Antiviral and Immune Support Herbs : Green Path Herb School

Antiviral and Immune Support Herbs : Green Path Herb School

It’s a surreal time in the world right now and we must all do the best we can to support each other. It’s on that note that I have taken the better part of last 3 days to write this article for… you! Due to the current pandemic, there is a shortage of many herbs on the market. It’s also spring, when herb stocks are at their lowest as we get ready for the next growing season. There is some great information out there (and some suspect info too) but specific recipes may not be valuable if you don’t have access to the herbs in the formula. 

Let me assure you that there are herbs in your area that can help, whether they are in your yard, kitchen or at the grocery store! I wrote this article as a tool to help you formulate your own herbal recipes based on herbs you either have at hand or may be able to find. Some herbs are listed in multiple categories and will do several things.

Below are two main herbal sections. The first one can be used to stay well. The second one is useful if you get sick. I encourage you to make these formulas when you feel well, so that y0u have them on hand if you start to feel sick. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself, sweet one, and know that this too shall pass. 

To Stay Well

Please remember that diet and lifestyle are very important. You can see my article here for the 10 best things for your health. That is the foundation. Now you can add the herbs! I have included both an herbal tea and a general wellness support formula.

Make a Supportive Tea:

Alteratives: Traditionally thought of as “blood cleansers”. These herbs can help one recover from illness or injury by encouraging the eliminatory organs to do their work better. Use them to stay well or to support and recover from an illness. Many of these herbs are also extremely high in minerals. I have separated them for you below:

  • Herbs: Burdock (Arctium lappa), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Echinacea spp., Figwort (Scrophulariaspp.), Oregon grape (Mahonia spp.), Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.), Yellow dock (Rumex crispus) 
  • Alterative Herbs High in Minerals: Red clover (Trifolium pratense), Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Nettles (Urtica dioica)
  • Other Nutritive Tea Herbs: Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Rose (Rosa spp), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Rose hips (Rosa spp.), Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), Oat straw (Avena spp.), Raspberry (Rubus spp.), Linden flowers (Tilia spp.)Elderberries or flowers (Sambucus spp.), Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora), Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale), and  most any mint including: Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Spearmint (Mentha spicata), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Bee balm (Monarda spp.), Anise Hyssop (Agastache foniculum)
  • Additional botanicals for tea can be added in smaller amounts to enhance flavor and add other medicinal actions. Many of these are easy to find in the spice section of your grocery store. Although many herbs and spices have more than one flavor, I have simplified their categories here and listed them in either sweet, savory or bitter categories. Bitters are excellent for digestion. I recommend going light on them to start and adding more to appeal to your taste and tolerance.
  • Sweet: Cinnamomum verum (Cinnamon), Syzygium aromaticum (Clove), Illicium verum (Star anise), Myristica spp. (Nutmeg), Pimentadioica (Allspice), Rhus spp. (Sumac), Elettaria cardamomum (Cardamom), Coriandrum sativum (Coriander), Stevia rebaudiana (Stevia), Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel), Pimpinella anisum (Anise)
  • Savory: Ginger, fresh is best (Zingiber officinale), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Cayenne (Capsicum annuum), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Bitter: Orange peel (Citrus sinensis), Lemon peel (Citrus × limon), Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Angelica (Angelica archangelica).

Supportive Tea Formula:

Alterative Herb 1-2 herbs (by weight)
Nutrative Herb 1-2 herbs (by weight)
Tasty herb 1-2 herbs (by weight)
Sweet, savory or bitter herbs To taste
  • How to make your tea: Measure the herbs by weight. Put ½ ounce herbs by weight into a teapot or canning jar. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the herbs and steep for ½-2 hours. Strain and enjoy 1-3 cups a day.
  • A note on honey: I have been keeping bees for six years now, and I love it! I think honey is made of magic: small insects all working together for a common cause, visiting thousands of flowers throughout the spring and summer to gather nectar. Their tiny wings beat, over and over, dehydrating the nectar into honey. Honey is a gift from the flowers and the bees! I recommend raw, local honey as it contains more pollen, enzymes and other micronutrients. Honey is anti-bacterial, humectant and anti-inflammatory, making it soothing to sore throats and respiratory irritations. It is full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Due to risk of botulism, children under one year old should avoid honey. Please support the bees by choosing to buy ethically produced honey.

