Robust Immunity During A Pandemic

Accessible and Easy-To-Use Herbal Medicines & Wellness Tips to support our Immune, Circulatory and Respiratory Systems.

This info was composed from numerous herbal classes, podcasts, and shared clinical experiences and books during COVID-19. Credit is given throughout and a comprehensive resource list of links is listed for those of you who desire a deeper dive. Many of the herbs listed here are found right in your kitchen or easily accessible. Towards our collective health and vitality! 

CONTENTS: 

Foods & Gut Health

Key Vitamins

What to Avoid

Prioritize Sleep

Exercise, move, walk, dance

Mucus Membranes

Immediate Immune Stimulating Herbs

Long Term Immune-modulating Tonics

Respiratory herbs

Love Your Lymph!   

Nourish Nervous System with Nervines

The Mind-Body Connection, Breathwork, and Joy!

A Deeper Dive into Herbal Resources for COVID.

 

Food Is Medicine: 

  • Kitchen Spices are Herbal Medicines. The spices are infused throughout this guide as additions to soups, stews and food, as teas (more than a culinary dose), respiratory steams, baths, aromatherapy, and extracts. Continue reading for more info on the spices!
  • If a fever, you might want to consider fasting from the time of the onset and/or only broths, especially bone broth, soups, and teas.  
  • Avoid foods that weaken the immune system and cause mucus: sugar, (including orange and other fruit juices), carbs, processed foods, dairy. Generally raw foods stress the immune system especially if you already tend to run cold. Raw is generally cold and gently cooking food helps you digest them better.
  • In general: As much as possible eat nutrient dense food that is simple and warming to avoid nutrient deficiencies that might suppress your immune system. A hefty dose of veggies each meal (80/20 or 60/40. So when you look at your plate 80% or 60% of that includes veggies that are the colors of the rainbow.  Meat or whole grains the other percentage.

A Foundation of Health, Our Gut:

  • Kitchen Medicine Wellness Tips, super practical, accessible info by herbalist Kami McBride. Our food is our  medicine! “Please take a little time out of your day today, this video could make a difference in the life of someone you love.” Some takeaways: 
  • COVID-19 can go from being a dry cough to a heavy, cold, damp condition. What does damp look like in the body?
    • Thick mucus in the chest. See her video for more details.
    • Stuck energy, stuck emotions.
    • Pay attention to tongue: white coating pale damp tongue.
    • Poop is heavy, sticky, leaves skid marks on toilet.
    • Shallow breath – heavy feeling in chest.
    • What foods are damp and heavy? Cheesecake, etc.
  • Warming, aromatic spices- also mentioned below in immune-boosting herbs.
  • Action steps: Keep moving, Sweat and move, Hot baths, Get sunshine, Adequate sleep: https://kamimcbride.com/the-nature-of-the-coronavirus-and-how-you-can-reduce-susceptibility/
  • For prevention or acute sickness, gut health is always a prime consideration. Are you actually absorbing the nutrients from your food? Are you fully chewing your food? Are you tasting or inhaling your food? Are you looking at a screen while you’re eating? Looking at a screen raises stress levels, impacts digestion and nutrient absorption. Chewing mindfully makes a difference! Carving out time to intentionally eat and digest can be a great daily ritual.
  • Need extra support digesting foods? Consider herbal digestive bitters, digestive enzymes, and a good probiotic. Reach out to me for custom balanced bitters. For probiotics I recommend the latest research: JustThrive, and P3OM BioOptimizers.

Key Vitamins:

Supplements can be pricey and not everyone can afford them but here are a few worth mentioning especially during COVID-19. The following have been effective preventatively, for overall vitality, and speedy recovery. Most people are deficient in these. You do not need heroic doses just sufficient to correct deficiencies. Build levels slowly over time by taking them daily.

