Modern day viruses meet ancient herbal defenders
Have you ever wondered how our ancestors fended off dreaded seasonal viruses? Because we’re sure the answer’s probably: “No, I’m too busy wondering how to fend off modern-day seasonal viruses,” we’re delving into the past to bring you 12 historical herbal helpers. Modern virus: meet ancient wisdom.
Andrographis is derived from a shrub grown in moist, shady areas of India, China, and throughout Southeast Asia, and is commonly referred to as Indian echinacea. This popular Ayurvedic and Chinese preventive, thought to stimulate the immune system, has been used as a remedy for the common cold, upper respiratory tract infections, flu, and other ailments where fever is a symptom.
At your natural health store: individual extracts, tinctures, capsules, tablets, or as ingredients in powder formulations.
The dried root of this herb, that has been used extensively in Chinese medicine as well as Western herbalism, has been shown to boost immune function and reduce inflammation. Its traditional uses include helping to treat the common cold, seasonal allergies, and chronic fatigue.
At your natural health store: capsules, liquid extracts, powders, and teas.
The roots of codonopsis are used in Chinese medicine to lower blood pressure, increase red and white blood cell counts, cure appetite loss, strengthen the immune system, and replenish qi (vital energy). It’s also used as a gentler and more economical substitute for ginseng. Current research has identified important immunomodulatory components in codonopsis.
At your natural health store: tinctures, capsules, and whole roots or powders
A well-known herb for targeting colds, extracts of echinacea have demonstrated a positive effect on the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells, which fight infections. Echinacea, native to North America, was widely used by Indigenous people in their traditional medicines. In a 2014 review of 24 studies involving more than 4,500 subjects, echinacea was found to help in preventing colds.
At your natural health store: extracts, capsules, tablets, and teas
The bark, leaves, flowers, berries, and roots of the elder tree were all used in traditional medicine. Thought to have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, elderberry may help ease congestion by reducing swelling in mucous membranes and may also help reduce cold duration. Elderberry has also shown promise in lab studies for combatting influenza type A and B viruses.
At your natural health store: teas, syrups, extracts, lozenges, and capsules
Also known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthero has been used as a medicinal plant for more than 2,000 years. Known as an adaptogen, this herb is also used as a performance and focus enhancer to increase mental alertness and concentration. It also stimulates cellular immunity and provokes T-cell production.
At your natural health store: tinctures, roots and root powders, capsules
A member of the Allium family (along with onions and leeks), garlic has been used historically as an elixir to treat the common cold, chest infections, and even to ward off evil spirits. This flavourful food fights infection by increasing natural killer cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes. Fresh garlic can have an effect against bacteria and viruses. Preliminary research suggests that garlic supplements might also be a potent tool for preventing colds.
At your natural health store: tablets, capsules
Recent studies are suggesting that ginger may help kill certain types of cancer cells, but what we know for sure is that it can help warm us up with its unique spiciness when we’re down with seasonal viruses. It has been used for centuries to help naturally treat upset stomach, migraines, pain, nausea, and vomiting.
At your natural health store: tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, and teas
Marsh mallow root’s demulcent (soothing) qualities have been used for thousands of years, by ancient Egyptian, Arab, Greek, and Roman cultures, to help bring relief to dry coughs, bronchial asthma and congestion, and pleurisy as well as an external poultice. It’s also been used to help soothe digestion and was the “root” of the original marshmallow dessert.
At your natural health store: tablets, capsules, lozenges, liquid extracts, dried roots, and teas
Oregano oil has long been used as a remedy for the symptoms of colds, flu, bronchitis, and other respiratory complaints because of its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. To clear lungs and bronchial passages, oregano oil can be mixed with a carrier oil (olive oil) and rubbed on the chest and aching muscles or added to a vaporizer to inhale the steam.
At your natural health store: essential oil, capsules
This woody vine with clusters of red berries is found in northern China and adjacent regions in Russia and Korea and has been used in traditional medicines of those areas since the 16th century. As an antioxidant and antiviral, schisandra may enhance the immune system and also promote longevity. Schisandra has also been used to help relieve symptoms of asthma, seasonal allergies, and the common cold.
At your natural health store: tinctures, extracts, capsules, tablets, teas, dried berries, or powders
Turmeric comes from the root of Curcuma longa, a flowering plant of the ginger family and is a spice that has been widely used for more than 4,000 years throughout Asia in cooking, cosmetics, and medicinal remedies. Modern research has shown that turmeric and its major component curcumin is a potent antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer agent.
At your natural health store: as turmeric or its main compound curcumin in capsules, liquid formulations, softgels, and gummies
Supplements are only necessary when our diet doesn’t deliver all the nutrients we need. This would be reassuring if one out of three of us weren’t nutrient deficient in some area.
Step 1: Consult a professional to determine where your deficiency might lie.
Step 2: Fill the gap. Most experts agree that taking a quality multivitamin (they’re not all created equal!) is good insurance for any diet. Additionally, while supplements such as protein powder and creatine are commonplace in athletics, there is evidence to suggest that regular ingestion of creatine, particularly in non-elite athletes, also has significant positive effects on physical and cognitive fitness.
Some cultures, including those in China and India, developed highly sophisticated systems of medical treatment centuries ago primarily based on plants that are still widely used today. (Think traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.)
In under-developed areas where commercial pharmaceuticals are either not available or too expensive for the average person, herbal medicines are still used extensively.
Many of our most effective pharmaceuticals have their origins in plants. As noted in a 2002 study, 11 percent of the 252 drugs considered essential by the World Health Organization are exclusively derived from flowering plants.
This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of alive Canada magazine, under the title "12 historical herbal helpers."