Update: This page is getting a lot of views due to COVID-19. I am writing a more updated article that will reflect both additional studies on herbal care and coronviruses, as well as my own take on herbal care that has evolved since this was first written.
In the meantime, please also check out the second part of this article, here.
One of the biggest challenges designing a strategy to address MERS with herbs is that the virus is relatively new and unknown. So, I chose to look at what is known to form the basis of my best “educated guess”, such as:
- the nature of coronaviruses
- the symptoms of MERS
- herbs with known antiviral actions
- existing herbal recommendations for SARS, with which MERS has much in common
- more details about viruses in general than I ever wanted to know
Viruses are strands of either DNA or RNA. They have no cell wall, but some are called “encapsulated” as they are covered in a
layer of protein, the shape of which is unique to that virus strain. Once inside the body, the virus moves into the cells and is able to incorporate either DNA or RNA from the host into itself.
DNA viruses tend to be more stable and mutate less, while RNA viruses tend to have far more fluctuation and mutate easily. Where DNA viruses make billions of stable copies of itself, RNA viruses make billions of copies with lots of variation.
Coronaviruses present some unique challenges as an RNA virus.Because RNA viruses mutate frequently, it is not reasonable to expect a vaccine to come to market and be effective for any length of time. RNA viruses are highly adaptable, and their variation allows for responsiveness. However, coronaviruses have the largest genome of all RNA viruses (that we know of), and therefore have a real potential for
If a vaccine or other pharmaceutical were developed, neither would be useful for long. New vaccines would have to be made on an ongoing basis, which can take 3-6 months to develop. In the meantime, infected persons would be traveling and carrying the virus with them into new territory.
In this case, herbal and plant-based remedies *may* have the edge over pharmaceuticals due to their complex and synergistic nature, whereas pharmaceuticals focus on singular active ingredients. Plants, by their very nature, are a complex and unique combination of chemical constituents, which are far more challenging to both bacteria and viral infections.
While MERS is a relatively new virus, it is very similar to another coronavirus, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). A study was done and published in the Lancet detailing the similarities and differences between the two. To read more about this study, click here and here. Similarities include:
- Incubation periods (4-5 days)
- Presenting symptoms (very similar to influenza)
- Lung Pathology (potential for pneumonia and cytokine storms)
The study found,
“Most patients admitted to hospital exhibited fever (98%), chills/rigors (87%), cough (83%), shortness of breath (72%), and muscle pain (32%). A quarter of patients also experienced gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting.”
This study is almost a year old, and several things have changed. The mortality rate has dropped from 60% to 30%. As awareness and better identification of MERS grows, more of the mild cases are being reported. It seems that the cases that ended in death of the patient correlate to patients who had pre-existing conditions, especially diabetes. According to the study,
“However, in contrast to SARS, the majority of cases (96%) occurred in people with underlying chronic medical conditions including diabetes (68%), high blood pressure (34%), chronic heart disease (28%), and chronic renal disease (49%).”
All of these details tell us a number of very useful things to develop an herbal strategy for MERS.
- The similarities between SARS and MERS mean that herbs that are effective for SARS are most likely effective for MERS.
- Herbs long-used for comfort measures against influenza would likely be effective to provide comfort against MERS
- Addressing pre-existing conditions with herbs is likely a good way to prevent a mild case of MERS from becoming a serious case or worse, a fatality.
- Herbs with strong anti-viral properties that also protect against cytokine storms would be very useful.
Thankfully, many such herbs exist.
Herbs Used In Fighting Coronaviruses
Below is a list of herbs and essential oils that meet these objectives. These are either antiviral or supporting, syngeristic herbs. It will take several more posts to details what they can do and how to make herbal remedies with them. As I write them, I will link back to this page.
- Chinese Skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensis (not American Skullcap)
- Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra (used as a synergist- with other herbs, not by itself)
- Kudzu, Pueraria lobata
- Ginko biloba
- Angelica sinensis
- Astragalus mongholicus
- Japanese knotweed, Polygonum cuspidatum
- Rhodiola rosea
- Cordyceps sinensis
- Olive leaf, Olea europaea
- Elder, Sambucus nigra
- Cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum
- Berberine herbs
- Red Root, Ceanothus americanus
- Cleavers, Galium aparine
- Salvia miltiorrhiza
- Dyer’s Woad, Isatis tinctoria
The following herbs are beneficial for influenza relief, and would likely be helpful for the symptoms associated with MERS (those influenza herbs that are also included above are not duplicated below):
- Echinacea angustafolia
- Ginger, Zingiber officinale
- Pleurisy root, Asclepias tuberosa
- Cayenne, Capsicum annum
- Elecampane, Inula helenium
- Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis
- Slippery or Siberian Elm, Ulmus rubra
- Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum
- Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
- Sage, Salvia officinalis
- Marshmallow, Althaea officinalis
- Clove, Syzygium aromaticum
- Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara
- Mullein leaf, Verbascum densiflorum
- Peppermint, Mentha piperita
- Thyme, Thymus vulgaris
- Garlic, Allium sativum
- Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana
- Lemon, Citrus limon
The oils listed below each assist the respiratory system. Some are better for children, some are better for adults who can handle a more intense essential oil. Use these oils with
Warning: DO NOT INGEST! These oils are to be taken through INHALATION ONLY! I am quite aware of the multi-level marketing companies out there that tout ingestion as the end all be all for every ailment known to humankind. The casual manner in which such potent oils are being used is a dangerous practice, especially in the hands of sales reps with no aromatherapy training. There is a time and place for ingesting oils. This isn’t it.
- Thyme, Thymus vulgaris
- Oregano, Origanum vulgare
- Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globulus
- Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
- Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia
- Sage, Salvia officinalis
Additionally, herbs indicated for diabetes, hypertension, cardiac issues, and kidney problems, dietary changes that improve these conditions, plus any other steps you can take to improve illnesses such as these should be implemented now. MERS is far more deadly to people already experiencing chronic disease.