  • Vit D3 is fat soluble, protects against acute respiratory tract infections & may be important for enhanced immunity at the beginning of infection and for reduced inflammation in critical care. – Aviva Romm, MD, midwife herbalist.
  • Magnesium helps our body take in the D3 and helps alleviate cramping or spasming of any kind, is great for constipation (you especially don’t want to be constipated during COVID, keep your channels of elimination flowing! For further info see this PAGE OF RESOURCES.
  • Zinc. Lozenges are not a bad idea here, especially if your throat is dry, tickly, or starting to get sore. But any form of zinc will do. Important role in immunity, fighting bacteria, and viruses. May help respiratory passages against viral replication and inflammation. Zinc lozenges & zinc acetate are better than nasal sprays, pills, and tablets. Low dose only as it can cause nausea and vomiting. Can interfere with meds: quinolone or tetracycline antibiotics and rheumatoid arthritis meds. From Herbalist, midwife, Medical Dr Aviva Romm.
  • Vitamin C – immune cells, fights pathogens, respiratory passages.
  • Essential fatty acids – aka health fats and oils. Also helps with hydration. Essential because our bodies need them. Fats have a bad reputation due to faulty research (and the sugar industrys’ fear propaganda) however the right types of fats play a premiere role in every aspect of our lives – from our decision making processes, our risk for diseases like cancer, ability to lose weight, and even the rate at which we age. Newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil actually shares pharmacological properties with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. Healthy fats are excellent energy resources. Healthy fats can optimize not only our cognitive performance, executive function, mood, and long-term brain health, also our overall health. (Excerpts from ‘Genius Foods’, Max Lugavere). Some vitamins are fat soluble meaning that they need fat in order to be absorbed in the body. Eating the right kinds of healthy fats help maintain and balance hormone levels and even result in weight loss.(Asprey, Bulletproof Diet). See more on this PAGE OF RESOURCES.

 

It Helps To Know What To Avoid: 

  • Limit or eliminate sugar consumption. Sugar lowers your immunity by 50% for several hours or longer. Excessive sugar consumption creates a cacophony of problems, including nutrient malabsorption, insulin resistance, systemic inflammation, cardiac disease and more.
  • Alcohol – is also sugary. 
  • Foods: 
    • Known food allergens. Corn, wheat, soy, dairy, gluten are big allergens.
    • Foods that may depress or aggravate inflammation. Canola, bad oils, sugar, allergens, processed, foods with glyphosate and high pesticides, etc.
    • Greasy, fried foods
    • Cold foods, drinks and smoothies. Excess salads
    • Reduce most dairy, especially Ice cream – creates sluggish digestion, more mucus. 
    • Excess spicy foods
    • Excess protein, meats.
  • NSAIDs and acetaminophen.
  • Try to avoid the wind and bundle up. 
  • Reduce negative stress as much as possible. Great stress reducers: breath-work, meditation, morning routine, tapping, nervines and adaptogenic herbs. Did you know that sugar and allergen foods can actually induce anxiety? 
  • Dry mucosa. If your house or workplace is excessively dry, consider running a humidifier. Or simply put a pot of water uncovered on the stove, wood heater, or radiator. The warming aromatic herbs such as many kitchen spices should be avoided if acute dryness is present (dry cough, shortness of breath, dry tongue, dry lips). They are still fine in an aromatic steam inhalation.

Prioritize Sleep, Seriously.

Your body’s best way to heal. Sleep is crucial to our healing process and is one of the greatest natural immune system boosters. Long term sleep debt can lead to a host of serious diseases and even general malaise. California Poppy, Passionflower are a couple of my  favorites. See a whole lot more about sleep on this RESOURCES page.

Exercise, Move, Dance, or Walk Regularly: 

We all know that exercise is an important part of our health, elevates body temperature, prevents upper respiratory infections, boosts immunity, increases our circulation, which aids our lymphatic system in removing cellular debris and other metabolic wastes from our bodies. This increased circulation means that an immune system cell is quicker to attack invading pathogens and clear them from the body.   Dance, sway, take walks. 

Keep Those Mucus Membranes Moist: 

  • Hydrate like you never have before! Water, veggie or bone broths, and herbal teas. Make sure you’re consuming enough to urinate 8 times a day.  
  • Throw a pinch of sea salt in your water first thing in the morning. 
  • Add chia seeds to your water. 
  • Gargle: hydrates but also gets rid of or reduces potential viral load – Prevention of upper respiratory infections 2-3x a day, 13-30 secs.
  • Herbal steams work wonders!  10+ minutes, 3 x day – using from a tablespoon to a handful of your favorite kitchen spice. Carving out some time over a steam pot with aromatic herbs can help your lungs, boost your mood, and be beneficial for your overall health. I’m partial to Bay, Thyme and Rosemary. There’s also Sage, Clove, Oregano, Garlic, Eucalyptus, Conifer needles, etc. Make a steamy tent with a towel over your head, inhale through your nose, for several minutes. 
  • Use Demulcent herbs as needed: 
    • Plantain, licorice root, shatavari; Marshmallow root powder, cold water diffusion if you have it. 
    • If you don’t have any in your spice cabinet, get Throat Coat Tea by Traditional Medicinals, available at most grocery stores – 3 bags to the cup. 3 cups a day
    • Eat Demulcent Oatmeal as much as you’d like.  (* Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine)
  • Essential oils: Just a few drops in your diffuser or bath goes a long way. No need to over do it!   If applying on skin apply carrier oil in your palm first, then infuse with a couple drops of essential oil. 


