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Art by Bonnie Rose Weaver

Herbs to Support Immune Function

These herbs build your baseline immunity in a number of ways, including increasing the production and activity of white blood cells, which are key actors in our immune response. In addition, many of them are antiviral and/or antibacterial and have affinities for the respiratory system. Long-term immune support should be taken regularly for one to three months to have the best effect; start now, before you get sick! It is important to rotate through at least two different herbs, not unlike changing your exercise routine to develop multiple forms of strength. If accessible, we recommend working with at least one medicinal mushroom plus astragalus or elder, and rotate through them, taking each for one month at a time.

Sambucus* (elderberry and elderflower) Tea Succus Elixir

Immune modulator and antiviral with an affinity for the respiratory system; protects dendritic cells (part of immune function); cooling. As an immune modulator, elder is safe to use during active infection, but those who have autoimmune or other chronic inflammatory conditions may want to discontinue use if they have a COVID-19 infection

Astragalus* Tea Tinc

Deep immune tonic (increases number and activity of white blood cells) and modulator; antiviral, antibacterial; known to increase vitality; affinity for chronic issues with overall depletion. Do not continue to take if you become ill, unless illness becomes severe and immune response/inflammation needs to be modulated/calmed.

Usnea* Tea Tinc

Builds deep immunity; antiviral; stimulates and protects lungs. Only harvest windfall; do not pull out of trees.

Medicinal mushrooms 

Ganoderma* (reishi) Tea Caps Tinc (double extraction)

Deep immune tonic and modulator; antiviral; antihistamine; anti-inflammatory; bitter; protects the liver; balances energy levels; supports adrenals; neutral temp. Caution with autoimmune conditions, lymphoma and leukemia, and meds for diabetes and to lower blood pressure; do not coadminister with immunosuppressants. 

Lentinula* (shiitake) Caps Tinc (double extraction) Food (cook for at least 20 mins)

Immune modulator; antiviral and antibacterial; traditionally used for bronchitis and other upper respiratory tract infections; protects the liver; source of interferon, which is part of the allopathic treatment for COVID-19; neutral temp.

Trametes* (turkey tail) Caps Tinc (double extraction) Food (cook for at least 20 mins)

Immune modulator; antiviral and antibacterial; affinity for chest; bitter; protects the liver; neutral temp.

Grifolia* (maitake) Food (cook for min. 20 mins)

Immune stimulant; neutral temp.

Cordyceps* Caps Tinc (double extraction) Tea

Immune, lung, kidney, liver, heart tonic; supports adrenals; neutral temp.

Fire cider* Elixir

Fire cider is a traditional remedy used by herbalists, kitchen witches, and grandmothers for generations. It’s made with horseradish, ginger, garlic, onion, hot peppers and other herbs of choice (work with what you have). These herbs are chopped up into small pieces or blended in a food processor and then steeped in apple cider vinegar. Steep for a moon cycle  (5–7 days if you need it sooner) you strain the herbs out and what remains is a very potent remedy. For prevention, take 7–12 drops, 2–3 times a day; for active infection, up to ½ oz 2–3 times a day. NOTE: This remedy can irritate some tummies, so be sure to take with food if you have a sensitive stomach.

Vitamin D3

Not an herb but we can’t not mention vitamin D3, which plays a key role in immune function; 5,000 IU is a good daily maintenance dose for winter-dwellers, especially in the higher latitudes; 10,000 IU for a couple of weeks if you haven’t been taking it regularly before now.

Herbs to Support Lymph

Our lymphatic system is an important part of our immune system. It stores white blood cells as well as cleans up our interstitial spaces (the spaces between cells) and returns that fluid back to our bloodstream after filtering it. Simple movement of our bodies moves our lymph. People who have less lymph movement include people living with: less mobility, decreased heart function, decreased kidney function. Dry skin brushing (gentle!) also aids in moving lymph.

Lymphatic herbs include herbs that help our lymphatic fluid to move as well as some that also support the organs of this system; spleen, tonsils, and adenoids.

Calendula* (calendula) Tea Tinc Oil Food Succus 

Surface immune and lymph stimulant with affinity for the chest area; warming.

Gallium* (cleavers) Succus Tea Food

Cleans and cools surface lymph; lymph tonic; cooling. Cleavers is a common weed that can be easily harvested from a clean area without worry of overharvesting.

Trifolium* (red clover) Tea Food

Cooling to hot lung conditions; demulcent for lungs and throat and antispasmodic for dry cough; antihistamine; decent lymph mover if it’s all you have; cooling. Safe for use in pregnancy and nursing and for kids and babies.

