The virus COVID-19 travel around the globe in a few short weeks highlights our connectivity as human beings. As the metaphor goes, a butterfly may flap its wings in Brazil and set off a tornado in Texas. The hygiene practices and social distancing you or I employ has a tremendous impact, not just on our neighbours, but on someone else halfway across the world. We can either break the chain of transmission, or add to it.
This is a time to take good care of ourselves and our extended community. Just this morning, I learned a new word: caremongering. An article published by the BBC states a new trend has emerged— people are prioritizing helping others to spread preparation instead of panic, and calm instead of anxiety. This is not only heart-warming, this approach is necessary to build resilience and health in community. My best friend and co-facilitator Robert Birch lived through the AIDS epidemic, and he says “Viruses bring us together. They simultaneously breakdown boundaries needing more attention and connect us in ways we have been separated.”
By now, we all know how critical it is to practice social distancing, wash our hands, and practice hygiene effectively. Hoarding masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper only takes them away from everyone else, including healthcare workers and our most vulnerable populations who may not be able to rush to the store and afford to hoard.
One of the biggest global concerns during a pandemic is being unable to tolerate surge capacity on healthcare systems. In other words, there won’t be enough rooms in hospitals to treat those who need care, or available healthcare providers to tend to them. We know it’s vital to stay away from hospitals if you aren’t experiencing an urgent care situation (such as difficulty breathing) so healthcare providers and hospital beds are free for those who really need them. Further, if your illness is manageable at home, and a non-emergency, staying home protects healthcare workers from exposure to your illness. This, in turn, protects everyone those healthcare workers come into contact with.
This is a time to do what we can to protect and support our immune and respiratory systems. Below are some of my recommendations.
The hardest part about writing this article is deciding which herbs and remedies to include. There are literally dozens of options. I’ve decided to include ones that I have the most experience working with and are widely available rather than obscure and hard to find. Please be aware, there are no natural remedies for COVID-19. In fact, there is no singular herb or natural remedy for any one singular disease. When working with herbs and homeopathic remedies practitioners evaluate the overall presentation of symptoms and match the remedy to the person. In other words, three people could have pneumonia, and each of those three people would receive a different preparation dependent on their unique expression of the disease and how the illness is impacting them.
And please note, none of these recommendations are a replacement for seeking proper medical care from a qualified health provider.
For Fear & Anxiety
Fear is natural, especially in response to things we don’t truly understand, or that which we feel we cannot control. Fear is a helpful ally— it can get us out of dire situations quickly. However, when fear is persistent, and out of proportion to the situation, it can begin to work against us by escalating to irrational behaviour and harmful action. More importantly, persistent stress depresses the immune system.
Herbs – Linden, lemonbalm, kava, skullcap, wood betony, mint, motherwort, and rose petal are all helpful teas or tinctures to calm and soothe our body and mind. These herbs help ground a person into their body. They relax the nervous system and help switch us from fight and flight, high octane adrenaline and instead deepen down into our parasympathetic nervous system. They remind us to take a breath. Feel our body. Remind us of the present moment, here and now, out of the realm of what if’s.
To reap the benefits they must be prepared as a strong tea, called an infusion, or a tincture. Steep the infusion long enough and strong enough that your tea takes on a strong colour and aroma. When our nervous system is well supported, our immune system is too. Drink the teas freely to taste. Take your tinctures several times a day, as directed on the bottle. I tend to use these tinctures 4-6 times a day in an acute situation, or, every 10 minutes for three doses in crisis.
Use Aconite 30C if there is acute fear and panic and the person feels paralyzed with fear. WIth this remedy, there is a restlessness: the person may pace the room preparing for something horrible to happen. This remedy is also for those who might be having a PTSD trigger. Aconite is called for when there is a primal, animal fear. Sometimes the person isn’t sure why they are having the reaction they are.
Arsenicum album 30C is for the person who, similar to Aconite, is panicked and fearful but their fears and anxiety are connected to a sense of loss of control, especially of their environment and surroundings. They might start cleaning, organizing, or delegating as a means to feel okay. They can be hyper-paranoid about germs or contagion, to the point of paranoia. They are afraid to be alone and may relieve anxiety by criticizing others.
Feeling as described above may make sense given a situation a person is in. By recommending these remedies I’m not intending to minimize what someone might be going through, it is to offer a solution for those people who want to break the cycle of fear-based behaviours. Consider these remedies when the individual feels that their anxiety or fear is affecting their well-being. These remedies are not a replacement for professional therapeutic support.
How To Take Homeopathic Remedies
Dose: Take 3-5 pills every 30min for up to three doses in an acute situation, or, take one single dose (that’s 3-5 pills at one single time) just once per day for a maximum of three days.
