Bioregional Herbal Strategies for COVID-19 in the Mid-Atlantic
These are illuminating times. The Coronavirus pandemic is, as all rhythms of struggle and resolution in nature do, teaching us about ourselves and our relationship to the world. It is opening peoples' eyes to many weak points in our society. Amidst the hysteria, I can see a lot of positive momentum forward. Moments like these force the walls of classism to come down so we can see each other once more as fellow human beings. It my hope that during this time, our eyes may be open to the intelligence of all life around us. I am hearing a lot of war rhetoric against the virus, and though this may feel very much like a battlezone to some, this mindset will not propel us to a better place.
Living in Central Pennsylvania, I hear the same types of statements all the time in regards to Lyme disease. The focus on the effort is often to "kill the bacteria" or "eradicate it from the body." I can say with confidence that this approach does not work. Viruses are one of the oldest lifeforms on earth, and also one of the most intelligent. Our bodies are an ecosystem, complete with all of the same elements we see in the ecosystem that surrounds us. We are home to over 100 trillion microbes; more than half our bodies are not human cells but, in fact, microbial cells. The human body has every ability to come into balance with which organisms it houses. This is not achieved through war, but through promoting balance within our bodies so that we can reach a state of equilibrium. The TCM practitioners in China who were among the first to treat Covid-19 patients are well-versed in concepts of promoting internal balance, and their remedies have proven to greatly improve outcome, lowering mortality rates and shortening recovering rates.
We cannot win a war against viruses, nor should we try to. What we can do, however, is nurture our bodies so that we are too vital a host for them to colonize us. This starts with prevention, but carries over also into our approach during active infection as well.
Another issue we are being forced to assess during this time is self-sufficiency as individuals and as communities. The pandemic will change the way we interact with the the world, and with the land. As herbalists we may soon find it difficult to source herbal remedies through external sources. If we have no choice but to use the resources that are local to us, perhaps we will become better stewards of the land. Estimates put the need for social isolation to continue for upwards of 18 months. The nature of this event is that will not permit us to return to our old ways of thinking and doing. It demands transformation: true healing. We need to be prepared for the long haul, and so I encourage you to get to know your local allies now if you aren't already acquainted.
Many of the remedies mentioned here can be found in the Mid-Atlantic region, and several of them are ready to be harvested right now. The rest can readily be found in the grocery store or growing in your garden.
Go outside. There are a plethora of benefits from being outdoors. It will lower your stress levels and make social isolation more bearable. Replete vitamin D levels drastically reduce mortality rates from infection in ICUs. During the 1918 Spanish flu, patients “open air therapy” decreased mortality rate by 57%.
Lower stress. Many of us are in sympathetic “fight or flight” mode right now and we need to do everything we can to lower our stress. Use nervines appropriate to the person’s constitution. Again, spend time in nature. If you are unable to attend work or school, use your time off to rest, get lots of sleep, move your body, create, plant a garden. Unplug. Turn off the screens. Take breaks from the news and social media. Flower essences and nervines are supportive here.
Avoid taking NSAIDS, which have been linked to increased mortality rates from Covid-19.
Eat well. Fill up on leafy greens, colorful veggies, alliums, bioflavonoid and vitamin-c rich foods, antioxidants, healthy fats, and lots and lots of fermented foods. I can’t stress enough the importance of the microbiome with viral infections. Drink broth like it’s going out of style, and add lots of medicinal mushrooms and herbs to your stock (long, slow decoction are the best extraction method for most medicinal mushrooms – so get that crockpot out and keep a steady supply of bone & mushroom broth going). Cut out all processed sugar. Supplement your diet with nutritive herbs. If you can’t identify the edible weeds growing in your back yard, now might be a good time to learn.
Make a batch of fire cider. It takes a month to brew so start it now.
Practice hygiene. Wash your hands. Open your windows. Smudge your house.
Keep detoxification pathways flowing, particularly the skin– sweating (sauna, exercise, etc.), dry brushing, lower your environmental pollutant exposure if possible, limit alcohol, drink lots of water, whole foods diet with lots of fibrous veggies, etc.
TCM practitioners suggest supporting Spleen Qi with lots of warming foods, removal of damp foods (dairy, sugar, alcohol, fried foods), and lots of support for the microbiome with fiber & fermented foods
Incorporate herbs that are tonic to the immune system, nutritive, nervine, and aid in detoxification processes.
