What are Natural Antivirals?
When it comes to staying healthy and nurturing wellness, plant-based medicine holds some answers. Modern science is often intermingled with the earth. Throughout time, traditional medicines such as aspirin, sudafed, and morphine have been rooted in nature. Various elements contained in plants possess antimicrobial activity; when the effects are antiviral that implies the ability to destroy or inhibit the growth of certain viruses. Today, researchers look to plants as potential cures for everything from COVID-19, to cancer. According to Chinese medicine specialist, Tsao-lin Moy, founder of Integrative Healing Arts,“what makes these plants so healthy is that they are considered nutrient dense, packed with vitamins and minerals and low in calories.” As for antiviral plants, “Tsao-Lin says, they “have immune modulating components and ingredients that provide protection against pathogens which is good for us.”
Especially now, “knowing which herbs, spices and plants are antiviral and medicinal can help keep you and your family healthier. Including them in recipes is a way to maintain good health and also create your own natural medicine cabinet,” says Tsao-Lin.
Read on for a breakdown of antiviral plants...
* Important: plant medicines are highly potent. Many have interactions and side effects, not listed on labels. So practice extreme caution when taking natural remedies. Always check with your doctor to make sure plant medicines are safe for you.
Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris)
Tsao-Lin says thyme is especially beneficial for “for bronchitis. As studies showed thyme along with primrose helped with cough and bronchitis and was far superior for treating bronchitis compared to a placebo.” So how can you take thyme? “Make thyme flavored water, by taking fresh sprigs and bruising to release the oils in the herb and infusing water,” suggests Tsao-Lin. Just cool in the fridge to readily have on hand. And if you don't have fresh thyme, “make tea with dried thyme, add 2 tsp to a cup of hot water and let it steep,” says Tsao-Lin.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum)
The heavenly scent of cinnamon, serves as a gentle reminder of the Fall. Cinnamon has an abundance of antioxidants and health benefits; it's anti-inflammatory, helps with gastric disorders, and may lower blood sugar and even shrink tumors. According to research performed from the New York School of Career and Applied Studies, 2 specific varieties of cinnamon, Saigon and Ceylon, had the ability to deactivate certain viruses. Tsao-Lin is especially fond of cinnamon, and says, “It is a favorite remedy that I recommend to patients that have cold hands and feet and those that get muscle aches and cramps when working out.” Sprinkle this comforting spice liberally in coffee, tea, fruit, juices, and baked goods. As an antiviral, “Cinnamon is a main ingredient used in classical Chinese Medicine formulas for helping with early stage flu especially when there are body aches and pains,” says Tsao-Lin. Additionally, “Cinnamon is a vasodilator meaning that it helps increase peripheral neuropathy, this helps with poor circulation and hypertension,” says Tsao-Lin.
Caution: Don't use cinnamon if you have any condition related to hormone levels.
Oregano (Origanum Vulgare)
Oregano is rich in antioxidants, (caffeine acid, rosmarinic acid, hispidulin and apigenin). In addition to its antiviral effects, oregano is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-diabetic. It is also being studied for its possible anticancer agents. While there are many species of oregano, other factors that can influence potency, include how the plant is grown and harvested. What’s a good way to use oregano for wellness? In addition to traditional Italian dishes, Tsao-Lin suggests, “oregano tea is also a way to use the spice, boil it with some of the leaves and drink it. Oil of oregano is a strong antifungal and antiparasitic and taken internally can help with yeast (candida) overgrowth.” Oregano is an antiviral preventive; additionally, it treats a laundry list of conditions. Amazingly, “the oil has stronger antifungal properties than tea tree oil. You can spray it on toe fungus and also use it in a spray for the shower to prevent athlete's foot,” advises Tsao-Lin.
