Coronavirus – Holistic Strategies for Building Immune Resilience – Farmacopia
Concerned about the coronavirus? Embolden your defenses and care for your immune system with these herbs and practices.
The current coronavirus outbreak, named Covid-19, has infected nearly 78,000 individuals. Cases can range in severity, from mild or asymptomatic illness to severe or fatal. According to a recent JAMA study of 72,314 Covid-19 infections, 81% of cases are mild. Initial symptoms include fever, cough, muscle aches, fatigue and in some cases headache, sore throat, sputum production, and diarrhea. Reports suggest that symptoms can become more severe during the 2nd week of illness, with the progression of pneumonia.
Most reported cases have been adults, with 87% of cases being in ages 30-79. Adult males also appear at slightly higher risk for contracting Covid-19 and carry a higher fatality rate. But keep in mind that most of our data thus far has come from China, where the percentage of male smokers is 80% compared to female smokers at 2%. Those with underlying health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or chronic respiratory disease are at the highest risk of complications, as well as older patients. Overall the fatality rate is estimated at 2.3%
What can we glean from the information we have?
Inflammation balance and overall health probably influence the course of the disease. Patients admitted to intensive care had higher levels of certain pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines, indicating the likelihood that exaggerated inflammatory immune responses may play a role in disease severity. In plain-speak, if someone is more prone to inflammation, they may be more prone to developing a critical illness.
The virus contains “spike proteins” that bind with receptors to enter target cells. Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptors (ACE2) are suspected as the primary route of viral entry into lung cells. There is a small amount of evidence suggesting that those with increased expression of these receptors may be increased risk from Covid-19. According to a very small tissue donor study, Asian males may have increased expression of ACE2 receptors. Further, there is some speculation that pharmaceutical ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers might mitigate the cytokine storm associated with severe infections, partly by targeting the site of viral entry. Despite this speculation, I have not read any reports of this yet being used in treating Covid-19. Nonetheless, there are some pretty great herbs that impact this pathway, and we’ll talk more about that soon.
So what next?
Despite the real possibility that we are on the verge of a pandemic, here in the USA we’ve got time to get our wits about us. Rather than simply getting caught up in the hype and fear, it’s yet another impetus to employ some pretty basic preventative strategies that will improve overall health and resilience.
Besides avoidance and good hygiene, our best defenses to prevent infection or minimize severity are to balance inflammation and enhance overall immunity. The cornerstones of a holistic prevention strategy include diet, herbs, key nutrients, and healthy lifestyle, including ensuring restorative sleep, stress reduction and supporting cardio, respiratory and lymphatic health through exercise and other activities that promote lymphatic movement.
In addition to this article, check out this very sane and actionable reporting from The Daily: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/podcasts/the-daily/coronavirus.html
Preparing for COVID-19
With the novel coronavirus moving into many communities–though, no confirmed cases in Utah yet–we’re getting lots of questions about how to prepare.
The honest answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for this or any other illness. Humans and herbs are beautifully complex organisms that are best matched based on each individual’s needs. This is just how good herbalism works. We address the person, not the “disease”. So, there’s no handy list of “anti-coronavirus” herbs which will work for everyone (though there are lists out there that suggest just that). What’s most important is to understand the nature of the illness and how it might interact with a given person’s health-related strengths and vulnerabilities.
Baikal skullcap, a good friend for inflamed lungs
But, first and foremost, we need to remember the basics. Sleep, hydration, nourishing foods, stress management, gentle movement, and attentive hygiene creates a strong foundation for more specific care. Given your ability and access to time and resources, do the best you can to attend to these areas in earnest.
turkey tail mushroom, excellent local immune support
Next, since this virus generally seems to present with fever, fatigue and damp lung congestion with inflammation, now is a great time to review appropriate (i.e. not overly aggressive) fever management strategies and ways to deal with damp congestion and lung inflammation. And, yes, it certainly makes sense to consider the herbs that are being proposed as theoretically useful in addressing this particular virus and the specific damage it can do to lung tissue through unchecked inflammation.
But, perhaps even more important is to consider how to support your response to the virus–how receptive or resistant is your inner terrain to infection? What has supported your immunity and recovery best in the past? What immune tonics, immune stimulants, and lymphatic remedies work well for you? What are your personal “early warning signs” and vulnerability triggers? Do you have a respiratory or other condition that might make you more vulnerable to severe illness, or do you have an autoimmune condition that might flare with taking certain immune stimulants?
Once you’ve considered these questions for yourself and your loved ones, you can begin to make and gather the remedies that are most suited to your circumstances. If you have the time and resources, many remedies can be made in bulk for a fraction of retail prices. Below we’ve gathered a list of recipes from trusted colleagues that you might find useful if you’re able to do some kitchen crafting. These aren’t all necessary, but a combination of 2 or 3 might be useful depending on your needs.
Potentially Helpful Recipes*
- Decongesting herbal steams from Herbal Academy
- Elderberry syrup recipe from Tieraona Low Dog, MD
- Elecampane cough syrup recipe from herbalist Rosalee de la Foret
- Fire cider recipes from herbalist Rosemary Gladstar and Mountain Rose Herbs
- Immune Tonic Soup recipe from herbalist Aisling Badger of Urban Moonshine
- White pine cough syrup recipe from Jade Alicandro Mace of Milk and Honey Herbs
- Hand sanitizer recipe from Lorna Mauney-Brodek of Herbalista
*For folks with auto-immune conditions or other chronic illnesses, some of these herbs/formulas might exacerbate symptoms or be contraindicated. Check-in with an herbalist about tailoring strategies to your individual needs.