Immediate Immune Stimulating Herbs (as needed)

  • Echinacea (if well tolerated; don’t overdo it). Thyme works better for some people with damp/wet constitutions. 
  • Thyme works better than echinacea for some people, especially if you tend to get damp conditions in the lungs. 
  • Warming / Kitchen herbs!   Teas, a mix of whatever you have:  ginger, cinnamon, star anise; rosemary, thyme, oregano.  Thyme tea can reduce chance of secondary bacterial infections, expectorants.  Fire Cider; Garlic-respiratory antibacterial, antiviral.
    • MULTI PURPOSE TEA with common spices for mucusa membranes, great for immune system, antibacterial, antiviral, etc: Ginger, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Turmeric. I picked this hack up from herbalist Michael Cottingham. I thought this was going to be gross but if I’m going to recommend something to someone then I’m going to try it and it’s actually quite good – with or without the honey! You can be drinking this now. This is going to be keeping your respiratory and mucus membranes cleaner, healthier, able to deal with contaminates and contagions that might come in through the mucosa.Preventative. Made strong when sick and drink more of it (more than a culinary dose).
    • Infusions of warming diaphoretic herbs: Ginger, Cayenne (with care), Thyme, Hyssop, Oregano, Rosemary, Garlic, Sage, Black Pepper (with care), and most pungent kitchen spices. Yarrow (less warm and dry, good choice for COVID) and Lemon Balm are also good here. Use more than a culinary dose! Make a strong-tasting hot tea and drink while hot! If using herbs from tinctures put tincture into hot water and drink while hot. These herbs drive blood circulation toward the skin and mucous membranes and empower our surface defenses. These teas may be quite drying so see “Don’t dry out!” above and drink water.

Immune-Modulating Herbal Tonics.

Known as tonics, these herbs & medicinal mushrooms can be taken longer term and not meant to be taken once there is an acute onset of symptoms. A few of my favorites are:

  • Astragalus root is originally from China and is now used extensively by western herbalists. For many years astragalus has been my favorite herb for building and modulating the immune system. I regularly take it during the winter months. 
  • Codonopsis root is another Chinese herb. It’s commonly used as a substitute for ginseng due to its lower price. Codonopsis can stimulate the immune system, strengthen the lungs and has moistening qualities.3 
  • Elderberry and Black Seed (Nigella Sativa) is more of an immune tonic, modulator, stimulator, whereas Elder is more antiviral. Basically, two approaches is better than one. Start these remedies as soon as there are people around with these symptoms. – Herbalist Matt Wood. Great preventatives and yummy. The information about elder causing cytokine storms has been proven wrong. Caution with elderberry in some autoimmune conditions. Better for prevention, once a fever you can stop.
  • Medicinal MUSHROOMS each have a laundry list of how they boost our health: Reishi, Cordyceps, Turkey Tails, Maitake, Shiitake, Agaricon, Chaga. I’ve been making a spicy cacao mix with some of these! Reishi is an immune amphoteric/is an immunomodulator capable of strengthening the immune system (it enhances monocyte, macrophage, and T lymphocyte activity) and down-regulating excessive immune system response in patients with immune dysregulation (auto immune diseases) and allergies. Improves cardiovascular function, lowers cholesterol, mildly lowers blood pressure. Is beneficial for people with asthma and COPD, hep B and C and has hepatoprotective and antiviral activity. Reishi’s adaptogenic effects are mild and cumulative, but research shows it improves adrenocortical function and relieves stress. 

Respiratory Medicines

In addition to gargles and steams mentioned above. Be cautious of cookie cutter herbal protocols that ignore individual constitutions and symptom presentations. Specifically, many of the lung remedies touted for are very drying to the mucosa.*(herbalist Thomas Easley’s words). Here are a few for your toolbox. If in doubt, talk with an herbalist about Respiratory herbs. 

