM – such as astragalus – most of the herbs we use are western and prolific. Since herbal medicine and constitutional energetics are both science and art, some necessary substitutions are critical and comfortable even in the context of a specific protocol. These tweaks and substitutions are essential even simply to prevent one herb that could be the darling of COVID-19 treatment completely disappearing from commerce – kudzu, elderberry, or reishi for instance – because it’s sold out and even hoarded. This is not a sustainable solution. As much as there’s not one single herb that treats any infection, it’s likely that there are multiple routes to supporting the body’s resistance to this new pathogen.
We realize that for community care, mutual aid, and other organizations stocking up on supplies, one concrete protocol would be easiest to deal with. Not everyone is an herbalist and it is rare you’ll ever hear an herbalist say _____ herb for _____ disease. To some degree, this pandemic is an exception because of the scale and speed with which treatment will need to take place. But even though the symptoms of COVID-19 manifest as hot and dry in some, other are presenting as damp and cold. Some people (up to 50% it seems at this point) will manifest with more gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and some will need more cooling, mucilaginous remedies for the lower respiratory channel.
We are not speaking from a place of direct experience with the virus but we are in favor of using commonsense, proven remedies that help the immune system to be at its prime. At this stage, there are essentially no trials of herbal medicine treating COVID-19. We are only at the tip of this iceberg. If you come across anyone in holistic health promoting one protocol or formula to treat COVID-19, run away as fast as you can. We are not legally permitted to suggest that an herb has any effect on the prevention, cure, or treatment of any disease, and in this case it would not be ethical to do so.
COVID-19 is novel, meaning that it has never been found in a human body before 2019, and while there are many of us with conjectures and theories, few of these have been tested. To some extent, most of this is a theoretical guessing game, though it is clear from clinical research and the traditional use of some several thousand years that some commonsense practices do aid the body’s ability to adapt and overcome viral infections.
We are not medical professionals (though there are many doctors and healthcare workers referenced below) and not recommending any specific combination of herbs for COVID-19 and it is up to you to parse through and suss out what works for you from the many recommendations that are being made.
No herbal protocols should be recommended exclusively without following all of the conventional recommendations, many of which you can find below. Herbal care, rather, can act as a positive adjunct to conventional care to soothe symptoms with few or no side effects. With a virus so much more vigorously contagious than typical colds and flus, it’s key to remember that herbal medicine shines in prevention and supporting optimal physiological function support, as well as to allay symptoms, optimize the nervous system, and support a full recovery.
Conventional medical protocols – potentially including the anti-malarials, HIV drugs and other pharmaceuticals that are being experimented with – should absolutely be considered, particularly in anyone who is at high risk of complication from the infection. Integration and balance are the name of the game here. Many herbs have powerful antiviral constituents and whole plant medicine may prove especially useful when dealing with evolving, smart viruses that are not fully understood, just as herbal antibiotics have proven to be useful even in the face of some antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’. Let’s be honest, some herbal actions are not fully understood either, even by the best phytochemists.
Now more than ever is a time to harvest and shop with an eye on sustainability. Abundant, weedy herbs should always be used or substituted. Remember that the medicine that is closest to you is sometimes – often, even – your best bet. Common kitchen herbs like ginger, for instance, are not necessarily any less effective or powerful than exotic herbs like amla or Asian ginseng. Plentiful invasives like kudzu root and honeysuckle are also possibilities for large-scale approaches to addressing a community’s health. When people are tempted to hoard, it is critical to remember that due to the sheer volume of this pandemic, it is essential to use the most widely available herbs first. Even if there was some magic bullet blend of herbs that ‘cured’ coronavirus, if these were not widely available herbs, how much would helpful would this knowledge be on a larger scale?
On a personal note, you may have noticed we’re running low or out of stock on a lot of herbs and formulas. Some we may stock more of in the next few days and some we are out of for the foreseeable future (you can sign up for back-in-stock notifications on any particular product page). Worldwide, there is an unprecedented rush on herbal medicine from every tradition – TCM, Ayurveda, and western herbalism. We’re working at crazy speeds around the clock to harvest, make, pour, bottle, and bag the contents of your medicine cabinet and respond to the flood of inquiries we’ve gotten over the last few weeks. We’re honored to provide you with potent herbal medicinals and support your family’s immunity during this time of crisis.
