coronavirus and a woman with mask on

The Potential Role of Herbs in the Age of COVID-19

As we enter the first critical weeks of dealing with the novel Coronavirus in the United States, it seems like a good time to examine what our holistic health community can do and how the herbs we study can help in this pandemic. 

What is Covid-19? 

COVID-19, as it is referred to by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) is a respiratory virus that can spread from person-to-person via respiratory droplets passed when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It’s also possible to transmit the virus by touching the surface of an object that has the virus on it and then touching your face, mouth, nose or eyes. The virus is believed to spread between people who are in close contact, meaning 6 feet or closer. 

Symptoms and Impact on Lungs 

Initial research on this new virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019 showed that symptoms include: fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. The vast majority of people who contract the Coronavirus will only experience mild symptoms and will recover completely without needing medical intervention or specialist care. Unfortunately, for about one-in-six people, once the virus has entered the system, it can begin to ravage the lungs. 

For those experiencing severe respiratory syndrome, the symptoms can be critical and somewhat alarming.  Almost all the more severe cases include pneumonia-like symptoms including: inability to breathe on own, need for intubation, and artificial breathing mechanisms. 

Both the lower and upper respiratory tract are extremely susceptible to becoming injured and/or compromised due to this virus. These tracts can then become inflamed and irritated. If they become infected they respond by pouring out inflammatory material into the air sacs that are at the bottom of our lungs. This can lead to pneumonia and potentially not enough oxygen in the bloodstream. 

Treatment and Holistic Care Options 

Respiratory specialists and epidemiologists have been supporting patients with supportive treatments such as ventilators and intensive care measures. These steps are in the hope of maintaining high oxygen levels until their lungs are able to function in a normal way again as they recover.

In our holistic industry, we want to recognize that there are herbs that can also aid in the protecting and healing the tissue of the lungs. 

Research supports the use of dietary supplements that can maintain immune system health. While there are no current clinical studies that show that these supplements can prevent the novel Coronavirus, there are a number of herbs that show in vitro viral activity against some forms of coronaviruses. Three that we would like to examine briefly include: Elderberry, Oregano Oil, and Salvia Miltorhiza. 


Elderberry, the dark purple berry from the European Elder tree, is a good pre-treatment tonic. The naturally occurring mucopolysaccharides coat cells and discourage viral adhesion. However, if viruses do stick, enter cells, and replicate then the ensuing types of inflammation must be modulated. 

Oregano Oil

Oregano Oil is known for its antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. According to a Holistic Primary Care article, Oregano OIl has shown to inhibit the H1N1 and HSV viruses in the past. Oregano Oil can inhibit proliferation of Coronavirus and reduce viral titers. The research completed in 2003 as a preliminary in vitro experiment was in early stage basic research started long before this pandemic. It would need to be trialed on actual humans before drawing any firm conclusions about its efficacy. (Holistic Primary Care Vol. 21 No. 1) 

Salvia Miltiorrhiza

Salvia Miltiorrhiza is also referred to as Asia Red Sage. It is the root of the Asian herb Salvia miltiorrhizae (sometimes called “Red Salvia”) is a “blood vitalizing” herb now used widely in Asia to improve and support blood circulation. Red Sage outperforms many herbs in that it helps to manage lung fibrosing that occurs with this type and other respiratory viruses. Although more commonly used in heart and cardiovascular supportive formulas, this herb can be added along with lung herbs to support blood flow to the lungs and reduce possible fibrosing.

There are formulas used in Oriental Herbalism and Western Herbalism that support the lungs and bronchioles such as Yin Chiao, Gan Mao Ling, Eupatorium, Pleurisy root and English Ivy Extract. Always contact your local clinical herbalist for more specific applications of herbs and herbals formulas for your personalized needs. Not all herbs are applicable to every person even with the same presenting symptoms.

For further reading on the use of herbs in the face of viruses, we encourage you to read the 2013 book, Herbal Antivirals by herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner. He goes into great depth about the mechanisms by which viruses attach to and infect human cells.