○ Reishi – Ganoderma lucidium
○ Turkey Tail – Trametes versicolor
○ Garlic or Wild Garlic– Allium sativum, A. vineale
○ Dandelion leaf & root - Taraxicum officinale
○ Yellow Dock leaf & root – Rumex crispus
○ Rose hips & blossoms– Rosa multiflora
○ Orange peel – Citrus x sinensis
○ Stinging Nettles – Urtica dioica
○ Mugwort - Artemesia vulgaris
○ Pine needles & resin – Pinus spp.
○ Blackberry or Black Raspberry leaf – Rubus fruticosis. R. occidentalis
○ Elder flower or berry – Sambucus racemosa*
*There’s been a great deal of controversy around this herb and Coronavirus. Energetically it is contraindicated for anything other than prevention. My preference would be the flower right now, as it has more of a relaxant nervine quality than the berry.
○ Any of the wild mustards that are sprouting up right now.
○ Lots of warming culinary herbs: Ginger, Rosemary, Oregano, Horseradish, Cayenne, Cinnamon
Herbal Approach to Active Infection
The virus appears to move dynamically through energetic patterns as follows:
1. Cold/constriction blocking heat & dryness (dry cough, fatigue, nausea, pale tongue and sometimes white coat).
2. Then moving to a hot & dry condition (fever, red tongue).
3. The infection then settles into the lungs and the condition becomes cold & damp (shortness of breath, pneumonia, organ toxicity, tongue red with greasy yellow coat).
In stage 1, the goal should be to warm the center, bring the heat to the surface, and support the fever process. Stimulating diaphoretics and warming herbs are appropriate for this stage.
In stage 2, the body may move into a phase of pathogenic heat- this calls for cooling, anti-inflammatory remedies and relaxant diaphoretics as the fever is peaking. It is important not to break the fever too soon; suppressing the fever prematurely is associated with poorer outcome with infection.
It seems most patients are reaching stage 3 in about 7 days, which is when symptoms become most severe. The fluids of the body are not able to flow. The goal at this stage is to keep open the periphery, thin the fluids, and keep them flowing. Warming expectorants, warming alteratives, bronchodilators are indicated in stage 3.
Keep the pores open with diaphoretics and the detoxification pathways open throughout all stages. Special attention needs to be paid to promoting detoxification through the liver and protecting the organs, specifically the heart & lungs.
It is crucial to administer herbs with careful consideration of the state of the disease, and to attentively observe the person as an individual and make alterations accordingly.
Garlic, Wild Garlic – Allium sativum, A. vineale (hot & dry, alterative, immunomodulating)
Angelica – Angelica atropurpurea (warm & dry, stimulating)
Bee Balm – Monarda fistulosa (hot & dry, stimulating)
Pleurisy root – Asclepias tuberosa (cold & dry, moves fluid out the lungs)
Elecampane – Inula helenium (warm & dry, stimulating expectorant)
Cayenne – Capsicum anuum (hot & dry)
Hawthorn – Crataegus oxycantha, C. monogyna (cool & Moist, cardioprotective)
Skunk Cabbage* – Symplocarpus foetidus (hot & dry, stimulating expectorant, deeply penetrating)
*This is a viable local analog to other Bear Medicines such as Osha & Lomatium. Use the dried root only.
Mullein – Verbascum thapsus (warm & dry, stimulating expectorant)
Phragmites, root – Phragmites australis (cool w/ complex energetics – indicated for sticky phlegm difficult to expel)
Lobelia – Lobelia spp. (warm & dry, bronchodilator, relaxant expectorant)
Japanese Barberry – Berberis thunbergii (cool & dry, laxative, lung protective)
Cayenne – Capsicum anuum (hot & dry, stimulating diaphoretic)
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium (dry, complex energetics warming diaphoretic/cooling diuretic, febrifuge)
Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum (cool & dry, febrifuge)
Wintergreen – Gaultheria procumbens (cold & dry, anti-inflammatory)
Willow – Salix spp. (cold & dry, anti-inflammatory)
Black Birch – Betula nigra (cold & dry, anti-inflammatory)
Yellow Dock – Rumex crispus (cold & dry, laxative, alterative)
Dandelion – Taraxicum officinale (cold & dry, laxative, alterative)