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  • Stephanie Phillips

How to protect yourself from the coronavirus

Anxiety is building up, as new travel bans come into effect and many companies are advising their employees to work from home until further notice.

The thing to remember is that no matter the virulence of a disease, some people remain healthy despite exposure. We are not hopeless, just standing guard with our antimicrobial wipes ready to nuke any surface. Countless studies have found that the healthier your immune system is, the less likely you are to get a disease and the more likely you are, if you do get sick, to have a milder episode. So, yes, you should wash your hands and wipe down surfaces but you can also take preventative measures to protect your body against infection.

Herbal medicine is rich in plants that can keep you healthy. So I thought I’d share some plants that can help you:

- strengthen a weak immune system

- stimulate a stronger immune response if you do feel sick

- fight off viruses (like the flu and coronavirus)

Here are 4 things to start doing right now to help protect your body against infection from the flu and coronavirus:

Start cooking with Shitake and Maitake mushrooms

Not all mushrooms are created equal when it comes to their medicinal properties. Even the humble little brown mushroom may have some immunostimulating properties, but the big hitters in terms of clinical effects are Shitake and Maitake. Both can be found fresh in Whole Foods and at Farmer’s Markets or dehydrated online if you don’t have access to either of those. Once cooked, they are delicious. For maximum medicinal effect, you need to cook them slowly. Either, slowly fry them in butter with fresh herbs and garlic or throw them into a stew, a curry or a soup that’s going to simmer gently for a while. Pick some mushrooms up every week with your shopping and just start incorporating them into your meals.

Eat more raw garlic

Garlic is like Nature’s antibiotic except it only kills the bad bacteria. Garlic is such a badass that even in a petri dish, it can kill germs up to twenty feet away. It also has anti-viral properties, which means it makes your body a bad host for a virus to get cozy and reproduce in. The trick to unlocking garlic’s immune properties is cutting it up and eating it raw. This doesn’t mean you have to knock back raw garlic like a horrific vampire chasing pill. No, you can add it to a soup at the last minute, soak it in oil and mop it up with delicious bread, make fresh hummus, or a minty dip for your roasted veg. This post has some recipes for ya. Again, make sure you are eating it a few times a week to keep up your defenses.

Stock up on Echinacea Tincture and Elderberry Syrup

If you do start to feel unwell, avoid cold drinks and cold food. That means no salads too. You want to keep your body temperature up with scarves, baths and soups. Fever is your body’s way of making it uncomfortable for a virus or bacteria to proliferate in your body. There are also two herbs that should be your medicine cabinet staples: echinacea and elderberry.

Echinacea is not something you should take all year round. It stimulates our white blood cell production, or in other words it gives us more soldiers to mount an immune response against the invading pathogen. As soon as you feel like you are falling ill, take a dropper full of echinacea every couple of hours until the symptoms pass. This is not a substitute for taking the body’s signal that you need to rest and recover, but it will decrease your recovery time.

Elderberry Syrup is also definitely something you want to have at home. It has been used for centuries to ward off the flu and recent studies show that it does so by disarming a virus’s ability to penetrate our cells. Again, at the first signs of falling sick, you want to take a tsp every hour until symptoms pass completely.

Incorporate an adaptogen into your daily routine

Nothing depresses your immune response like stress does. Our jobs often create a slow drip of a stress hormone called cortisone that hinders our immunity. One of the ways to mitigate the effect of stress is to take an adaptogenic herb. This classification of herb helps regulate our stress response, modulating most hormones in our body and bringing back healthy equilibrium. My favorite is Tulsi, sometimes called Holy Basil. Easy to find, delicious as a daytime tea. Another one which I love for winding down in the evenings is Ashwagandha. This one also has anti-viral properties. It comes as a powder and you can add 1 tsp to hot milk of your choice with honey before you go to bed.

This list is not exhaustive, nor is it a substitute for seeking medical attention or advice from a qualified doctor or herbal practitioner. It is also about prevention, not cure. But what it is also, is a way we can care for each other, rather than be fearful of human contact.

*Update* Citokine storming and immuno stimulants:  Some questions have been raising about whether herbal immuno stimulants like Echinacea and Elderberry could trigger an over reaction of the immune system called a Citokine Storm. Firstly, I want to say, not in the doses described above. But I have recently spoken to a Citokine expert at Genentech who said that herbal immuno stimulants are safe and beneficial for mounting a defense against the virus, especially as herbs are cleared so quickly from the body. I didn't expect a pharma guy to be so supportive of herbal medicine but they desperately want to protect people. He explained that the Citokine storming happens in the very last phase in the most severe cases of the disease where you would most likely be hospitalized. If you want to read more, here is an article written by Paul Bergner, the Director of North American Institute of Medical Herbalism.

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