My Observations: Supporting COVID-19 Patients Herbally

I wanted to share some of my observations from supporting COVID-19 patients, and researching this disease and its effects. I will write a longer, more detailed post on this soon. In the meantime, here is what I have learned so far.

The key phrase here is “so far” — not only is our understanding of the virus still developing, but this virus itself is evolving quickly. It’s only been around for a little more than a year. It is possible that scientists will look back at what we think we know about the virus a few months or years down the road, and realize that we had some important things wrong. Therefore, I am certain that my understanding of this virus will grow over time. So, what I believe to be the best recommendations for treating it may also change. If it does, I will update this post, or write a new post.

(Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and nothing I am writing here is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

This post was originally a text message that I sent to a colleague who asked for help supporting a relative who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. I have subsequently copied and pasted it so many times for other people who asked me the same question, that I decided to make it into a post. There is a lot more to say about this, and hopefully I’ll have time soon; for now, this is an overview.

In my understanding, the best ways to support someone with COVID-19 herbally are:

1. Antiviral herbs the whole time, but especially in the first few days. (If you need suggestions, see the list of antiviral herbs that I wrote.)

Caregivers, and anyone else who is in contact with someone who may have this virus, can also benefit from taking antiviral herbs regularly.

2. Many sources I have studied advise against taking fever reducers (herbal or otherwise) in the first days of a COVID-19 infection. They say that in the early days, if you can stand it, don’t take medicine/herbs to reduce your fever.

Why: the fever is the body’s response to the virus is replicating the body. Lowering the fever allows the virus to replicate more. 

According to an early COVID-19 study by a doctor in China, they have found that people who take fever-reducing drugs in the early stages of the virus take 36-48h longer to recover from the virus, compared to those who don’t. (Link to a great source here.)

3. Anti-inflammatories: inflammation is how the virus really does the worst harm to the body. Steady, strong doses of anti-inflammatory herbs from the beginning can help to keep things from building up too much.

4. Lung support herbs: both for teas, and steaming pots of water + herbs to diffuse throughout the home.

(This point needs expansion in a later post. If you aren’t experienced in working with lung support herbs, please be careful. COVID-19 patients need moistening lung support herbs, not drying lung support herbs. Using the wrong ones could potentially harm someone, so it’s important to know the difference.)

Wínawizi Čík’ala / Wild Licorice (Glycrrhyza lepidota), a great lung support herb.

The things to avoid for people with COVID-19:

1. Elderberry, especially if the patient is immunocompromised.

Taking elderberry can help with preventing illness, but once someone has become infected with COVID-19, I would not recommend taking elderberry.

(I know that some people will disagree with me on this. I need to write a longer post on this at some point. For now, I will say that I have researched the pro- and anti-elderberry arguments extensively, and in my opinion, it’s not a good idea to give it to COVID-19 patients unless you have a good understanding of the individual’s immune system. I want to avoid recommending anything that could possibly do harm.)

2. Any other herb that can boost the immune system (such as echinacea). 

Many people do not understand how the immune system works. We have been taught that boosting the immune system is always a good thing, so we immediately reach for immune-boosting herbs when someone is sick. In reality, if your immune system is too high, that can be just as dangerous as it is when your immune system is too low.

So if you don’t know someone’s baseline, immune-boosting herbs can be dangerous here — especially for people with autoimmune conditions. 

This disease tends to boost people’s immune systems to out-of-control levels, resulting in serious and sometimes life-threatening inflammatory conditions, such as cytokine storms. 

Good medicines to give someone throughout their illness:

1. Fermented foods: A lot of people have put out great tutorials on making kimchi, kraut, and other fermented foods. This is also a great recommendation for people who are trying to avoid getting sick.

2. Nervines & adaptogens: This virus takes a toll on the nervous system. Nervines are herbs that calm the nerves, and adaptogens help us respond to stress and keep our systems in balance. 

Passionflower (Passiflora species), one of my favorite nervine and sleep aid plants.

3. Herbal sleep aids: The virus tends to disturb sleep. There are lots of excellent herbs out there that can help people to sleep better. 

4. Bitter herbs: This can include antivirals and other classes of herbs. I will explain more about this one in a later post.

Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), an indigenous California bitter herb.

I realize that these 3 points may not be very useful without naming any specific herbs. I will try to write follow-up posts with some herb suggestions later.

The symptoms of COVID-19 infections seem to range widely, from toe pain to meningitis in adults, and from skin rashes to painful systemic inflammation in children. Individual cases should be treated with medicines that are appropriate to an individual’s specific conditions, age, overall health, and immune system.

This is just general information, based on the commonalities we are seeing across many COVID-19 cases. As many people have observed, mild cases can often be treated at home, and herbal support can sometimes help make someone’s symptoms less severe.

However, none of this is a substitute for seeing a doctor. This virus has killed many of my loved ones, and I take it very seriously — in fact, I just heard about yet another death as I was drafting this post. If you are experiencing serious symptoms, please seek medical treatment ASAP.

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