  • Oregano and thyme are very similar garden herbs that are both antimicrobial and warming in nature. I prefer these as a short-infused tea* taken consistently throughout the day. Know that Oregano can be very drying. 
  • Garlic: increases the natural killer cells of the immune system, reduces inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers of the immune system) and can reduce the severity of colds and the flu.  Garlic breath? Good it’s medicine is working on your lungs! The sulphur is the medicine.
  • Warming expectorants that thin fluids: Elecampane, Ginger, Garlic, Horseradish, Angelica, Thyme; Prickly Ash in small doses.
  • Relaxing cough remedies: Cherry bark- for suppressing a cough only when you need to get sleep; Mullein, leaf double strained; Pleurisy root for BOTH dry and wet lung conditions simultaneously, and Lobelia in small doses only or it is an emetic – can make you purge.
  • External chest packs –  Don’t underestimate the power of onion, mustard, and garlic!
    • Onion poultice & syrup by Kiva Rose: Great for infants, children, elderly. For coughs or congestion. Especially great for letting children breathe and sleep long enough to heal.(with no sleep a child can look listless, pale, exhausted with a painful cough due to inflammation. Chop and place on chest as hot as can be with a water bottle and towel for 15-30 minutes; Can follow with a chest rub, menthol salve.
    • Onion: Warm, dry, diaphoretic, diuretic, rubefacient, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, smooth muscle relaxant. Antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cough suppressant – reduces frequency and intensity of spasmodic and insistent lingerin gcough. https://enchantersgreen.com/onion?fbclid=IwAR2pVnGO5W35FgJwW-rA1pcVkspB_Z5C41X9XdKXztyjZNdeP7b4gP8rbcc
    • Mustard Chest Pack Recipe. Can also find directions on youtube. Super beneficial for opening and stimulating lungs!! https://heartofwellness.org/ease-chest-congestion-with-mustard-pack/

Love your lymph!

 It’s part of our immune.

  • Consider taking gentle alteratives as a preventative.  Cleavers, burdock, calendula, red root (great though drying)red clover, violet, sarsparilla. 
  • Massage with a guasha or back of wooden spoon. Google it! 
  • Soak your feet, calves in warm water for lymph drainage with or without epsom salt, lavender and rosemary essential oils.
  • Practice hydrotherapy – to stimulate lymph flow.
  • Jump on a trampoline!!! Our lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs which help to get rid of body toxins, waste and other unwanted materials in the body. Unlike the cardiovascular system, in which the heart automatically pumps blood, the lymphatic system purely relies on our body movement as a pump. Lymphatic flow relies completely on our conscious movement. Rebounding on a trampoline is a whole body exercise, and it may cause the lymphatic valves to open and close simultaneously which will cause increase lymph flow as much as 15x.

Nourish Your Nerves With Nervines:

Nervines calm our nerves, some are trophorestorative meaning actual nerve food. Others elevate your mood. The following nervines mix well together. They make great teas or are great in extracts.

  • Nettles (Urtica dioica) is an ideal all-around herb with high iron and mineral content and supportive of many body functions. Anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic properties.  It increases oxygen transport in your blood, calms you down and supports your body in returning to its regular, strong self. 1-4 cups of tea daily.  Extract 15-30 drops 3x daily.
    • Concentrated Nettle Extract made by Herbs, Etc. called “Chlor-Oxygen” is handy to carry in the streets. One drop in a quart of water. 
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): Soothes nerves, for irritation, and chronic stress. Helps calm brain function and inability to pay attention; For oversensitivity to stimulation and may be twitchy even in sleep. (Easley) It is helpful for insomnia. Fresh tincture 10-25 drops, 2-3 times/day. hot tea 3-4 cups daily. 
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) “makes the heart merry” and is easily cultivated.  It elevates the mood, soothes the digestive tract, relieves body tension, strengthens and tonifies the nervous system including memory, and can be helpful for panic attacks that are fear/terror based. 5- 20 drops of tincture 2 – 5 x day or 2 – 3 cups daily.   
  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) soothes the nerves and stomach, helps with digestion. Great for children. 2-3 cups of tea a day. 25-30 drops 1 – 4x daily.
  • Whole milky oats (Avena sativa/Avena fatua) is an excellent nerve food for a depleted  mental and physical exhaustion with irritability and lack of focus.(Easley/Horne). Use cautiously with gluten sensitivity or allergy. Fresh extract 10-30 drops 3x daily; 1 – 4 cups of tea daily. Best long-term. 
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): If you can’t fall asleep because your mind keeps running, passionflower has your back! Also for treating anxiety, headache, and muscular/nerve pain. Fresh extract 30-40 drops before bed or 3x daily, 5-10 drops for anxiety; 2 cups of tea per day.
  • Motherwort a calming nervine for lowering blood pressure and as a remedy for heart problems connected with the nervous system. It relieves anxiety and nervousness and eases the strain on heart muscles. Also useful for tachycardia, heart palpitations. It’s useful for hot flashes and scanty menstrual flow and more. Avoid with pregnancy and excessive menstruation bleeding. (Easley/Horne)
  • Lavender essential oil for panic attacks, depression. Keep a bottle handy to smell throughout the day. 3 drops in your diffuser or bath. Diffusers can be found at big box stores like Ross or Marshalls for $10. 