Then STOP. Homeopathic remedies are not like herbs or vitamins! Take homeopathic remedies 20 minutes away from all food, drink & toothpaste. Let them dissolve in the mouth.
The body is more like a garden than a machine, so when the body is vulnerable, give it immune-strengthening nourishment. Practice good old fashioned common sense. Eating wholesome nutritious food is key to providing the building blocks necessary to increase resistance. Eat as much colour as possible right now. Purple cabbage, orange carrots, dark green leafy vegetables. Drink lots of water. Taking supportive herbs is like giving your garden some powerful compost, full of organic fertilizer. It’s not that our immune system needs remedies, our immune system is a phenomenal system unto itself. However given modern stressors, herbs nourish our vital force, strengthen our overall well-being, and support physiological strength.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)- Like most medicinal mushrooms, reishi is a powerful yet gentle immuno-protector that has been in use for thousands of years. Historical and modern use of this herb is indicated for chronic disease and auto-immune conditions. The polysaccharides of reishi have been found to modulate the immune system so that it reacts more effectively to the attack of foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses, while calming an overactive immune system that’s attacking its own healthy cells. It’s a powerful protector with a high safety profile. In Chinese medicine there is a wonderful concept called the Wei Qi, or defensive chi, that is an invisible protective shield that surrounds us. It’s unseen, yet sometimes felt with our instinctive sense. This field is the invisible protective membrane that pathogens must penetrate first before they can access our body. The stronger our Wei Qi is, the less susceptible we are to harmful pathogens. Reishi strengthens the Wei Qi.
In addition to profoundly helping our immune system, it also nourishes our mind and energy. One of my favourite herbalists and teachers, Donnie Yance says, “Reishi generates a sense of inner calm and harmony while also heightening mental perception, both logical and intuitive.” Just last weekend my students and I spent time in a plant sit with Reishi, and before I told them what herb it was they were tasting, most remarked they felt overcome by a sense of deep grounded wisdom, certainty, love, wholeness, and deep vitality. Taking this herb regularly feeds and replenishes our energy storehouse. This increases our resistance to disease.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Similar to Reishi, Astragalus is also a herb that’s been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, and more recently western herbalism as an immune modulator. That is, if our immune system is overactive, it reduces hypersensitivity, and if the immune function is depressed or low functioning, astragalus boosts immune activity. Animal research has indicated that astragalus can stimulate and rejuvenate depressed immune function. Herbs have an inner intelligence that is harmonizing, and these modulators are a great example of this intelligence. Astragalus is used by practitioners regularly to prevent cold and flu. It strengthens the lungs, and the digestion. Astragalus is best to be taken regularly as a preventative, or to build up strength after illness rather than during an acute infection (where other herbs would be more suitable).
Both Reishi and astragalus are best to be taken daily, long-term. They are not a one-shot fix. They build, rejuvenate and protect the body over time, hence they are considered longevity tonics.
Herbalist Rosalee de la Foret has an in-depth article on Astragalus here.
I love combining Reishi and Astragalus together in a decoction. A decoction is a simmered preparation, as roots and fungi require a bit longer cooking to extract the medicinal properties. I also love to use these two herbs as a base to soup broth. At this time of year, I add giant handfuls of fresh spring nettles that are coming up to soups for added nourishment. If you don’t have access to fresh nettles add lots of green vegetables, including seaweeds (if your taste buds would enjoy them!). Here’s a great soup recipe from the dear Christopher Hobbs, author of the book Medicinal Mushrooms:
Wei Qi Soup for Building Immune Strength
Directions: Fill a pot 2/3 full with purified or spring water, then add:
- Astragalus membranaceus (5–7 sticks)
- Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) (1 medium)
- Any other tonifying mushrooms (2–3)
- Slightly sprouted beans (1/4–1/2 cup) (aduki, black, etc.)
- Bring water to boil, simmer for 20 minutes, then add:
- Organic barley (1/2–1 cup) (choose amount depending on thickness desired)
- Simmer another 20 minutes, then add favorite vegetables such as:
- carrots & celery
- beet tops (or chard, collards, mustard greens, etc.)
- potatoes (optional)
- sea vegetables (nori, kelp, wakame, etc.)
- gobo (i.e., burdock root)
- nettles or other wild greens (when available)
- garlic & onions
Simmer until the vegetables are tender, then add miso and spices such as ginger, celery, or fennel seed. Make enough for a few days and store it in the refrigerator.
Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)
Elderberry is a remedy used during cold & flu season to protect against viruses. Hands down, regular use of this herb is where my patients who are healthcare providers themselves and those who have auto-immune conditions phone me to report they get acute respiratory illness significantly less often since taking elderberry regularly. Compounds in elderberries have been found to stop the replication of a flu virus due to the presence of a hemagglutinin protein. This protein has been shown to inhibit a virus’ ability to penetrate the cell wall, which stops its ability to replicate. Elderberries have been studied extensively and shown to be effective in protecting against acute viruses, and stop an acute upper respiratory infection from progressing into a full-blown illness, if you take increased doses within 24 hours of symptoms presenting. I’ve experienced this many times myself, as have numerous students and patients. It’s quite impressive to experience firsthand.
Mis-information is circulating on social media right now about elderberry being harmful and possibly causing a cytokine storm. Elderberry is not dangerous, nor can it cause a cytokine storm. Unfortunately, the “elderberry might cause a cytokine storm” scare is a testament to how casual connections and unsubstantiated theories can quickly become authoritative on social media. This is a good reminder to get essential information about botanical medicine only from credible sources (actual clinicians and researchers trained in botanicals). Please read this article here from Paul Bergner. Dr. Aviva Romm,MD also addresses this the elderberry mis-understanding here in this wonderful blog post.
Additional Immune Support
Go outdoors a lot. Breathe in fresh air and get sunshine. Go for walks even on cloudy days. Check in on neighbours, friends, acquaintances and see if they need a hand with anything including grounded information sources such as fact sheets, an ear to talk through their anxieties, reassurance or helpful community services. Community is Immunity.
Daily dose for adults:
vitamin A – 10,000IU
Vitamin D – 5,000IU – 10,000IU
Vitamin C – 2000mg – 4000mg
Zinc – 15mg, ideally in lozenge or sublingual form.
If you do get sick – The Onset
If you’re not feeling well, stay home and isolate so you avoid passing on illness to others. Keep yourself well-hydrated and warm.
Elderberry & Echinacea in combination (or just individually if that’s all you have) can work well, especially at the onset of illness. Take at the very first sign of symptoms, in high doses every two or so hours during waking hours.
Other antiviral herbs: thyme, rosemary, baptisia, propolis.
If you still proceed into a full-blown cold or flu, stop these herbs and move onto something that better suits the situation (see below).
Be sure you stay well-hydrated, and let yourself truly rest. Your body is working hard to fend off infection. Minimize stress as much as possible, this includes mental angst.
At the first sign of cold or flu, take one of the following homeopathic remedies if they match your symptoms.
Dosage: 3-5 pills taken at one given time equals one dose. Take three doses within a 24 hour window. This often stops acute infection in its tracks, provided it matches the following symptom picture.
Aconite 30C – for where symptoms of infection (like a cold or flu) come on quickly, possibly from exposure to cold weather or wind. They may suddenly have a sore throat and a hot face. The person may be anxious and match the emotional state of Aconite as described above.
Gelsemium 30C – This is the remedy for where a person feels great prostration and even dizziness, so that they cannot stand, and must lay down. Their eyelids feel heavy, they feel drowsy, and their head may even feel too heavy. This is the key remedy for influenza. They might feel weak and incapable of weathering a flu, and have anticipatory anxiety.
Arsenicum 30C – The illness may begin as the sniffles and a sore throat. The person is restless, with a desire for hot drinks, which is relieved by sipping throughout the day. They may be anxious and fearful (see emotional state mentioned above). They may have a dry cough with wheezing. This remedy is particularly suitable for people who have a history or pneumonia or respiratory weakness.
Note: Arsenicum is a good preventative for illnesses that target the lungs, such as pneumonia. Take 3-5 pills over a 24 hour period. THAT’S IT.
When you have the Flu
If you progress to a full-blown flu and have a fever do not suppress it by taking over the counter medication unless the fever is beyond 104, or you have an existing health condition where fever can lead to serious consequences. In fact, you want to encourage a productive fever, as this is the immune system’s mechanism for deactivating the virus. It’s the body’s wisdom for resolving illness. If indeed if you let your body go through the fever, you will likely recover more quickly and come out stronger. Suppression can take away symptoms, but it actually doesn’t resolve the illness. Instead, it usually results in a prolonged illness and sometimes, complications.
Use aromatic, fragrant herbs, when you have a fever and acute symptoms. These herbs are diaphoretic, and they gently stimulate the immune system. Aromatic herbs open the gates of the vital force making it possible for the body to clear pathogens.
Herbs to take at this stage: yarrow, elderflower, lemon balm, thyme.