Simultaneously, we want to empower you to become your own medicine maker. If you’ve been wanting to learn how to make your own herbal remedies, now you’re quarantined and here’s your chance. We are upping our production to keep up with demand, but straight up – please don’t hoard all the elderberries for yourself (we’re limiting quantity to 3/person). We have small amounts of Elderberry Elixir left as of March 19th and are listing a new batch soon.
Interestingly, it’s spring in Appalachia and so many of the herbs I see being recommended as specifics to this virus – forsythia, honeysuckle, and elder are three – are popping out with fresh leaves and buds right now. Usnea lichen – an indicator of high air quality and a specific for the lungs and immunity – cloaks every downed branch from the last storm. Pine needles are available widely and make a delicate ascorbic-acid rich tea. As this virus continues to infiltrate among us, so does the backyard medicine that can be foraged in urban and rural spaces: dandelion root for optimal liver health, chickweed to keep the lymphatic system flowing nicely, and violet leaf and flower to soothe and moisten dry upper and lower respiratory tissues.
What We’re Doing
Below you’ll find a combination of what I’m doing daily at home for self-care and what I’m collecting for potential family and community need, in addition to a few current ideas which are circulating.
- Basic nutrition and minerals – having a baseline of nutrient-dense foods and minerals is key to supporting the body’s natural defenses. Drink your nourishing herbal infusions (oatstraw, nettle, and linden especially) if you can and eat as many nutritional powerhouse foods as you are able. At the very least, include fermented foods of some kind in your diet, which have been proven to fuel the immune system. Drink and eat your minerals and vitamins. Especially if your diet is less than ideal, consider supplementing short-term with vitamins C, D, A and zinc. I rarely advocate for supplementing because of quality issues and so little being absorbed by the body, but am a fan of high-dose vitamin C as a potent infection fighter (see Dr. Humphries for more).
- Kitchen herbs – simmer a little fresh ginger and add honey and lemon, drink this concoction daily. Add turmeric to your food and beverages. Add droppers of each ginger and turmeric to your tea. Consume garlic or Garlic Elixir daily. Throw your (organic) citrus peels in with your decoctions or simmering teas and throw all your vegetable scraps in with seaweed, mushrooms, and bones to make broth. The power of onions should not be underestimated and here is an excellent profile on this powerful kitchen staple. Good recipes to incorporate here would include the Reishi Immunity Broth, Reishi Long-Life Lemonade, Herbal Hot Toddy, Linden G&T (you can skip the alcohol), Golden Milk (link to come), Fire Cider, and Tulsi Chai.
- Immunomodulating herbs – my top go-tos which are showing up again and again in the building literature surrounding this pandemic are astragalus, any and all medicinal mushrooms (reishi, turkey tail, chaga, lion’s mane, and Mushroom Elixir are favorites), and adaptogens including ashwagandha and ginseng. Echinacea and usnea are both effective immune stimulants and usnea has an affinity for the lungs which may prove relevant here. Astragalus and reishi are particularly gentle and good for all ages and my three year old takes them daily (read this for more on herbs for children). I would consider poke in drop doses (1-5 drops) as a short-term immune activator.
- Nervines and adaptogens – for those of us (all of us) who have experienced the sweeping job losses, schedule disruptions, food security issues, financial panic, and overall nerve-wracking cortisol spike this pandemic has produced. These both increase and normalize the body’s ability to deal with stress which is intricately woven in with our immune health. In particular, I like skullcap, ashwagandha, motherwort, St. John’s wort, and milky oats here.
- Antiviral herbs – many of these cross over categories and are also nervines or immune supporters. Viral Spiral combines three of these: St. John’s wort, lemon balm, and calendula. Yarrow may play an important role here and is widely available. Elderberry belongs in this category, of course, and if you are at all concerned about it contraindicating you can read more on elderberry and the cytokine storm controversy here, here, here, and here. Here’s a great monograph on elder and immune health (also deals with the cytokine storm). There’s also an aggregation of elderberry controversy information available on the American Herbalists Guild site here.
