The current coronavirus pandemic with the novel virus COVID-19 has had a major impact on humans across the globe. The highly contagious and unpredictable virus has already claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, infected or hospitalized magnitudes more, and continues to disrupt daily life and business for months on end, and forced many to shelter-at-home.
Coronaviruses Aren't New to the Animal World
So, what are coronaviruses? They describe a family of viruses, named for the crownlike or halo appearance of the virus, caused by clublike spikes that become visible when they're viewed under an electron microscope. Discovered in the 1930s in chickens, it wasn’t until the 1960s that a coronavirus of any variety was detected in humans.
Four or five different types of coronaviruses cause common diseases in humans from the common cold to respiratory illnesses. Other types of coronaviruses affect animals which is why alpaca and other camelid young are given a coronavirus vaccine soon after birth.
A Deadly Jump
In rare instances these viruses, which are typically restricted to only being contagious amongst one species of animal, “jump” from animals to humans which is the track record for the COVID-19 coronavirus. This jump across the human-animal divide makes it known as a zoonotic disease.
Ongoing research tracking the COVID-19 pathway suggests the virus may have passed from wild animals such as bats to domestic animals to humans - probably through the handling and processing aspect of livestock versus the consumption of the animal. But don't vilify wildlife. Even in animals, coronaviruses are illnesses and typically don't occur when wildlife or even livestock is raised in healthy conditions. In fact, even species like bats from the wet market in Wuhan, China where our current pandemic may have originated aren't evil and can even be helpful with your gardening.
Planet-wide this virus has humbled humans and exposed our vulnerability. Though devasting, there is a bright side to this pandemic and that is our ability to join together, to seek a common goal, and to offer assistance to our family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers to battle this virus.
Because the virus can travel short-distances via droplets when people sneeze or cough, this is one way the virus can be transmitted from person to person. Hence, the need for social distancing of 6ʹ or greater and frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water to thwart the virus. Small yet important steps to tackle this Goliath of a pandemic.
While new studies suggest that individuals with certain underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart issues, and those who have immunological deficiencies from disease or cancer treatments are 12 times as likely to die and suffer acute instances of COVID-19, there are also instances of healthy, young individuals succumbing. Additionally, while many exposed to the virus are asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms and recover, there is a wide gulf between recovered from COVID-19 and back to normal. Finding their way back after suffering strokes, lung damage, heart attacks, and even organ transplants are all realities patients are contending with even after beating their initial infections.
Preventative Care and Fighting Symptoms
Preventative treatment for COVID-19 is similar to that for influenza - maintain one’s health and mental fitness by sleeping and eating well, avoiding sick individuals, and practicing guidelines outlined by the CDC as the best alternatives to combat this virus. That being said, certain herbs and vitamins have been used throughout history to treat symptoms of the flu such as high dosages of vitamin C, B6, and zinc to strengthen the immune system. The difficulty in this question is that there has been little time to conduct studies to scientifically analyze the impacts of herbs against coronavirus.
Care needs to be taken even with herbal remedies because the “more is better” approach isn’t necessarily the best treatment.
So, what herbs might also help build up the immune system and grow in your garden? Though many of these herbs are used to combat colds and flus, and some individuals in the health-care profession will point out that the success of these herbs is mainly anecdotal. This is an age-old argument of traditional versus modern medicine and one that each person should investigate thoroughly by researching or talking with their healthcare provider to determine which course of action to pursue.
Medicinal Properties of Mint
In terms of herbs, oregano, sage, rosemary, and basil, four common plants grown for their great flavoring of sauces and stews, and which have antiviral properties. All are members of the Mint family and are easy to grow. Naturopaths may recommend oregano oil for its antimicrobial and antiviral properties. One type of basil called Holy basil or tulsi, which is different that Italian basil, also has antioxidant properties.
Peppermint is another member of the Mint family that is easy to grow. Often added to teas and tinctures due to its antiviral properties, peppermint is also a good bee pollinator plant. Why not protect the bees while you’re protecting yourself?
Garlic, ginseng, and ginger have been used against colds and flus and other viral infections for a long time. Though often used to treat heart-related issues such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, the compound allicin which is present in garlic also has antibacterial properties which combat bacterial infections.
Fennel which has a licorice flavor is not related to wild licorice. A member of the Carrot family, fennel is grown for fennel seed, but the whole plant is edible and used in Mediterranean-style cuisine. A side benefit to this plant’s great flavor, is its antioxidant properties and antiviral immune support.
Echinacea, a member of the Aster family, is another forb that has medicinal properties. Teas and tinctures made from the roots, leaves, or flowers have been used, sometimes with goldenseal, for its antiviral properties. Though early in the season for these plants to be growing, if a gardener has an herbalist-bent, then drying and storing some of this plant could be useful during the next flu season.
And if your dandelion weeds are just starting to sprout, consider putting a few of the weeds aside to make a tea with the flowers for its medicinal property.
Still Far From a Cure
Though the coronavirus pandemic is a global issue and a cure for it is still being worked on, these herbal remedies may alleviate some symptoms or provide some relief. While there's likely nothing you can produce in your garden that will protect you from an acute case of COVID-19, because the disease is so aggressive it's important to give your body as much of a fighting chance as possible. Coronavirus is a lung eater, so every moment infected where you're not drained from fighting a cough or raw throat is an opportunity for your body to fight back against the virus itself.
Individuals should consult with their physician or healthcare provider if they feel sick or get tested if they think they have the coronavirus. Herbs have been used for millennia to combat diseases, fight infections, and alleviate certain symptoms. Growing many of these herbs in a backyard garden is an easy prospect and one that doubles as medicine cabinet and culinary flavoring – a combination that is the best of both worlds.