If making remedies isn’t accessible to you, there are great products available at a number of local businesses. You can find a range of bulk ingredients, as well as quality pre-made products at our local apothecaries.
If you’d like to delve a little deeper into the why and how of choosing herbs for self-care, here are some resources you might enjoy:
- Coronavirus – Holistic Strategies for Building Immune Resilience by naturopath Bridget Somine of Farmacopia (And, yes, there’s even a shortlist of herbs that *might* be especially targeted at COVID-19.)
- Echinacea, Elderberry and Beyond by herbalist Guido Masé of VCIH and Urban Moonshine (on differentiating immune stimulants and diaphoretics)
- Herbal Energetics of Fever with herbalist Jim McDonald on HerbMentor Radio (a deep dive into effective fever management through an energetic framework)
Community Care = Resilience
We also want to invite everyone to consider that there is really no such thing as individual health. Widespread contagious illness is a clear reminder that we can each only be as healthy as the least well, the least cared for, among us. Personal resilience is and always has been dependent on the well-being of many interconnected and nested systems, human and ecological. In many ways, the dominant culture obscures this fact and leads us to believe that we can be healthy in isolation. But, even in a situation that may require literal isolation, writes urban designer Alissa Walker, “your community will help you survive”. We loved her recent article about the value of social networks in preparing for disasters.
“What we should be doing now is opening our front doors to take stock of our communities,” she writes, and then, quoting Zeynep Tufekci of Scientific American: “‘ What should motivate us to prepare for the new coronavirus is not fear of our own personal risk…You should prepare because your neighbors need you to prepare—especially your elderly neighbors, your neighbors who work at hospitals, your neighbors with chronic illnesses, and your neighbors who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time.’”
This virus will likely not be much more severe than the seasonal flu for many affected folks, but for others, it presents a significant risk. If you are privileged with time, money and/or general good health, now is the time to distribute those resources throughout your community. Reach out to your neighbors to see what they need that you have and vice versa. Make plans to check in on one another. Find out what your local government has in place for the care of the un-housed and for ensuring the safety of undocumented folks seeking treatment. And, if you’re making herbal remedies, or soups or casseroles, make extra and spread the plants–and the care–around.
And Finally, Wash your Hands!
artwork by Emily Howard
While we do strongly encourage everyone to get really good at this widely acknowledged key preventive behavior, we also wanted to share this beautiful meditation on hand-washing by herbalist Dori Midnight. She brings home the message that it’s time to take care of one another, that it has already been time.
We are humans relearning to wash our hands.
Washing our hands is an act of love
Washing our hands is an act of care
Washing our hands is an act that puts the hypervigilant body at ease
Washing our hands helps us return to ourselves by washing away what does not serve
Wash your hands
like you are washing the only teacup left that your great grandmother carried across the ocean like you are washing the hair of a beloved who is dying like you are washing the feet of Grace Lee Boggs, Beyonce, Jesus, your auntie, Audre Lorde, Mary Oliver- you get the picture.
Like this water is poured from a jug your best friend just carried for three miles from the spring they had to climb a mountain to reach
like water is a precious resource
made from time and miracle
Wash your hands and cough into your elbow, they say.
Rest more, stay home, drink water, have some soup, they say.
To which I would add: burn some plants your ancestors burned when there was fear in the air,
Boil some aromatic leaves in a pot on your stove until your windows steam up.
Open your windows
Eat a piece of garlic every day. Tie a clove around your neck.
My friends, it is always true, these things.
It has already been time.
It is always true that we should move with care and intention, asking
Do you want to bump elbows instead? with everyone we meet.
It is always true that people are living with one lung, with immune systems that don’t work so well, or perhaps work too hard, fighting against themselves. It is already true that people are hoarding the things that the most vulnerable need.
It is already time that we might want to fly on airplanes less and not go to work when we are sick.
It is already time that we might want to know who in our neighborhood has cancer, who has a new baby, who is old, with children in another state, who has extra water, who has a root cellar, who is a nurse, who has a garden full of elecampane and nettles.
It is already time that temporarily non-disabled people think about people living with chronic illness and disabled folks, that young people think about old people.
It is already time to stop using synthetic fragrances to not smell like bodies, to pretend like we’re all not dying. It is already time to remember that those scents make so many of us sick.
It is already time to not take it personally when someone doesn’t want to hug you.
It is already time to slow down and feel how scared we are.
We are already afraid, we are already living in the time of fires.
When fear arises,
and it will,
let it wash over your whole body instead of staying curled up tight in your shoulders.
If your heart tightens,
science says: compassion strengthens the immune system
We already know that, but capitalism gives us amnesia
and tricks us into thinking it’s the thing that protects us
but it’s the way we hold the thing.
The way we do the thing.
Those of us who have forgotten amuletic traditions,
we turn to hoarding hand sanitizer and masks.
we find someone to blame.
we think that will help.
want to blame something?
Blame capitalism. Blame patriarchy. Blame white supremacy.
It is already time to remember to hang garlic on our doors
to dip our handkerchiefs in thyme tea
to rub salt on our feet
to pray the rosary, kiss the mezuzah, cleanse with an egg.
In the middle of the night,
when you wake up with terror in your belly,
it is time to think about stardust and geological time
redwoods and dance parties and mushrooms remediating toxic soil.
it is time
to care for one another
to pray over water
to wash away fear
every time we wash our hands