Natural Antivirals for Coronavirus Disclaimer:
The plants detailed below are part of a promising study of candidate herbs to inhibit the novel coronavirus that is causing Covid-19.
I am not a medical doctor nor a certified herbalist. I have used herbs to maintain my health and the health of my family. As of this writing there is no known cure for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
The statements below have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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BTW, If you want to listen to the audio version of this post, it is at the bottom of the page!
Waiting for the Coronavirus Storm to Blow Over
As you wait for the vaccines that will likely take over a year to develop, you may be asking what you can do in case you, or a loved one become infected with COVID-19.
By now, we all should know and employ the means to prevent ourselves from getting sick or risk spreading the disease. As the CDC guidelines tell us, we should:
- Wash our hands for 20 seconds with soap and water
- Disinfect "high touch" or "common space" surface areas
- Socially distance ourselves, staying a 6 feet away from each other
- Stay home as much as we can
But what about a more proactive approach?
I propose that aside from growing our food, we should also try growing our own medicinal remedies. And that we should cultivate, or at least be familiar with, natural antivirals for coronavirus in our gardens.
But do natural antivirals for coronavirus even exist?
Do herbs really work?
Do natural antiviral herbs work for coronavirus?
Let us turn to a recent study, whose objective was to "identify Chinese medicinal herbs that are commonly used in treating viral respiratory infections and also contain compounds that might directly inhibit 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)," for an explanation.
The study screened some herbs containing naturally occurring molecular compounds which target three critical proteins (show above, A. PLprotease, B. 3CLprotease and C. the Spike protein) in the SARS coronavirus and prevent the virus from:
- Replicating (PLprotease)
- Entering the cell by attaching to its angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptor (Spike protein)
- Carrying out its normal viral life functions (3CLprotease)
"Plant medicines are absolutely not drugs. They are far more complex in their actions. Drugs are single chemical structure entities. A great many of them are designed to force an alteration in physiological functioning, to lower blood pressure, or to increase levels of ACE-2, for instance. Drugs almost never treat the underlying condition, which is causing the symptoms; they just force the body to behave, to move into a range of behavior that some people have decided it must be within."
There have been several studies showing the antiviral properties of herbs. Here are three reasons to believe that herbs can be effective against COVID-19.
- Here's a research summary of natural antivirals for coronavirus (SARS) and other human pathogenic viruses.
- In 2018, the World Health Organization officially recognized Traditional Chinese Medicine's place in health care by including it in its compendium of International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD).
- The final supporting evidence for the use of Chinese medicinal herbs for COVID-19 comes from Dr. Deng-hai Zhang himself (the scientist who led the study). When asked whether there were "in vivo" experiments to prove the effectiveness of the 26 herbs he had screened above, Dr. Zhang replied in an email saying,
"I have not confirmed my findings with in vivo experiments. However, half of the 26 plants I screened had been included in the official herbal formulas recommended by the Chinese government to fighting the COVID-19, and these formulae have brought about good clinical results."
So yes, certain herbs are antiviral!
What are the natural antivirals for coronavirus?
The Chinese study cited began by identifying 13 natural compounds that were already researched and proven effective in the treatment of past coronaviruses (the class of viruses which the COVID-19 belongs to). These were coronaviruses responsible for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and MERS (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome). Dr. Zhang and his team then selected 125 Chinese herbs which contained two or more of these 13 compounds.
At this point, the researchers asked, "Which among these herbs do Chinese herbalists often use to treat viral respiratory infections?"
Because the researchers were racing against the pandemic clock, they screened the herbs with yet another condition in mind.
"Which herbs could best be absorbed by the body orally?"
Tea, being the fastest, most straightforward way to get the remedy to the infected person, is how Chinese herbalists normally prescribe these herbs. Typically, herbs are brewed in boiling water for a number of minutes in order to "cook" the plant, extract their soluble compounds and release them into the water.
