A Vitalist Herbalist Approach to Covid-19

Updated: Jun 20

There are a number of protocols circling from several highly esteemed herbalists regarding how to address the Covid-19 Coronavirus. I have been asked my opinion on these protocols and what herbs I suggest people take for prevention and treatment of the virus. My answer usually involves a stutter of hesitation. Why? Because we, as herbalists, do not treat diseases—we treat people. Despite the wisdom and quality of the information contained in these protocols, there is an air of confusion in the herbal community, and even more-so amongst those who are not herbalists, as we decipher the appropriate application of the herbs mentioned. It is my hope to inform on how to utilize the information being put out there.

The outward expression of internal conflict within the human microcosm is different in every individual. It is the reason why Covid-19 will produce mild symptoms in one person, and kill the next. We are all different, and disease will express differently in our bodies. An herbalist must assess the person and the way in which the affliction has expressed in their bodies, not the condition alone.

To provide allopathic suggestions based on the pharmacological actions of herbs alone cuts the root of herbal medicine. The potency of herbal medicine does not reside in the use of powerful, heroic herbs or in complicated formulations, but rather in the individualized approach and attentiveness to the human as an ecological system; the potency of herbalism exists through true listening.

I am in the midst of writing a Bioregional approach to Covid-19 for the Mid-Atlantic region, but I cannot in good conscience publish it without first clearing up some misconceptions about herbalism.

1. The holistic approach means supporting the body’s natural functions, and strengthening one’s constitution so that the body can resist infection. This means that:

a. Herbs are not drugs. Drugs are created for conditions; herbs exist in co-relation with humans. To attempt to apply them as drugs would be ill-effective.

b. Herbs support the innate intelligence of the of the body, but they cannot replace a solid foundation for health. Nutrition and lifestyle is key here.

c. Obstacles to cure must be removed for healing to occur. Stress is often the number one obstacle to cure and severely affects the inner ecology of the body.

2. Herbs work primarily through energetics; a system that revolves around the central idea that the body is a dynamic ecology and that herbs interface with that ecology and bring it back into equilibrium, by supporting natural functions. We are microcosms of a larger macrocosm. Our health is a direct reflection of the state of our ecosystem at large. View the landscape as something that interacts with us on a deeply personal level, as something than can transform us, and you will find medicine there.

3. The inner ecology of the body can change daily, or even more frequently. The herb that worked yesterday may not be the right one for today. This is crucially important in acute crises like viral infections, and the presentation of Covid-19 seems to shift drastically, often with paradoxical symptoms. Keen attention must be paid to the presenting symptoms at each stage of this infection.

4. Herbs have the ability to aggravate conditions and cause harm when used in conflict with the patterns of the affliction and the constitution of the individual.

While considering the condition in isolation from the person who is afflicted is not advisable, it is important to note that specific illnesses express in diagnosable patterns due to the nature of their effects on the energetics of a person. Understanding these qualities of the infection gives us a framework to offer herbal suggestions from—but that is all it is—a framework. It is an outline, not a complete protocol that can be applied to any individual. Covid-19 is a complex condition that prevents the flow and excretion of fluids. It ultimately settles into the lungs and becomes a cold, damp condition. There are many herbs that are helpful in expelling cold and damp conditions from the body, and many that have an affinity for the respiratory tract, but again, they should be applied with careful consideration of the individual the are expressing in.

So, I encourage you to utilize the resources being made available by herbalists. All of the herbs on those lists have the potential to heal. But do so in observation of the person, the patterns of the disease, and the bioregion and availability of resources in mind. Keep in mind that as of this date, not a single herbalist in the US has worked with Covid-19 directly. As important as theoretical knowledge is at this time, it is crucial that when it comes time to choose remedies that our decisions be rooted in present reality, not theoretical reality.

If you are not trained in herbalism but wish to be prepared for Covid-19, I encourage you to seek out a trained community herbalist to help you understand which herbs would be specific to you as an individual, either through one-on-one consultation or through education. Herbalists have chosen this path to serve their communities. We are here to help.

For us herbalists, let’s remember that the most effective herbal approach is not always the heroic one. Sometimes boring kitchen folk herbalism may serve a person better than the most scientifically crafted, complex protocol. Nutrient deficiencies and stress are factors that are going to play a huge role in how well people recover. Social isolation is having a massive effect on people's mental state. Encourage your clients to go outside and get fresh air and sunlight if possible. People who are afraid and having difficulty coping with their change in circumstances may really need nervines more than anti-virals for prevention. We can't let the pressure of dealing with a severe and novel illness such as Covid-19 create panic and desire to reach for the “big-guns” out of desperation. Use them when appropriate, but don't forget the power of simple allies. And we must always remember to be present with the person and with the medicine.

Located in South Central Pennsylvania