Viruses are crucial to many of the ecosystems on the planet and key to maintaining its wonderful biodiversity. Of course, the microscopic particles have also historically caused health challenges for humanity.
A large collection of herbs and plants are shown to have antiviral activity, ebabling us to prepare natural remedies to help prevent and treat viruses at home.
What is a virus?
A virus is an infectious particle that consists of core genetic material surrounded by a layer of protein, and is sometimes capped with a spiky ‘envelope’ layer.
Viruses are said to sit at the edge of life, neither living or nonliving. They need to get inside a ‘host’ cell – the cell of another living thing – to be able to replicate.
There are thousands of identified viruses and potentially thousands more, not all of which affect humans. Between people, viruses tend to be transmitted through coughing, sneezing, poor sanitation and sexual contact amongst others. We are familiar with the effect of some viruses on humans like the common cold, HIV and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
How can herbs and plants help?
Some herbs and plants are noted for their antiviral activity and can be used to help combat viral infections. This may be through stopping a virus from attaching to a host cell to begin with or blocking replication if the virus has already broken into a cell.
Many key antiviral herbs and plants also boost the immune system. This supports the body in its natural abilities to fight or defend against viral pathogens and clear up an infection.
Antiviral herbs and plants also offer a range of other health-promoting qualities that your body may need, such as anti-inflammatory, digestive and cardiovascular benefits.
When to use antiviral herbs and plants
As antiviral herbs and plants may stop a virus latching onto a potential host cell, block development of the virus within a cell and provide other health benefits, the majority can be used as a preventative measure, in treatment and in recovery.
Taking antiviral herbs and plants to boost the immune system is also a great way to strengthen yourself against viruses, for example if you’re prone to getting the flu in winter or feel a common cold coming on.
Antiviral herbs and plants
Oregano is a flowering plant in the mint family and has a lovely taste to add in to cooking. The stems and leaves contain carvacrol, the compound responsible for its antiviral properties.
The herb is most effective when it’s concentrated, making high-grade, edible essential oils a great choice for antiviral treatment or prevention.
You can add several drops into teas or cooking to receive the benefits and enjoy the aroma. Oregano is also rich in antioxidants and is believed to reduce inflammation in the body.
Sage is an aromatic herb also from the mint family, and has a long history of antiviral use in natural medicine. The leaves and stem can be steeped in a tea or chopped and used in cooking.
The safficinolide and sage one compounds found in sage are to thank for its antiviral qualities. Research has shown that the herb may combat HIV as it stops the virus penetrating would-be host cells.
Drinking sage tea is also thought to soothe nerves, ease a sore throat and reduce symptoms of the menopause such as hot flashes.
The garlic plant is well respected as a natural remedy due to its wide array of health benefits, from treating hypertension and high blood pressure to combatting viral infections like flu and the common cold.
When a garlic clove is crushed, sulphur compounds are formed that contain the majority of its amazing benefits. You can also chop or chew garlic to activate the same effects.
Garlic is effective for treating the painful symptoms of both types of herpes  caused by viral infection. To make garlic oil for topical treatment, crush one clove and drop it into a small amount of olive oil. After leaving the mixture for a few hours it can be applied onto sores or cold sores up to three times a day.
A strong smell and flavour make garlic easily recognizable in cooking and a delicious addition to many recipes.
Licorice has been used for centuries in natural practices like traditional Chinese medicine. Metabolites found in the roots and rhizomes have been found to have medicinal potential including antiviral, antimicrobial, antitumor and anti-flammatory qualities.
Triterpenoids are the active antiviral ingredients that make licorice a promising plant to prevent and treat diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV. Test-tube studies have also shown that licorice root extract is effective against the respiratory issues associated with Coronavirus which can lead to pneumonia.
Licorice tea can be prepared by steeping the root in hot water, before enjoying its distinct, sweet taste. Apart from its antiviral powers, licorice root can aid digestion, treat stomach ulcers and ease coughs.
Echinacea is popular in natural medicine due to its impressive health benefits and notably in treating viral respiratory infections like the flu. The flowers, roots and leaves of three common varieties – E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida – are used in herbal preparations like teas, tinctures and throat sprays.
Research has shown that taking echinacea as soon as symptoms show, can reduce the duration and intensity of colds and other respiratory infections.
Echinacea is known to stimulate the immune system too, which in turn empowers the body to fight infections and boost general health.
In addition to its antiviral abilities, echinacea is thought to help regulate blood sugar, support skin health and reduce anxiety.
How to use antiviral herbs and plants
Herbs and plants with antiviral properties are widely available, be it from health food shops or markets and supermarkets that sell fresh produce. You might even consider growing some plants and herbs yourself to create your own natural medicine supply!
The antiviral properties of herbs and plants are found in their bark, roots, flowers and leaves. They are available in a number of forms such as dried, fresh, capsule, tinctures and essential oils.
Perhaps the easiest preparation is to make a tea: take a tablespoon of your chosen dried herbs and/or plants and steep them in a cup of hot water for 5 – 10 minutes. You can play around with different blends depending on your preferred tastes and any additional health benefits you may be seeking.
Infusions can be made with a larger quantity of herbs/plants to produce a more concentrated liquid. In a jar, pour hot water over the herbs and seal it tightly before leaving the concoction to steep for several hours or until cool. You can then strain out the antiviral liquid and drink it chilled or heated.
Getting more antiviral herbs and plants into your daily lifestyle can be a creative pleasure, apart from experimenting with teas try adding them to soups, smoothies and leafy salads for a tasty antiviral dose.
Antiviral herbs and plants can be used in a variety of preparations from teas and tinctures to capsules and oil-infusions.
Their potential antiviral qualities make herbs and plants like oregano, sage, garlic, licorice root and echinacea effective in treating viral infections such as common colds and the flu.
Many antiviral herbal and plants offer a combination of health benefits aside from antiviral help, and can be used to treat several symptoms at once
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