Ceanothus* (red root) Tinc

Not as common a plant, but if you have the tincture on hand, red root is a fantastic cleaner/filter of the lymphatic system, with an affinity for the body above the belly button; if your first cold symptom is a sore throat; cooling.

Viola odorata* (violet) Succus Tea Food Elixir Oil

Gentle yet powerful; lymphatic with an affinity for chronic lung conditions. Aids in bringing movement to slow, sludgy lymph flow. Especially useful as an infused oil when administering lymphatic massage; cooling.

Laurus nobilis** (bay laurel) Tea Food Steam Oil

Commonly found in the spice drawer and added to soups; may be added to food to aid digestion issues and increase appetite (one of the symptoms associated with COVID-19 is loss of appetite). Powerful lymphatic. Supports respiratory system when applied as infused oil. Rubbing into swollen lymph nodes may bring down inflammation / swelling; warming. Not enough known about long term use if pregnant or nursing.


Preventative Care Practices | Herbs to Support Immune Function & Lymph | Herbs to Support the Lungs | Herbs to Support the Liver & Digestion | Herbs to Support the Nervous System | Early Infection Phase | Resources | Clinical Herbalists | Sourcing Herbs 


Key to Plant Entries

Tea infusion made with leaves, flowers, and other airy bits: steep in boiled water, covered, for 20 mins; standard therapeutic dose: about 5g/day, or 1 small palmful

Tea decoction made with stems, bark, berries, roots, and other dense bits: gently simmer, covered, for at least 30 mins, up to 24 hrs; standard therapeutic dose: 5g/day, or 1 heaping Tbsp

Tinc a tincture is an extraction in alcohol; for medicinal mushrooms, should be a double-extraction; preventive dose (staying at home): 8–10 drops 1x/day; preventative dose (leaving the house): 10–12 drops 2/day; acute doses range from 1 drop to 1 tsp per dose, up to 6x/day, depending on the plant, the preparation, and the person; consult a more experienced person if you need guidance

Succus fresh plant/leaf/flower juice preserved with alcohol

Elixir alcohol-free extraction, often made with honey and/or apple cider vinegar

Steam pour boiled water over plant material in a large bowl, tent head with towel and inhale deeply for 3–5 minutes, 3–5x/day

Food eat me!

Oil plant material, fresh or dry, infused into carrier oil for topical use

* Safe for most people

** Avoid if pregnant or nursing; however, exceptions may be made depending on gestational phase and/or dose. For more questions, seek expert advice, as dosing or specifics on this topic is outside the scope of this guide

***Not safe for long-term internal use by anyone. Recommended for short-term use by generally healthy individuals


A Note on Sustainability and Choice of Herbs

In our clinical practices we prioritize the use of weedy, widely available herbs, the ones in our gardens and kitchens, and we have focused on those plants here. In an effort to respect Indigenous knowledge and resources, we avoid commercial use of sacred Indigenous plants as well as plants from traditions and geographies that we are unfamiliar with.

That said, because of the best information currently available on herbal protocols for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, some herbs in this document are widely used in TCM and come from that tradition, and some come from Indigenous medicine traditions.

We have deliberately excluded some herbs that are Indigenous to Turtle Island (aka North America) and are at risk of becoming endangered due to overharvesting and habitat destruction, including Lomatium, Ligusticum (Osha), Anemopsis (Yerba Mansa). We do not believe these herbs should be widely used, even though they would likely be supportive for this illness, and you will see others recommend them. We urge you to never use these herbs unless you can verify that they have been organically grown (instead of harvested from the wild, or “wildcrafted”). For more information about endangered and at-risk plant species, please see United Plant Savers.

We believe the herbs we have included in this guide will do what we need clinically and can be used without threatening the long-term population health of herbs that are crucial to Indigenous healers and their communities.

Please use your best judgement in sourcing herbs with an eye to upholding traditional knowledge-keepers, prioritizing Indigenous access to traditional medicines, and safeguarding sustainability in the widest possible sense. While this is certainly an urgent situation, it is not the first and it will not be the last, so we must work collectively to uphold the highest ethical standards of practice.If we want the herbs to take care of us, we must in return take care of them.

#rethinkwildcrafting


To download a PDF of the full “Get Radical, Boil Roots” guide, sign up for the Long Spell email list: 

It can also be viewed as a live google doc (copying and printing not enabled).

For more about my orientation to energetic herbalism, self and community care in these times, and my top herbs for the pandemic, check out my recent interview on the home|body podcast.

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