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Gina’s Herbal Immune Support Protocol

As an herbalist, I’ve been feeling particularly torn up lately knowing that herbs can offer a lot of good support to all of the people who are sick with Covid, and frustrated, sad, and angry in turn that this knowledge is not as widely available as it should be. As an herbalist, I specialize in the use of plant medicines to support our immune and nervous systems in times of sickness and high stress (of course, as an unlicensed practitioner, it is outside of my scope of practice to diagnose or treat Covid—or any disease, for that matter). It’s my dearly held wish that we all had access to herbal medicines to support us in these times—they are some of our very best allies and they play very nicely with public health guidelines (you all know the drill: masking, hand washing and distancing, limiting contact, vaccination when medically appropriate, testing when available and appropriate, and isolation when necessary).

Here is the protocol we use in my home whenever we think we might have been exposed or someone develops symptoms.

Hit the elderberry syrup! I make my syrup a little differently every time, always with elderberries and often with elder flower, rosehip and/or oregon grape berries combined with raw honey and apple cider vinegar. I simmer the dried berries in a slow cooker with just enough water to cover them for about 12 hours. I press the liquid out and while it’s still hot, add honey (I use a 2:1 ratio, so if I’ve got 500ml of berry juice I add 250ml honey). Once it’s cooled I add the same amount of apple cider vinegar as honey. If I’m adding elder flowers, I place them in a sterilized jar and pour all of this liquid over the flowers and let it steep in the fridge for 2–3 weeks before pressing again. This keeps for about 6 months in the fridge but I usually use it up before then. For most people, 1 tsp syrup 3x/day is effective for prevention. Once symptoms have developed, I increase the frequency to 1 tsp syrup 5x/day.

Get on the respiratory steams! I can’t overstate the effectiveness of steams! We should all be doing this regularly. If you can access evergreen needles as windfall, they are a great option. So are thyme & rosemary. Here’s my method:

  1. Gather a large, wide glass or metal bowl (salad bowl size) and a thick bath towel. Place on a surface where you can comfortably sit
  2. Place 2 Tbsp finely chopped herbs (a handful if more fluffy) in the bowl
  3. Boil 1L water & bring it over to the table. Sit down in front of the bowl, pour the water over the herbs, and immediately tent your head under the towel. To start, your face should be 10–12″ from the water. CAREFUL: if the steam feels like it is burning, it probably is! Back up until you can feel the steam but it’s not burning
  4. Breathe in the steam deeply 3-10 mins
  5. For prevention, 1x/day is likely sufficient. Repeat 3-5x daily when dealing w acute symptoms, using new herbs every time

Note: if you have Covid symptoms, you should get tested and follow public health guidelines.

This approach is time-tested with respiratory viruses and it works. Covid is, of course, its own beast, but it shares enough with other respiratory viruses that the same approaches are supportive—the mechanism of infection via the mucous membranes in our respiratory systems, and the ability of our immune systems, under ideal conditions, to mount a response that neutralizes the virus without severe illness. There are no guarantees of course, that’s the thing about illness; even when we do everything right, we get sick sometimes, and it’s not a moral failure or a failure any kind when it happens. When we do get sick, there is a lot we can do to support our natural immunity (including vaccine-assisted natural immunity) with herbs. The key is getting set up early—either starting to work with herbs because you suspect exposure or when you detect the very earliest symptom.

Read more about prevention and early symptom protocols in Get Radical Boil Roots, the collaborative guide I put together with a bunch of smart herbal colleagues in spring 2020.

PSA: not all herbs are for everyone. The herbs and methods shared here are generally safe for most people. If you have pre-existing health concerns, are taking prescription medications, are pregnant or nursing, or have allergies to plants, please consult a clinical herbalist or other knowledgeable person before adding herbs to your routine

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