- Herbs to support optimal regulation of the infected body – there is much more technical information on this in the links below and anything I say is necessarily speculatory and oversimplified. Kudzu is very powerful but little-known in western herbalism for immune support, but several herbalists are indicating it may play a role in supporting ACE-2 enzyme production. Ginkgo is in the same camp. A combination of ginseng, ginkgo, and gotu kola (a supportive cellular tonic) may be of help here. Of course, supporting the liver’s efficient processing of toxins in this scenario is key and may be aided by dandelion, yellow dock, burdock, or a combination of these. If lymphatic congestion is present, encouraging lymph flow with chickweed, cleavers, calendula, and possibly poke is warranted. Lymph Love contains the first three mentioned. I’m keeping a solid digestive bitters and Belly Elixir on hand in the event gastrointestinal support is needed.
- Respiratory herbs – a dry, inflamed lower respiratory system may be soothed and nourished by cooling, mucilaginous herbs. My top choices here are wild cherry bark (a well-known sedative for the lungs), elecampane, and hyssop. I think we may find elecampane indispensable in this situation. Osha (used in drop doses), plantain (in our Lung Support formula), and horehound are potent openers of the lungs. Ground ivy and goldenrod are two ‘weedy’ but tremendously lung supportive herbs that are widely available and may be useful. Ground ivy is easily accessible and may prove to be especially important during this time. Lobelia is a low-dose acute bronchial dilator which may be indicated for some. A general respiratory tonifying formula such as Lung Support or Breathe Clear is not a bad idea.
Who We’re Following
- Aviva Romm – our favorite MD and herbalist who has fabulous info on COVID-19 and pregancy, breastfeeding, and birth, general prevention tips, and more. She’s also doing daily ‘office hours’ where you can ask her questions about COVID-10 on IG live.
- Guido Mase, Tammi Sweet, and Deb Soule – three friends of ours who put together a webinar on COVID-19 (Facebook Live replay here). You can download the slide notes here.
- Rosalee de la Foret – a lovely constitutional and clinical herbalist who lays out several easy-to-find herbs which may possibly be supportive in Herbs to Consider for Coronavirus. Also check out her article on antiviral herbs.
- 7Song – the famously snarky founder of the Ithaca Free Clinic, is offering a free handout, An Herbalist’s Notes on COVID-19, with plentiful lists of antiviral and lung supportive herbs. Also check out his Viral Anxiety and Herbal Medicine handout.
- Lesley Tierra of the East West School for Planetary Herbology wrote this insightful piece on with some good dietary approaches and commonsense prevention strategies.
- Thomas Easley – the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine guy wrote a lengthy article on the virus and functional herbal approaches.
- Stephen Buhner – the Herbal Antivirals (and Herbal Antibiotics) guy who has been writing about viruses of this nature for decades and has a section of his book dedicated specifically to coronaviruses. He put out a detailed, 20-page paper on herbal remedies for COVID-19 and an important 5-page addendum.
- Phyllis D. Light – my personal teacher of the last few years and the founder of the Appalachian Center for Natural Health is posting lots of good COVID-19 information and is still working up a possible variety of protocols.
- Juliet Blankespoor – our buddy and the founder of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine has a number of good articles on general immune herbs both for tonic use and acute situations.
- Matthew Wood – the brilliant interpreter of herbal energetics, has dedicated a free-to-access section of his site to his thoughts on the virus (you have to create an account and login to access).
- Paul Bergner – put together an herbal resource site for COVID-19 here at the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism. He debunks ‘Herban Legends’ about the virus and has good information about the cytokine storm debate.
- Todd Caldecott – the Dogwood School of Botanical Medicine put this post together reflecting on general thoughts about COVID-19 with an Ayurvedic spin.
- The American Herbalists Guild put together this comprehensive listing of COVID-19 resources divided into various sections: public health, bioregionalism etc…
- Larken Bunce of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism put together this super-useful Google doc, Resources for Herbalists and Community Health Workers.
- Thomas Avery Garran, PhD is an excellent resource for solid information on the virus and western and Chinese herb formulas and substitutions in particular.
- Sam Coffman and his Herbal Medics Academy has this terrific resource on respiratory herbs and disaster preparedness in the context of COVID-19.
- Dr. Heather Zwickey, immunologist and integrative health expert, shares her thoughts about COVID-19 and potential preventative allies on this podcast.
- Dr. Christopher Hobbs made an informative webinar on Kitchen Remedies for Respiratory Symptoms here.
- Joe Hollis of Mountain Gardens has created this informative handout on Adaptogens and Immune Boosting Herbs.
- For more information on the TCM treatments that are being utilized, see here, here, and here and also the large TCM section under the American Herbalists Guild resource page.