Make an Herbal Support Formula: 

Use the following categories for your formula: Immune support, Adaptogens, Respiratory tonics, Herbs for the Nervous System. 

Immune Support Herbs: can be used on a regular basis to strengthen and support the immune system

  • Herbs: Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus, A. membranaceus or A. mongholicus), Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Holy basil or Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Garlic, fresh crushed is best (Allium sativum), Ginger, fresh is best (Zingiber officinalis)
  • Mushrooms: Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), Maitake (Grifola frondosa), Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Adaptogens: help the body, particularly the limbic system, adapt to stress and maintain balance. They are especially helpful during times of continual stress. Many adaptogens also support health immune function in the body. I have listed those separately below. 

  • Herbs: Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus), American ginseng (Panax Quinquefolium), Red ginseng (Panax ginseng), Aralia nudicalis, Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
  • Adaptogens with immune supportive functions: Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Holy basil, or Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula), Schizandra (Schizandra  chinensis)

Respiratory Tonics: long term supporters and strengtheners of the respiratory system

  • Herbs:  Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus, A. membranaceus or A. mongholicus), Marshmallow (Althea officinalis, other mallow species can work well too), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.), Violet (Viola spp.), Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Herbs for the Nervous System:Many herbs can help to calm and support the nervous system. In my experience, this category of herbs seems to be the quirkiest and can affect each person differently. For instance, one person can use valerian for better sleep, but for someone else it has the opposite effect and might keep them awake. This is called a paradoxical reaction. If you find that one relaxing herb is not working for you, please try another, as it may work better!  Relaxing and tonic herbs for the nervous system can be taken throughout the day (instead of just at night) to help maintain a peaceful calm.

  • Nervous System Tonics: Oat seed (fresh seed tincture is best) (Avena spp.), Linden flower(Tilia spp.), St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) (avoid if using some pharmaceuticals), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Relaxing Herbs: Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.), Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Black Cohosh (Actea racemosa) (Cultivated only, please), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Kava (Piper methysticum) (Cultivated only, please and avoid if using some pharmaceuticals), Blue vervain (Verbana hastata), Damiana (Turnera diffusa), Wood betony (Stachys officinalis)
  • Sedating Herbs: Instead of being in the formula, these herbs are best used episodically in small doses or at night to encourage a peaceful sleep. (Relaxing herbs may also help with insomnia.) Valerian (Valeriana spp.), Hops (Humulus lupulus), Wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina or P. piscipula)

Herbal Support Formula:

You can make this formula as a tea, capsule, pill or tincture. Include one herb from each of the below categories. If you are making a tincture formula, measure by volume (think measuring cup). All other formulas should be measured by weight.

Immune Support Herb 1 part
Adaptogen Herb 1 part
Respiratory Tonic Herb 1 part
Nervous System Tonic Herb 1 part
Relaxing Herb 1 part

This formula can be used an average of 3 times a day.

If You Get Sick:

I have broken this into three categories, depending on symptoms. The first is a general formula, adding in diaphoretics (for high fever) if needed and the last section is about respiratory issues. 

Firstly, you can make an herbal formula using the following categories: Antivirals, Antibacterials, Liver herbs, Immunostimulants, Lymphagogues, and (if a high fever is present) Diaphoretics. 

Antivirals Herbs: inhibit or suppress growth of viruses 

  • Herbs: Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.), Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum), Osha (Ligusticum porteri), Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Cedar (Thuja spp.), Garlic (fresh crushed is best) (Allium sativum), Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
  • Antiviral Essential Oils: Most Citrus oils, Bergamot (Citrus bergamia), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Eucalyptus spp., Niaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia), Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), Thyme (Thyms vulgaris), Clove (Syzygium aromaticum), Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum), Anise (Pimpinella anisum), Melissa (Melissa officinalis), Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Ravensara (Ravensare aromatica), Black pepper (Piper nigrum) Note: Please see the bottom of this article for suggestions on safely using essential oils.

Antibacterial Herbs: inhibit or suppress the growth of bacteria. This category can be helpful for secondary infections. For example, when I get a viral head cold, I often end up with a secondary bacterial sinus infection. Because I know this is a pattern, I start using sinus herbs and doing neti pots soon after I get a head cold.