Onions (Allium Cepa)
“Onions are part of the Allium family that also includes garlic, scallions, leeks, shallots and chives. And chopped scallions used in a broth for colds with stuffy noses are a home remedy in Chinese medicine dating over 2000 years ago,” says Tsao-Lin. Aside from flavor-enhancing in everything from omelettes to stews, onions “are packed with nutrients, antioxidants, antibacterial properties and also have cholesterol lowering benefits so it is good for preventing heart disease,” says Tsao-Lin. What makes them so powerful? One component in particular, is a flavonoid called Quercetin; Tsao-Lin says it's “a strong anti-viral with many immunological mediating properties and is a natural antihistamine.”
Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare)
In ancient folklore, fennel was said to offer physical protection from evil supernatural spirits. Truly underrated herb, a science study found that antioxidant rich fennel may inhibit certain viruses such as influenza and also lower fever; further research investigates fennel's anti-cancer properties. High in vitamin C, it's also especially beneficial for the endocrine system. Other benefits include, the ability to reduce inflammation, heart health, and strengthen memory. Tsao-Lin suggests, “Chewing on the seeds to release a fragrant scent. Fennel seeds can also be made into a tea.” As a food, fennel can be consumed raw or cooked, and “has a strong aromatic flavor of anise or licorice, and looks similar to celery but has much more fiber. The oils from seeds aid in gas and bloating and help with relaxing the colon,” says Tsao-Lin.
*Caution: fennel is “a phytoestrogen, meaning it can mimic estrogen and has shown to help reduce symptoms of menopause,” says Tsao-Lin. So make sure it's safe for you.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
For centuries, Ginger has been used in nature medicine. Tsao-Lin says research shows fresh ginger is effective against respiratory viruses. Ginger can be made as a tea along with lemon and honey to help with sore throats and cough.” Studies focused on the healing properties of ginger shine a light on certain bioactive compounds called Gingerols contained in fresh ginger, but reduced in dry form. That doesn't mean only fresh ginger is worth having. Because shogaols (also plant compounds), are actually richer in dry form. So in addition to fresh ginger, keep dry and powdered ginger on hand to add to your daily diet. In addition to being antiviral, Tsao-Lin says, “Ginger root is used in Asian cuisine to aid in digestion; it has many health and medicinal benefits such as warming the stomach and anti nausea.”
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Research shows dandelion extract contains potentially groundbreaking anti-influenza properties. “In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the herb is used for clearing heat such as red, swollen eyes, mastitis, intestinal inflammation and helps with lactation,” says, Tsao-Lin. For more about their use, including recipes check out Beautiful Uses for Dandelions.
Green, White & Black Tea:
Along with its antioxidant and anticancer properties, catechins, are antiviral and anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds (organic chemicals) found in the leaves of green and white tea; Tsao-Lin says, “the throat is the gateway for bacteria and viruses to enter the body so Tea is what the doctor ordered!” It's no wonder a study showed that consuming 1-3 cups per day may prevent influenza in children. White and green tea also contains Quercetin, a powerful bioflavonoid, polyphenol compound, researched for its anti-cancer, antiviral effects, linked to healing upper respiratory illnesses.
Tsao-Lin says,“Both green and black teas (Camellia Sinensis family) have shown to have natural antimicrobial and antiviral properties. The antioxidants in black tea help prevent stomach cancers and have a direct bactericidal effect against Streptococcus mutans.”
Tulsi tea (holy basil)
According to Tsao-Lin, “research shows it is a super herb: antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.” What should you take Tulsi for? Use for overall immunity, either as tea or essential oil. For specific conditions, “Tulsi is excellent for asthma and coughs, it can be inhaled by using essential oil in a diffuser or a couple drops in the palms and take a couple of deep breaths,” suggests Tsao-Lin.
When it comes to plant based remedies, they can be subtle and also powerful. So be mindful not to overdo, which can put your immune system into overdrive, and initiate something called a cytokine storm. So always be gentle with new plants. When possible, instead of supplements, add them as food to your diet, selectively. First, make sure they agree with your body. As you discover herbs and spices that enhance your personal wellness, make a habit of incorporating them into your daily meals. And create new healthful recipes centered around these healing foods.