The Mind-Body Connection, Breathwork & Joy!

Mind-Body Connection is the belief that the causes, development and outcomes of a physical illness are determined from the interaction of psychological, social factors and biological factors. (John Hopkins University)

No matter how big or small, what brings you joy during these challenging times? Consider taking a nature bath – i.e. hike or sit in a park. Surround yourself with loved ones. Your nervous system never lies. Who do you feel good around? Service work can shift a self-pity party faster than anything. Who may need your support? Comedies are good sometimes. Everything in balance. Exercise or movement flushes stuck emotions. Breathwork works wonders and is free! Remember the nervines! You can drink them or take a bath in them.

Breathwork can have profoundly calming effects immediately. Exhaling longer than inhaling can access your vagus nerve to reduce the fight-flight-or-freeze stress and improve decision-making. You can do this by taking two minutes (right now!) to do 10 rounds of breathing: 4 seconds inhaling, 8 seconds exhaling. 

Always listen to your body – if you’re running really hot you may not want to heat yourself up more. Movement is good to get everything moving but if you’re exhausted maybe a walk or movement isn’t want you need.

WANT TO GO DEEPER?.… SOLID RESOURCES FOR HERBAL MEDICINE AND COVID:   

  • American Herbalist Guild: https://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/covid-19-resources
  • Herbal medicine and COVID-19 By todd caldecott, rh(ahg). Dogwood School of Botanical Medicine.
  • Excellent recommendations from an Ayurvedic perspective.  https://dogwoodbotanical.com/herbal-medicine-covid-19/
  • Paul Bergner, deep dive power point https://c1c17220-5aa6-46c5-a11f-1b9d7595d5fa.filesusr.com/ugd/ee530d_dd29bc5d918a45d3a497674af1bb7423.pdf
  • Resources for Herbalists and Community Health Workers: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lpBv41KEclsj6vKyoJIsI26XAwVlCQN1nsxDlJqehzY/edit?fbclid=IwAR3KcUPI8g7IG9UxYGY4TW8EV-KWvtyyocvCE-bDqqYp165-xnFJyUcrst0
  • Garden Party What to Do Right Now. Lots of great advice here. “Garden Party is a digital library of old-world wisdom for thriving in modern times.It was created for people like you who know in their hearts that healing is possible—for people, plants, places, and the planet as a whole.” https://gardenparty.love/what-to-do-right-now/
  • Lesley & Michael Tierra’s blog /East-West School of Planetary Herbology – Common-sense Prevention Tactics: Cleanse your liver: dandelion root, milk thistle; dandelion and chicory tea. Avoid nuts, coffee, alcohol, avocado, fried, and fatty foods https://planetherbs.com/blogs/lesleys-blog/coronavirus-herbal-prevention-and-treatment/
  • Excellent!: Herbal Info by Matthew Wood – DEEP DIVE into herbal medicine: I really love the information that Matthew Wood is sharing however some of it is advanced so be ready for a deep dive into herbal medicine energetics for each stage of this disease. Here are a few accessible things that stood out to me for sharing. I left many details out, including herbs. Well worth the read. Grab a cup of tea and take some time to sit back to wrap your head around this: He lists in-depth info about what to look for on one’s tongue as well as herbs and other treatment protocols.  See the document here and/or work with an herbalist. Start protocols as soon as there are people around with flu symptoms.
    • Look for thickening of mucus! Symptoms can suddenly change.  If that happens jump on treatment protocols that recommends one of them being….:
    • Keep the channels of elimination open so that body fluids do not run into the lungs to produce the pneumonia.
      • Warm the core and open pores.
      • Sweating. If necessary (if constipation) then use laxatives, alterative herbs. Make sure you’re peeing. He used a diuretic called Goldenrod. (So also, be hydrating).
      • Magnesium if there are spasms.
    • Dry skin brushing to bring blood to the surface.
    • Antivirals as well as warming herbs. Some are angelica, lomatium, ginger, thyme, chai spices and other warming spices from your kitchen.
    • Prevention: Zinc, Elderflower, mushrooms of all kinds, and more.
    • You can sign up to his mailing list and get in-depth and ongoing, current info. https://www.matthewwoodinstituteofherbalism.com/
  • Book: Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals, Vol 2. Circulation and Respiration by Dr. Jill Stansbury, ND.  Advanced herbal protocols as well as various recipes for chest packs.