Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar shares a curated list of 13 plant medicines that have been relied upon for centuries to keep the immune system healthy.

Warm spring greetings. What a world we woke up too! And yet, spring comes irrevocably. Tree buds are bursting forth as they’ve done for millennia, flowers are blooming, and birds are returning in great flocks to the northlands. In spite of all of the sorrow, chaos, and uncertainly in the world right now, the world moves on — and we, with it.

In times like these we often ask, “What should we be doing?” And the answer that always comes to me is just to continue doing what we do best: do our work, be kind to others, love one another as best we can, reach out and help others, make our herbal medicine and make enough to share, grow our gardens and grow enough to share, and do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy.

While none of us really know much about this novel virus, there are things that people have been doing for centuries to keep their immune systems healthy. I recently sent a note to my family with these suggestions. Of course, no one can do all of these things. But you can read through them and do a little more research on your own to help you decide what is best for you and your family. Stay safe, keep healthy, and remain calm and positive.

illustration of rosemary gladstar kneeling beside an overflowing basket of herbs

Illustration of Rosemary Gladstar by Ash Austin, based on a photograph © Jason Houston. Excerpted from Fire Cider!

1. Probiotics

Take this in any of your favorite forms: sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, miso, and other fermented foods. If you’ve never made your own sauerkraut, this is the time! It’s so fun and easy, and it’s a great food to be eating right now.

2. Fire Cider

I knew there was a reason fire cider took center stage in the herbal community: it was meant for these times. It is rich in immune- and respiratory-supporting herbs: garlic, onion, ginger, horseradish, lemon, turmeric, cayenne. To make a super tonic for these times, add a big handful of fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage to your batches.

3. Garlic, garlic, garlic

In the olden days people would wear cloves of garlic around their neck to keep the plague at bay. It’s great for “social distancing” as well. Three to four raw cloves a day — can one get too much garlic? (It’s true some people don’t tolerate it well, so go easy until you find your dose level.) Chop or mash fresh cloves and let them sit for a few minutes before ingesting. This allows the garlic to oxidize and activates its antiviral compounds. Always take raw garlic with food or it can upset your stomach. Mashed raw garlic is great mixed with plain yogurt and served on rice — an Armenian specialty and one of my mother’s favorite foods. My mom is 96 years old and still in amazingly good health. When she’s visiting me, we eat it almost daily for breakfast. Yum!

4. The kitchen spice cabinet

Don’t forget, some of our most medicinal herbs are already in the your home kitchen: clove, rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano.

5. Seaweed

Eat this daily! Aside from the fact that it’s unbelievably nourishing (it contains more minerals and trace minerals than any land vegetable!), seaweed is a great aide in building and protecting our immune system.

6. High doses of vitamin C

I recommend taking 1,000–2,000mg twice a day as preventative. Use buffered C for ease on the stomach, or liposomal C, which is more easily absorbed.

7.  Vitamin A (25,000 IU)

We aren’t hearing much about supplementing with vitamin A these days, but it was always a favorite of mine to use when people had attacks of asthma, allergies, and severe respiratory issues. It helps strengthen and rebuild the cilia — tiny, hair-like structures — lining the lungs. According to everything I’ve read, COVID-19 attacks the cilia, so this might be a good measure to add as a preventative.

8. Medicinal mushrooms

Take a daily dose! You can find them at many natural health stores and co-ops, as well as online.

9. Elderberry (syrup, capsules, or tincture)

Elderberry is especially useful for young children and the elderly because they’ll love the flavor. *Please note, there has been some discussion about whether or not to use elderberry during the flu. For more information, see this blog post by Helen Ward, education director of The Science & Art of Herbalism.

10. Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus)

Astragalus has been shown to be effective against H1N1 influenza and is used by herbalists worldwide to support to overall immune health. Add this herb to soups and stews, and add powdered astragalus to smoothie and blender drinks, nut butter balls, and adaptogen candy.

11. Echinacea (Echinacea purpura or E. angustifolia)

This old friend is one of our most renowned immune enhancers and has been known to be effective against various types of influenza. Take it each time you leave the house and each time you return. If you can get whole-plant Echinacea (made from root, flower, stem, and seeds), even better.

12. Japanese Knotweed

This very powerful antiviral could be incredibly useful in this situation. Marge Keough is a great source, if you want more information or to purchase tincture.

13. Essential oils

These widely available oils are potent and contain many antiviral properties. I’ve been keeping a small bottle of clove oil in my pocket; I dilute it with a little veggie oil and put a drop or two on the tip of my tongue if I’m going out in the world and when I return home. Also consider eucalyptus, lemon, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and peppermint essential oils, all of which have antiviral properties. Mix a few drops into hand sanitizers. Use 2–3 drops on face masks and refresh hourly. You can also use them in an oil diffuser, room humidifier, or the old-fashioned way: a few drops in a pan of water place on the stove over very low heat.

Text excerpted and adapted, with permission, from Rosemary Gladstar’s The Science of Art & Herbalism newsletter.

Rosemary Gladstar

Rosemary Gladstar is the best-selling author of Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide and Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, which draw on… See Bio

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