If you do not have these herbs and cannot go out to purchase them, turn to your kitchen for remedies. Make a strong tea (simmered) of ginger, garlic, lemon and honey and drink a lot of this brew throughout the day. Add thyme, rosemary, sage from the garden or spice cupboard.
If the symptoms do not match Gelsemium (try this remedy first for flu) or you’ve tried it and it didn’t work, consider one of the following homeopathic remedies for flu:
Eupatorium perfoliatum 30C is for flu where the key symptom is a deep ache in the bones. The bones are painful and may even feel like they are broken. There can be rib pain with a bruising sensation making each cough extremely depleting. There is usually a thirst for cold drinks and a headache felt in the back of the head.
Arsenicum 30C They may have a burning sore throat and be extremely chilly. All the warm blankets in the the world, and they may still feel cold. Breathing is difficult. They may have a hectic fever, they may toss and turn restlessly in bed, then collapse in great prostration. As noted above, they may have heightened anxiety and desire company.
Camphora 30C is for the person who moves quickly into flu and declines rapidly. They can have internal heat and external coldness. Their skin can hurt. They lose their energy quickly. This is a serious state that may require you to call 911.
In fact, as the fates may have it, I had to use Eupatorium myself. Just a few weeks ago I had a terrible flu. It came on quickly and within hours my bones hurt and my lungs felt like they were full of shards of glass. My ribs hurt so badly with each cough, it felt as if my ribs were broken. I had a fever and was so nauseous I couldn’t stomach all the wonderful antiviral herbs that line my shelves. In my feverish delirium, I had enough clarity to know this exact set of symptoms matches the homeopathic remedy Eupatorium. Within 10 minutes of the pills dissolving on my tongue, the horrible rib pain was gone. I was amazed, and so grateful for the relief. Within two hours, the coughing no longer hurt at all. The sensation of shards of glass was gone. By that evening, my fever was gone and the chills subsided. Within 24-hours all of the very alarming symptoms were gone. Had they not been relieved, I was prepared to go to the hospital as I’ve never been that sick and filled with painful, scary symptoms. Once I felt better, I went online to chat with colleagues on an international forum. As it turns out, homeopaths around the world are seeing symptoms for flu that require the use of Eupatorium. The desire for cold drinks is interesting, as normally when I am sick I want hot tea or broth, and with this illness I wanted to chew frozen berries and drink iced water despite being chilled myself. This is one of the confirmatory symptoms that made me turn to this remedy.
Herbs for a dry cough
marshmallow root, slippery elm, licorice, mullein in tea (best) or tincture. Keep up with antimicrobial tinctures such as usnea, propolis, elderberry, reishi, turkey tail,
Spasmodic cough – add some cramp bark and lobelia to the mix (just a little bit of lobelia in tincture).
The homeopathic remedy Bryonia 30C is good for a dry hacking cough that is harassing, unrelenting, and unproductive. They feel worse from a warm room (they need fresh air), and feel worse moving about. It makes them cough more, so they prefer to be still. They feel dry and thirsty. They can be very irritable and impatient.
The homeopathic remedy Drosera 30C is for a dry, spasmodic cough that sounds like whooping cough. They have a barking cough that comes in quick succession making it hard to catch their breath. The cough comes with a tickling sensation that makes it hard to talk. The cough can be worse between midnight and 3am.
The homeopathic remedy Hepar Sulph 30C is for a dry barking cough with wheezing and rattling, and difficult or no expectoration. The cough will sound wet in the morning and dry up through the day. The person needing this remedy feels very cold and wraps themselves up warm. The cough can be painful, their throat can feel raw and sore.
My favourite herbs to combine for a strong tea are mullein and elecampane with honey.
The homeopathic remedy Pulsatilla 30C is for someone who has a loose cough with thick mucous that could be bland, or yellow-green. They generally feel worse in the morning, and the cough is more productive in the morning. They are worse in a warm room, tend to run warm (even if no fever) and desire fresh open air. They are worse with exertion, easily worn-out, and do not have a strong thirst. They can be emotional, tearful, and want company and consolation.
The homeopathic remedy Antimonium tart 30C is for a productive cough where there’s rattling in the lungs that the person cannot cough up. They can have episodes of coughing where it sounds like there are volumes of mucous in the lungs and they may have shallow breathing when not coughing. They can feel weak, even faint, and may experience some headache. This is a key remedy for bronchitis.
Herbal steams are wonderful if you have a cold or congestion: Boil up a pot of water and add fresh fir or pine needles, fresh aromatic herbs such as rosemary and thyme, or dried herbs that are aromatic such as the ones listed above. Or, you can use just a few drops of essential oil.
Wishing you rest, peace, and sunshine,