Early Infection Phase
You, or your person, is sick! You don’t know if it’s COVID-19 or something else. What should you do? We know that COVID-19 moves quickly, with several phases that require different treatment approaches. This section applies if you know or suspect you have a mild/early phase COVID-19 infection (symptoms include: mild fever, fatigue, dry cough, digestive upset with loose stool, pale or red tongue with thick white/grey/yellow coating). If a doctor or other primary care provider is accessible, screening for testing and medical oversight is recommended at this stage, as symptoms may progress quickly. Call your provider to check in; do not go in person.
If you or someone you are caring for shifts into more severe symptoms (including shortness of breath/trouble breathing, persistent fever or alternating fever and chills, cough with yellow or thickening mucous, bloating and constipation, chest tightness), seek professional medical support and/or transfer to an urgent care facility. If difficulty breathing becomes severe (unable to speak a full sentence without stopping to breathe), call 911 and let them know that you suspect COVID-19 infection so that first responders can come prepared. For readers who are interested in more in-depth research on herbal treatment for acute illness, or who want to read more about COVID-19 disease progression, see Research.
Herbs to Alleviate Symptoms of Respiratory Infection
In addition to the herbs listed in the preventative section, many of which are also applicable during acute illness, the herbs in this section may come in handy once you begin to feel sick. For the most part, they are herbs with an affinity for the lungs or the respiratory system in general, and/or which are known to have antiviral properties.
Antiviral herbs support the body to fight off viruses. Some antiviral herbs, like reishi, also support deep immunity. Others, like elderberry, work more on surface or acute immunity. Remember how we mentioned that it is useful to work with a few different herbs to build deep immunity and rotate through them periodically (see Herbs to Support Immune Function)? The same is true of variable antiviral herbs, which we recommend rotating on a weekly basis.
Antiviral herbs that address acute issues are to be approached with more caution by folks living with autoimmune conditions, because they may exacerbate autoimmunity. If you or someone you are caring for has an autoimmune condition, please seek the advice of a practitioner before using antiviral herbs.
Inula** (elecampane) Tinc
Chronic wet lung issues, wheeziness; warming and drying; indicated as prevention for someone with a preexisting lung condition, or as acute treatment if illness progresses to pneumonia stage.
Thymus* (thyme) Tea Steam Tinc
Powerful antiviral and antibacterial; helpful in cases of secondary bacterial infection.
Allium* (garlic) Food (raw or warmed; crush and let sit for 10 minutes)
Antiviral, antifungal with affinity for gut and lungs; expectorant; lowers blood pressure, tones the heart; warming. DO NOW: chop up a clove of garlic and eat with a spoonful of honey or nut butter; repeat 1–2 x daily. Should not be taken by those who use anticoagulant medication.
Thuja*** (cedar) Steam Tea Tinc
Immune stimulant; antiviral with affinity for the respiratory system; brings up impacted mucus; neutral temp. See steam protocol in Resources section. Not safe for high-dose or long-term internal use. Alternately: evergreen needles/leaves of any kind, i.e. pine, juniper, redwood.
Glycyrrhiza** (licorice) Tea Tinc
Moistening and soothing, indicated for dry cough; antiviral (theoretically, may block virus from attaching to ACE-2 linkages); promotes mucous membrane repair; protects dendritic cells (part of immune function); cold. Not for safe for those who have high blood pressure; not safe with most pharmaceutical meds.
Eriodictyon** (yerba santa) Tinc
Not as common an herb, but if you have some on hand, it is indicated for damp and wet lung conditions; slightly lung stimulating; anti-inflammatory; warming.
Asclepias tuberosa*** (pleurisy root) Tinc
Not as common an herb, but if you have some on hand, it is indicated for hot and wet lung infections; pulls fluid out; heals lungs and heart tissue from damage caused by chronic inflammation/infection; cold.
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
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!
* 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.
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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.