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To thine health be true...

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This fall may bring extra immune system challenges

By Jonathan Evans

Herbal Information Specialist for the Herbarium

It is now at least six months into the COVID -19 era. There are days when former Vice President Al Gore’s words come to mind, “The planet has a fever.” Right. Regardless of your political position, you have to admit that was a prescient statement. He may not have meant it that way, but boy did he hit it on the head.

A challenging change of seasons

  Although Massachusetts has been in the list of states that are holding their own with coronavirus cases, numbers have not gone down enough. This could be due to virus fatigue. Patience is wearing thin. We just want to go somewhere and do something. People are gathering in ways that are helping to spread the virus, travelling to places that are high risk, and of course there is the category of horse’s asses that just refuse to follow simple public health guidelines.

Now we are coming into the regular flu virus season, and will be buttoning up the houses, which could be a real disaster if we don’t pay attention.

We are all waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, which I hope is effective, but I am not holding my breath. As my wife the nurse reminded me “is there a vaccine for the common cold?”  Ouch.

Immune-boosting self-care

With this in mind, I would like to offer a primer/review of what can be done to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu and coronavirus.

Keeping your immune system strong is the first thing we all can do. Remember that vitamin C and vitamin D, as well as the herbs Echinacea, (Angustifolia, Purpurea) Astragalus, (Astragalus membranaceus) Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum,O.gratissimum), Olive leaf (Olea europaea), Pau D’arco (Tabebuia impetiginosa), Propolis (Resina propoli), Spilanthes (Spilanthes acmella), and Garlic Allium (sativum) all have anti-viral and immune system modulating effects.

Mushrooms are another source for antiviral actions and immune boosting. Varieties including Agaricus blazei, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Maitake (Grifola frondosa), Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), Shitake (Lentinula edodes) Zhu Ling (Polyporus umbellatus) and Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) are some of the best medicinal mushrooms available, whether in tincture, capsule or natural form.

Because the coronavirus is so damaging to the respiratory system,  there are two specific supplements that can offer extra protection for the lungs. As I wrote in a previous article, Astragalus and quercetin have been used to treat COVID-19 by Dr. Joe Feuerstein, an integrative medicine doctor at Stamford Hospital ( in Health archives, “More Tips for Staying Healthy). Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that helps prevent viral replication and reduces inflammation. Astragalus  attaches to ACE2 receptors in the lungs, the pathway used by the virus, blocking its ability to replicate.

Prepare, too, for the flu!

For flu season there are herbs used separately or in formula to help with respiratory issues. Elecampagne (Inula helenium), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Marshmallow (Althea officinalis), Osha root (Ligusticum porteri) Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa), Wild Cherry bark (Prunus spp.), Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum), Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) and English Ivy (Hedena helix) are some of the most well-known herbs for respiratory problems. You will usually find many of these ingredients in a variety of formulas or teas.

This is a short list of the herbs and supplements we have used over the decades. You can find more detail on these in past Prime columns (available online at in the Health tab archives) or go to the American Botanical Council, Herb Research Foundation or the National Institutes of Health, for more detail on each herb.

Follow the CDC’s tried-and-true advice

Someone in Easthampton has the right idea and a catchy marketing  phrase for this pandemic. Signs all over town proclaim“ Stay in place, maintain your space, cover your face”. I like it.

Just remember to keep practicing proper distancing, hand washing, masks, and avoiding large crowds. I have a feeling the regular flu season may not be as dangerous as past seasons because of the practices we have been using during the pandemic.

It is not much of a silver lining, but it is something to hope for.

Stay safe,

— Jonathan

Send questions on botanical remedies to: Natures Rx: Jonathan Evans at, or by regular mail to: The Herbarium, 264 Exchange Street, Chicopee, MA 01013. If requesting additional info, include a self-addressed stamped envelope.