• Calyx

Bioregional Herbal Strategies for COVID-19 in the Mid-Atlantic

Phragmites - a non-native wetland reed

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.

Preventative Approach

  • 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