  • Herbs: Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Clove (Syzygium aromaticum), Echinacea (Echinacea spp.), Elecampane (Inula helenium), Eucalyptus spp., Garlic (Fresh crushed is best) (Allium sativum), Goldenseal (Cultivated only, please, on contact) (Hydrastis canadensis), Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), Myrrh (Commiphora spp.), Oregon grape root (on contact) (Mahonia spp.), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Usnea (Usnea spp.), Yarrow (Achilllea millefolium), Balsam root (Balsamorhiza sagittata), Poplar bud (Populus spp.), Barberry (on contact), (Berberis spp.), Bee balm (Monarda spp.), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Garlic (fresh crushed is best) (Allium sativum), Ginger (Fresh is best) (Zingiber officinalis), Onion (Allium cepa), Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Propolis (a bee product), Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica)
  • Antibacterial Essential Oils: Most essential oils are antimicrobial to one or more organisms. Here are a few, but I encourage you to research up what you have on hand: Bergamot (Citrus bergamia), Eucalyptus spp., Juniper (Juniperus communis), Lemon (Citrus limonum). Note: Please see the bottom of this article for suggestions on safely using essential oils.

Liver Herbs: You might be asking yourself “Why would liver herbs be included in this article?” and that’s a good question! The liver does so very much for us, and although now isn’t the time to get into all the details, what is important to note for this article is that the liver helps us clean up wastes in the body. When we are sick, we produce WAY more waste products or metabolites and this can overwhelm the liver and leave us feeling even more unwell. Supporting and mildly stimulating the liver can be extremely helpful to reduce the overall load on the body when sick and to speed recuperation.

  • Herbs: Burdock (Arctium lappa), Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), Gentian (Gentiana spp.), Oregon grape root (Mahonia spp.), Yarrow (Achilllea millefolium), Yellow dock (Rumex crispus), Artichoke leaf (Cynara scolymus), Barberry (Berberis spp.), Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)

Immunostimulants: used for short periods of time to stimulate immune function

  • Herbs: Echinacea spp., Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), Prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), Usnea (Usnea spp.), Cedar (Thuja spp.), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Lymphagogues: supports the lymphatic organs or stimulates the activity of the lymph system. The lymphatic system is a crucial part of our innate immunity and should be supported to do its job when we are sick or recovering from illness. Some lymphagogues are stronger than others, so I have broken them into categories below:

  • Herbs:
    • Gentle: Burdock (Arctium lappa), Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Red clover (Trifolium pratense), Alder tree, dry (Alnus spp.), Violet (Viola spp.), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)
    • Mid-Range: Ocotillo (Fouqueria splendens), Red Root (Ceanothus sp.), Figwort (Scrophularia spp.)
    • Low Dose: (These are strong herbs that are best used with an herbalist’s guidance. Please use caution): Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), Blue flag (Iris missouriensis/versicolor), Poke (Phytolacca spp.)
  • Essential Oils: Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Lemon (Citrus limonum), Geranium (Pelargonium gravolens), Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi), Juniper berry (Juniperus communis), Orange (Citrus x sinensus), Lime, cold pressed (Citrus aurantifolia), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) Note: Please see the bottom of this article for suggestions on safely using essential oils.

Diaphoretics: promote sweating and can help to reduce a fever. Fever is an important tool of our innate immune system, and as such, I like to let it run its course if it’s not too high. If it gets too high, this is a great time to manage a fever, helping to lower it to a safe range. Safe ranges of fevers are different for different people (think age, vitality and vulnerability) so please research this more so you can be informed.

  •  Herbs: Yarrow (Achilllea millefolium), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Cayenne (Capsicum annuum), Elder flower (Sambucus nigra), Ginger (fresh is best), (Zingiber officinale), Garlic (fresh crushed is best) (Allium sativum), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), Linden flower (Tilia spp.), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)  

Virus Formula:

Anti-viral Herb 3 parts
Antibacterial Herb 1 part
Liver Herb 1 part
Immunostimulant Herb 2 parts
Lymphagogue Herb 2 parts
Diaphoretic Herb (if fever needs to be managed) 2 parts
Respiratory involvement? See below.

This formula can be used 5-6 times a day. Please look into dosages depending on how you plan to use the herbs (ie: tincture, tea, pill, capsule, etc.). 

Respiratory Herbs

Anti-tussive Herbs: Both sneezing and coughing are protective reactions that the body has to get foreign particulate up and out of the respiratory system. Generally, they should be encouraged, not suppressed. Sometimes, however, a cough can be dry and unproductive and serves only to irritate and inflame the respiratory system. This can be particularly distressing at night when you are trying to sleep. Most herbs will not suppress a cough but soothe and reduce irritation to the lungs.  

  • Herbs: Pleurisy (Asclepias tuberosa), Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Wild cherry (Prunus serotina and P. virginiana), Marshmallow (Althea officinalis, other mallow species can work well too), False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina stellata and S. racemosa), Honey (thanks, bees!)
  • Essential Oils: Anise (Pimpinella anisum), Eucalyptus spp., Fir (Abies balsamea), Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Myrrh (Commiphora spp.), Balsam of Peru (Myroxylon balsamum), Frankincense (Boswellia carterii), Sandalwood (cultivated only, please) (Santalum album), Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) Note: Please see the bottom of this article for suggestions on safely using essential oils.

Respiratory Tonics: long term supporters and strengtheners of the respiratory system

  • Herbs:  Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus, A. membranaceus or A. mongholicus), Marshmallow (Althea officinalis, other mallow species can work well too), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.), Violet (Viola spp.), Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Demulcents: Coat and soothe irritated or inflamed membranes which allows healing to begin. Mucus membranes are one of our first defensive lines of the immune system. Keeping them healthy and moist helps them stay protected. 

  • Herbs: Marshmallow (Althea officinalis, other mallow species can work well too), Slippery elm (If you can, please substitute Marshmallow for this tree bark) (Ulmus rubra), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Violet (Viola spp.), Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

Expectorants: help to loosen and expel mucus from the lungs. Make sure to drink plenty of tea and water when using expectorants. This gives the lungs the resources they need to thin the mucus and get it up and out!

  • Herbs: Gumweed (Grindelia spp.), Elecampane (Inula helenium), Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Poplar bud (Populus spp.), Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon spp.), Propolis (thanks, bees!), Violet (Viola spp.), Lungwort (Sticta pulmonaria), Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Ginger (fresh is best) (Zingiber officinalis), Pleurisy (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Decongestant Essential Oils: Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), Eucalyptus spp., Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Ravinsara (Ravinsara aromatic) Note: Please see the bottom of this article for suggestions on safely using essential oils.

Respiratory Formula:

Antitussive Herb (if you have a cough) 2 parts
Demulcent Herb 1 part
Respiratory Tonic Herb 1 part
Expectorant Herb 2 parts

This formula can be used 5-6 times a day. Please look into dosages depending on how you plan to use the herbs (ie: tincture, tea, pill, capsule, etc.). Consider taking it (with some honey) during the night if you are coughing.

Suggestions to Safely use Essential Oils:

  • Please do not use essential oils internally unless working with a professional aromatherapist. 
  • Chest rub: Mix 12 drops (6 drops for children) of essential oil per 1 ounce of a fixed oil such as jojoba, almond or grape seed. 
  • Bath: Add 6 drops essential oil, mixed in a tablespoon of natural bath salts, milk or yogurt, to a soothing bath for a cold or flu. 
  • Inhailer: Add 3–6 drops essential oil to a tissue, cotton ball or personal inhaler to “clean the air” if you are exposed to someone who is sick.
  • Diffuser: Add essential oil an aromatherapy diffuser, turning the diffuser on and off every 20 minutes or so.
  • Humidifier: Add 6 drops.
  • Pillow: Sprinkle several drops on your pillow when going to bed.
  • Clothing: Sprinkle a few drops on your t-shirt or sweatshirt. Cotton clothing works best. Avoid nice clothing and fragile material.
  • Steam: fill a pan with hot (not boiling) water. Cover your head with a towel as you lean over the pan. Add 3 drops of essential oil, close your eyes, and breathe deeply through your nose until you can no longer smell the essential oils. Repeat this process three times if desired. 
  • Cautions: Keep away from children. For external use only.

More about EO safety:

© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist, RH (AHG) 

About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 30 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, Montana, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. She is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and teaches workshops, and at conferences, both nationally and internationally. Elaine has an International Certification in Aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. She has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. Elaine has written for publications including the Journal of Medicinal Plants and their Applications, Mamalode and AromaCulture magazine. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences including the Traditions in Western Herbalism ConferenceMontana Herb GatheringNorthwest Herb SymposiumMidwest Women’s Herbal Conference, Spokane Herbal Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference.You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons. If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants, you can connect with Elaine, and Green Path Herb School via the Green Path Website or through social media: FacebookYouTubePinterestTwitter, or Instagram. You can find out more about Elaine and her life work at

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