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The Best Defenses

An herbal guide to boosting immunity

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Worried about catching COVID-19? First of all, don’t panic—anxiety can actually weaken your defenses. Remember, the disease is mostly mild. Most folks who come into contact with it will not get particularly sick, and few die. The bad news is that silent transmission is feasible, which means that someone who isn’t showing any symptoms could still be a carrier (contagious).

So, in the interconnected world of trains, planes, automobiles and shipping lanes—not to speak of new international trade policies rendering us less-cooperative—we have to take basic precautions, especially during travel. Wash your hands frequently with warm running water and soap as often as possible. Sing “Happy Birthday” all the way through twice at normal speed while washing, making sure to get the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails also. After washing your hands in a public restroom, use a paper towel or the edge of your sleeve to turn the faucet off. And do not touch your face, especially around the nose, mouth, or eyes.

If you don’t have access to running water, try a hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) and wipe down frequently, especially after touching public surfaces such as door handles and faucets.

When traveling consider wearing a light mask, such as the triple silk ones available at Some medical personnel say these don’t do much to protect against inhaling tiny viruses—that masks are more useful for folks who are contaminated and sneezing to help reduce the spread of infected respiratory droplets. But it won’t hurt to wear a light mask, especially if you have to be in crowded spaces such as public transportation or airplanes. And speaking of planes, If possible sanitize your tray back and the bathroom handles/faucets you will touch before touching them. And, again, do not touch your face.

Herbal Wellness

Most importantly, do everything you can to maintain good health. Stay hydrated with clean water. Get enough sleep. Keep a positive attitude. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet. And avoid junk food, especially sugary beverages. And consider trying some of these antiviral herbal medicines that are widely available in liquid or capsule form.

  • If you have blood type O, choose larch arabinogalactan (white larch bark, commercially available in powder form called ARA-6), Lomatium (Osha), or a mushroom blend, plus licorice and garlic.
  • For blood type A, good old echinacea (stimulates white cell production) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, helps to disinfect mucous membranes) are your best bets. Elderberry is good too.
  • For blood type B, all of the above work well, plus licorice and garlic.
  • For blood type AB, all of the above work well, plus green tea.

Many volatile (“essential”) oils also have antiviral properties and can be spritzed around your body or diffused throughout a room. Many are also safe for ingestion in very low doses: 2–3 drops in 1 cup of warm water taken 2–3 times daily. Check labels to ensure proper usage and dosage, as this is strong medicine!

Be aware that not everyone loves the scent of essential oils, but they aren’t noxious like fake perfume chemicals, which can absolutely cause violent reactions in susceptible folks. Some of the most effective antiviral volatile oils with a specific indications for respiratory illness include myrrh (Commiphora), thyme, oregano, eucalyptus, bergamot, ginger, hyssop, and sage.

Should You Suppress a Fever?

Fever is the body’s natural antiviral mechanism. So when your body is battling a viral infection, you will mount a fever (if you have the immune capacity to do so). This is a good thing, so do not suppress your fever with Tylenol. In fact, you may want to increase your fever by taking hot baths—or if you’re lucky enough to have a home sauna, sweat it out there.

Viruses are tiny, as you know, and do their dirty work inside cells. As opposed to bacteria, which are much larger and infect the space outside our cells. The fact that the virus may abate with warmer weather has gotten some airplay, but the deeper message is not getting across—viruses dislike heat. Most viruses cannot survive in temperatures above say 103°F. So sweating can be one of the most effective ways to rid your body of a virus if you’ve been exposed.

Never suppress a fever other than in a baby or frail elder, if it lasts longer than about 48 hours, or if it is higher than 106°F, due to risk of dehydration. Instead, push the fever. This is your body trying hard to kill the virus. Heat stimulates metabolism, increases enzyme productivity, enhances release of white blood cells, stimulates the production of protective heat shock proteins, increases calcium release from the bones (which maintains blood pH and reduces the risk of sepsis), and much more.

For More Information

Naturopathic Medicine Institute

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians