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Viruses cause a lot of misery. Every year we’re on the lookout for flu and bad colds, but viruses also cause cold sores, chickenpox, measles, hepatitis, and many other illnesses. Viruses affect all living things, whether it’s a person or a fungus. Viruses are everywhere, and some can be lethal. Unlike bacteria, viruses don’t respond to antibiotics, so treating them can be a bit trickier. Prescription antivirals are sometimes effective, but they tend to come with a lot of side-effects. However, the treatment of viruses isn’t restricted to prescription-only medicines.
You might not know it, but antiviral herbs are a potent weapon in the fight against viral infections. Herbs with antiviral properties concentrate high levels of complex virus-fighting compounds into plant tissues that can be extracted.
Viruses and Bacteria: What’s the Difference?
Bacteria are tiny microorganisms that have just a single cell. They’re tough and can live in many environments. Bacteria are our constant companions, with many varieties living on our skin, in our bodies, helping us digest food and otherwise being good neighbors. Some bacteria cause infection and dangerous illnesses, like strep throat, pneumonia, bladder infections, sepsis, and many others. Unlike viruses, bacteria reproduce on their own. Bacteria can be killed or controlled with antibiotics.
The common cold and influenza are examples of disease-causing viruses, but there are many more. Viruses have no reproductive mechanisms of their own. They must hijack living cells to reproduce. When viruses invade our body’s cells to use them as breeding factories the cells die, spilling millions of new viruses into the body. Naturally, antibiotics don’t work on viruses. To fight viruses, we must look at antivirals.
What Herbs are Antiviral?
Antiviral herbs are plants containing complex compounds that slow or stop viruses from invading healthy cells, thus interfering with the virus’s ability to reproduce itself. Others kill the virus outright, while some antiviral herbal compounds prevent the virus from invading cells. All of the following herbs with antiviral properties have research pointing to the effectiveness of certain virus-fighting tasks.
Garlic. Everyone has heard of garlic. Its pungent taste and aroma have earned it many fans in the culinary world, but it’s a natural remedy for many disorders, including viral infections. A study of 35 male patients with genital warts caused by human papillomavirus demonstrated that garlic was as effective in removing warts as cryotherapy. Other research has shown that garlic boosts the immune system. It seems to encourage the healthy growth and proliferation of cells that fight viral infections.
What’s a healthy dosage? 1000 mg taken twice daily is recommended for many disorders.
Find garlic here.
Oregano. Oregano is another herb from the kitchen with a long history of medicinal use. It’s a member of the mint family and contains carvacrol, thymol, and terpinene, complex compounds with healing properties. Carvacrol has impressive virus-fighting properties and is effective in fighting murine norovirus, a close relative of human norovirus, the cause of many causes of gastroenteritis.
Carvacrol also attacks the viruses that cause rotavirus, which causes diarrhea in children. It inhibits the growth of herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) and exhibits significant antiviral activity against respiratory syncytial virus, a prime cause of respiratory infections.
What’s a healthy dosage? There are no standard guidelines for oregano dosage. When used medicinally, oregano’s active ingredients are expressed into a carrier oil. It’s important to make sure that your oregano is labeled for medical purposes. Cooking oil flavored with oregano isn’t effective for fighting viruses.
Find oregano here.
Sage. Sage adds a wonderfully aromatic flavor to foods, but it’s also been used for generations in traditional medicine as a virus fighter. Sage contains a compound called safficinolide that’s responsible for its antiviral effects. Studies have shown that sage can fight HSV-1 and may also fight human immunodeficiency virus type 1. Creams made of sage heal cold sores about as fast as acyclovir, a prescription anti-viral.
What’s a healthy dosage? 4 to 6 grams of sage leaf per day. In capsule form, 300 to 600 mg per day is recommended.
Find sage here.
Lemon balm. Lemon balm isn’t a citrus plant. Rather, it’s an herb with a lemony taste used as a seasoning and flavoring for tea. Lemon balm extract has also been famed for its use as a medicine for centuries. Research has shown lemon balm to be effective against enterovirus 71, which causes severe diarrhea. Test-tube studies have revealed lemon balm extract to fight human immunodeficiency virus type I, herpes-type viruses and bird flu.
As an oral antiviral, 300 to 600 mg is suggested.
Basil. You can find more than one species of basil, like holy basil and sweet basil, but they all have antiviral properties. Test-tube studies have uncovered evidence that sweet basil has virus-fighting compounds called ursolic acid and apigenin that are effective against hepatitis B and herpes viruses. Ursolic acid and apigenin also fight enterovirus.
What’s a healthy dosage? Take 500 mg daily.
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Fennel. Fennel is a spicy licorice-like herb that packs over 80 complex health-boosting compounds into its bulbs. It’s been shown in studies that extract of fennel has powerful virus-fighting effects, particularly against herpes viruses, due to trans-anethole, a major component of fennel essential oil. Studies carried out on animals indicate that fennel decreases tissue inflammation and strengthens the immune system.
What’s a healthy dosage? 400 mg up to 3 times a day.
Special considerations: Do not use if you’re pregnant or lactating.
Find fennel here.
Rosemary. Like most herbs with antiviral properties, rosemary is often found in the kitchen and is a favorite of chefs everywhere. It’s much more than a cooking ingredient though. Rosemary has many chemical compounds that work as antivirals. One of these, oleanolic acid, has shown effectiveness against influenza, hepatitis and herpes viruses in animal studies. Rosemary extract has shown powerful virus-fighting properties against hepatitis A.
What’s a healthy dosage? 700 mg two to three times a day in capsule form.
Peppermint. Many people love peppermint candy and peppermint tea. It’s added to many products as a flavoring, but it’s also a powerful antiviral herb that’s been added to tinctures, teas, and supplements for generations. It contains antiviral compounds like rosmarinic acid and menthol, which reduce inflammation in addition to fighting viruses. Extracts from peppermint leaves are effective against respiratory syncytial virus while reducing chemicals that cause inflammation.
What’s a healthy dosage? Peppermint can be used in a staggering array of ways. Teas, candies, powders, and capsules are all common vehicles for peppermint. For ease of administration, consider capsules.
What’s a healthy dosage? There is no established recommended dosage, so follow directions on packaging or directions from your healthcare provider.
Find peppermint supplements here.
Echinacea. Echinacea is a perennial favorite in the pharmacopeia of traditional medicine. Famed for its healthy properties, echinacea has long been used by Native Americans for all-natural remedies. Viral infections like flu and other upper respiratory diseases are susceptible to echinacea.
What’s a healthy dosage? Echinacea comes in many varieties and dosing can be complex. For treating a bad cold or other viral respiratory infection, try 5 mL two days a day for 10 days of Echinacea purpurea liquid extract.
Astragalus. Astragalus is frequently found in Chinese herbal medicine. An immune system boosting compound, astragalus polysaccharide (APS) has significant virus-fighting properties. It is effective against hepatitis C, avian flu-type H9, and herpes viruses. Research also indicates it’s useful for protecting nerve cells from herpes. Given that the herpes viruses often cause permanent nerve damage, that’s a welcome effect.
What’s a healthy dosage? There is no scientifically established dosage for astragalus. However, 3 grams a day of the powdered plant in capsule form is recommended.
Find astragalus here.
Elderberry. Also called Sambucus, elderberry is used for many ailments and can be found in pills, capsules, teas, and elixirs. It’s traditionally used to treat the common cold and influenza. Elderberry may work by interfering with the way flu viruses reproduce inside cells. Elderberry supplements have also been found to be extremely effective in reducing the symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections.
What’s a healthy dosage? For syrups, take 15 mL up to 4 times a day. For capsules, take 1 500 mg capsule a day.
Licorice. Licorice is part of traditional Chinese medicine and has been used for thousands of years. Licorice root’s primary antiviral compounds, glabridin and liquiritigenin, work against respiratory syncytial virus, HIV, and SARS-coronavirus.
What’s a healthy dosage? 1800 mg, up to three times a day.
Find licorice here.
Ginger. You can find ginger in many products. Not only is it tasty, but it’s also got powerful antiviral properties. Ginger has a very high density of herbal compounds including zingerone and gingerols that fight RSV, norovirus, avian influenza (bird flu) and others, including feline calicivirus.
What’s a healthy dosage? 150 mg to 1 g, up to 3 times a day.
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What’s a healthy dosage? 1000 mg twice a day.
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Dandelion. Dandelion shows promise in treating HIV, human flu virus, and hepatitis B. Like many herbs with antiviral properties, it’s been found to fight hepatitis B, HIV, and flu viruses. Dandelion’s potent compounds are found in the roots of the plant, although the leaves are also consumed in salads and teas. Dandelion may be taken in elixirs, capsules, extracts or powders.
What’s a healthy dosage? One to two 500 mg capsules per day is an effective dose.
Find dandelion root here.
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