The herbs that made it to this study's final phase are listed below:
|SCIENTIFIC NAME||PART USED||DURATION OF USE|
|Forsythia suspensa (weeping forsythia)||fruit||Full-course|
|Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice)||root||Full-course|
|Tussilago farfara (colsfoot)*||leaf||Full-course|
|Morus alba (black mulberry)||root, leaf, fruit||Full-course|
|Lonicera Japonicae (Japanese honeysuckle)||flower||Full-course|
|Peucedanum praeruptorum (hogfennel)||root||Full-course|
|Fagopyri cymosi (wild buckwheat)||root||Full-course|
|Tamarix chinensis or cacumen (Chinese tamarisk)||twig or leaf||Early in the infection|
|Erigeron breviscapus (life flower or fleabane)||leaf/flower||Early in the infection|
|Bupleurum chinense (thorowax)||root||Early in the infection|
|Coptis chinensis (Chinese goldthread or goldthread)||root||Middle|
|Houttuynia cordata (fish mint)||leaf||Middle|
|Hoveniae dulcis (Japanese raisin tree)||seed||Middle|
|Inula helenium or japonica (Elecampane)||flower||Middle|
|Eriobotrya japonica (loquat)||dried leaves||Middle & Later|
|Hedysarum multijugum (sweetvech)||leaf||Middle & Later|
|Lepidium (peppergrass or pepperweed)||seed||Middle & Later|
|Ardisia japonica* (marlberry)||leaf||Middle & Later|
|Aster tataricus (Tatarinow's aster)||root||Middle & Later|
|Euphorbia helioscopia** (madwoman's milk)||leaf||Middle & Later|
|Gingko biloba||seed||Middle & Later|
|Anemarrhena asphodeloides (zhi mu)||root||Later|
|Epimedium sagittatum (bishop's hat)||leaf||Later|
|Dryopteris crassirhizoma (shield fern)||root||Prevention|
*in large doses cummulatively toxic to liver or kidneys
** sap is toxic to skin
Now that you know what Chinese herbs to use, your next question might be...
Are Chinese herbs the only herbal remedies for coronavirus?
No, there are other herbs that may help.
In fact, below I site a paper from an herbalist who has done extensive research in the field of herbal antivirals and herbal antibiotics. He has a different set of herbs to consider.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are fewer and smaller studies about herbal antivirals than there are studies on the commercial drugs and vaccines to cure diseases. So there could potentially be any number of herbs that would be effective against Covid-19, but not all the science is available to us right now.
Where can I buy herbal remedies for coronavirus?
Unfortunately, not all the Chinese herbs listed above can easily be found.
Where I could, I have linked the herbs above to possible sources. But a strong word of caution: it's best to consult a registered Chinese herbalist who would likely have a reputable source for the herbs above and teach you how to use them in the right way.
Are these natural antivirals for coronavirus safe to use?
Each person reacts differently to different herbs. And certain herbs, such as licorice, are not meant to be taken daily in large amounts. Licorice, however, in small quantities, is a well-studied and proven antiviral herb. That is why there are several commercial teas available which have licorice in their formulations. Some of these are "Gypsy Cold Care" and "Cold Season."
Herb dosages and preparations also need to be adjusted to the individual. Unless otherwise advised by an herbalist, it would be safer to err on the side of caution and assume that the herbs above should not be taken in large doses for a prolonged period of time.
The study states that these herbs are "traditionally used to treat viral respiratory infection." As such, they are not meant to be taken when someone is healthy. Only when someone is sick with upper respiratory infections such as the coronavirus. Of the herbs above, the only herb that is meant to be taken to prevent a viral infection is Dryopteris crassirhizoma (shield fern).
Another question to ask is:
How do I use these antiviral herbs to fight a coronavirus infection?
The study of Chinese herbs above also states, "The specific dosage and usage of each herb should be determined based on patients’ manifestations." Consulting a reputable Chinese herbalist or an herbalist registered with the American Herbalist Guild (AHG) would be your best bet for knowing your correct dosage and use for the herbs above.
One luminary member of the AHG is Stephen Harrod Buhner, who is quoted above. He has researched coronaviruses, among many other diseases, and is best known for his book on Herbal Antibiotics, Herbal Antivirals & herbal remedies for Lyme disease. Check your library's online book apps (such as Hoopla) for free versions of these books.
His general recommendations for using natural antivirals for coronavirus can be found HERE.
Can I grow natural antivirals for coronavirus?
In fact, this is the part we advocate for the most.
Most of the herbs in the study (except Anemarrhena asphodeloide, Ardisia japonica & Euphorbia helioscopa), are currently found in the U.S. The Coptis family can be grown in all lower 48 states of the U.S., Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, parts of France, and even Greenland.
Reference the table below for growing range details. Where I have found a possible source for purchasing the seeds or plants, you will find a link to a plant/seed shop.
|SCIENTIFIC NAME||PLANT TYPE/LAYER||CAN BE GROWN IN THE US|
|Forsythia suspensa (weeping forsythia)||Tree||Lower 48 states|
|Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice)||Herb||Lower 48 states|
|Tussilago farfara (colsfoot)||Herb||Lower 48 states, Canada, parts of France|
|Morus alba (black mulberry)||Shrub||Lower 48 states, Canada, Hawaii|
|Chrysanthemum||Herb/Flower||Lower 48 states, Canada, Alaska|
|Lonicera Japonicae (Japanese honeysuckle)||Vine||Lower 48 states, Canada, Hawaii, Puerto Rico|
|Peucedanum praeruptorum (hogfennel)||Herb||Lower 48 states|
|Fagopyri cymosi (wild buckwheat)||Herb/Shrub||Lower 48 states|
|Tamarix chinensis or cacumen (Chinese tamarisk)||Tree or shrub||Lower 48 states|
|Erigeron breviscapus (life flower or fleabane)||Herb/Flower||Lower 48 states, Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico|
|Bupleurum chinense (thorowax)||Shrub (woody)||Pacific Basin excluding Hawaii|
|Coptis chinensis (Chinese goldthread or goldthread)||Herb||
Lower 48 states, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, France
|Houttuynia cordata (fish mint)||Vine||Lower 48 states|
|Hoveniae dulcis (Japanese raisin tree)||Tree||Lower 48 states|
|Inula helenium or japonica (Elecampane)||Herb||Lower 48 states, Canada|
|Eriobotrya japonica (loquat)||Tree (tall, prefers warm climate)||Lower 48 states, Hawaii, Puerto Rico|
|Hedysarum multijugum (sweetvech)||Herb (legume)||Lower 48 states, Canada, Alaska|
|Lepidium (peppergrass or pepperweed)||Herb||no restrictions|
|Ardisia japonica* (marlberry)||Shrub||no information|
|Aster tataricus (Tatarinow's aster)||Flower||Lower 48 states|
|Euphorbia helioscopia** (madwoman's milk)||Herb||no information|
|Gingko biloba||Tree||Lower 48 states|
|Anemarrhena asphodeloides (zhi mu)||Herb||no information|
|Epimedium sagittatum (bishop's hat)||Herb||Lower 48 states|
|Dryopteris crassirhizoma (shield fern)||Herb||Lower 48 states, Hawaii|
*in large doses cummulaively toxic to liver or kidneys
** sap is toxic to skin
Here's a video of the day the herb, Houttuynia cordata (fish mint) arrived at our doorstep and a little sneak peek into how to safely transplant such an herb.
How do I grow herbal remedies for coronavirus?
Let's break it down into three simple steps:
- Choose from among the top 9 herbs from the table above and identify the herbal remedies for coronavirus that could potentially be grown in your location and space.
- Purchase the plants or seeds that you have chosen. If you need help with seed starting, check out this blogpost.
- While the seeds are in transit to your home or growing in your seed tray, start designing your medicinal herb garden. We recommend our "Building Your Herb Garden Workshop."
As scientists around the world race to find a cure for COVID-19, we who dutifully stay at home can do our share to keep healthy and consider the problem of pandemics holistically.
In the end, our health problems are never solved simply with a pill or a vaccine. They are solved by changing the way we live.
As world-renowned permaculture teacher, Geoff Lawton likes to say,
"All the world's problems can be solved in a garden."
Build Your Very Own Herb Garden
Do you want to design or re-design your very own herb garden?
The "Build Your Own Herb Garden" course can help you do just that! It includes:
- guided lessons on simple steps to building your herb garden
- a workbook to design & plan your herbs using permaculture principles
- examples of herbs to consider and their uses