Herbal Barge News, April 2020

Dear All,

Here we are, more than a week past the Equinox, the signs of spring – shiny vibrant green ivy leaves, daisies, elder shoots, goosegrass – all around. And yet the word is turned upside down!

Am hoping I can offer some practical herbal suggestions as we journey through these extra-ordinary times...

Let us assume that the best outcome for most individuals or communities in this pandemic is to experience zero or mild symptoms, while simultaneously creating appropriate anti-bodies so as to attain immunity against future episodes. Significant resources are currently being invested in to creating a vaccine to this end. It is possible that herbal medicine may also be a route towards this outcome. The two strategies need not be mutually exclusive.

Of course it is too early to be definitive, and time will tell - but in China at least there has been some interesting work on comparing outcomes relating to combined traditional medicine and pharmaceutical interventions.

And at the stage before the need for hospitalization, there is a huge breadth of evidence – clinical studies, thousands of years of traditional knowledge, scientific investigations, clinical experience, personal experience, folk lore and ethnobotany – that says herbs can be effective in treating viral respiratory illnesses.

In terms of practical advice, lets divide the experience of contracting Covid 19 (or for that matter, any other respiratory virus) in to three phases, that do not inevitably flow into each other:

  1. No symptoms, or very mild symptoms.
  2. Moderate to uncomfortable symptoms that nevertheless can be dealt with at home.
  3. Severe symptoms that need to be dealt with in hospital.

Herbal research is beginning to reveal possibilities to support patients who are significantly ill – but this is a subject beyond the scope of this newsletter. For now, let us focus on phases 1 and 2 and what you can do for yourself at home.

Stage one.

Prevention, Dealing with mild symptoms.

Prevention is largely about generic boundary measures.

Keep out the way of other folk’s spray of secretion droplets chocobloc with millions of viruses seeking host cells to infect - this means keeping your distance from their coughing, but also the places their invisible droplets have landed, or have been left behind, transferred from their hands (door handles, hand rails, even parcels received through the post). The virus in the droplets doesn’t enter through your skin, but though your mucous membranes when you touch your face; they do wash away with soap and water, or hand sanitised with 65% alcohol – hence the hand washing mantra. And the need for physical distancing from others.

Beyond avoiding contact, the next preventative measure is to make sure that the terrain of your own physical barriers – skin and mucous membranes are 1, kept clean and 2 offer a hostile environment for viral replication, so that you receive as minimal an initial viral load as possible. When you come into contact with corona viral particles, your innate immunity (the part of your immunity that responds to any incoming pathogens regardless of recognising what they are - your skin, your mucous membranes, certain immune cells, friendly microbes that live there already) will try to deal with it. You can support this immune response by looking after your general health. We know that vitamin D is usefully antiviral and melatonin may be a significant protector in this virus – so sunlight, outdoor exercise and good sleep. Eat plenty of vegetables, avoid sugar and processed carbs.

Increase the resilience of this personal boundary terrain by the anti viral compounds you introduce to it. Think of all the anti-anti-microbial things you have in your cupboard – they may not be specifically anti-corona viruses, - but they might be, and if they are not, they may be specific to other microbes and this means less issues for your immune system to be busy dealing with – so suck lemons and cinnamon sticks and slices of ginger; chew cloves and star anise; graze on fennel seeds and cardamom pods; chomp on raw garlic; drink strong, hot infusions of herbal tea; gargle twice daily with salt water. Sniff salt water up your nose, or use herbal snuff if you have it. Use steam inhalations with essential oils – lavender, thyme, eucalyptus, geranium, rosemary. Lather yourself in chest rubs or tiger balm.

Pay attention to your own personal fault lines – stress, sleep, anxiety, digestion, circulation etc.

Stage two

Caring for yourself or somebody else with mild to moderate symptoms.

Do all of the above, but also now start to think about ingredients around you that you can start to turn into kitchen remedies and medicines that you can take regularly. The trick with herbal medicine is that it is labour intensive and you have to keep at it – but it can really work. Consider making a medicinal cider vinegar, a home made cough syrup or chest rub. There are examples of safe ways of using herbs in previous newsletters. The HWB. Uk medicine making campaign page is a good place to start in terms of looking for effective methods and ingredients. Many of the recipes can be mixed and matched according to what you have at hand.

Apart from what is in your kitchen and what is available to forage, the herbs I would be recommending at the moment for general consumption include, Echinacea; Elder berries and flowers - Sambucus nigra; Elecampagne(Inula helenium), Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) except if you have a history of high blood pressure; and the wonderful mucous membrane nourishing Marshmallow – Althea Officinalis.

There is lots of information on the internet, but there is also lots of muddle and misinformation. Over the next weeks I will be putting together a Covid 19 resources page on my website that curates reliable information and resources and will include practical remedies and the latest science. In the meantime I would recommend this resource from American herbalist and friend of the HWB Calais campaign, Lorna Mourney Brook.

If you are struggling or need more specific information, please do contact your local trained herbalist for support. They will have access to more medicines, have experience and will no doubt be immersed in peer forums and doing their best to keep up with the latest medical findings.

Foraging and Harvesting

In terms of medicinal plants to be foraged or harvested from your garden at the moment, I have three in particular to recommend:

Daises (Bellis Perennis) – almost entirely lacking in evidence base, but strong on ethnobotany and folklore, and used traditionally for respiratory complaints. And surely just the act of going out to pick daises is a therapeutic thing to do! Gather as many as you need, leaves and flowers, put a good couple of handfuls in a tea pot and drink freely.

Ivy (Hedera Helix) - it is so abundant and quite a lot of effort has gone into clinical studies that support its traditional use as a respiratory herb. It is expectorant and breaks up mucous. Use the leaves which can be quite tough, so may need simmering for ten minutes or so. To make a decoction simmer two generous handfuls (about ten grams) of the fresh leaf, in a litre of water, strain and drink throughout the day.

Cleavers (Gallium Aparine) - As far as we know this plant is not directly anti-microbial, but is such a useful herb at the moment! Traditionally it is thought to support your lymphatic system, the internal highway for your body’s immune response. And you can drink as a tea, bathe in in, juice it - take it however you fancy, and in large quantities. Do that anyway whether you have symptoms or not - it is the perfect spring-cleaning herb for this time of year.

Obviously, as with all foraging, collect away from the road and above the ‘dog line’; take just enough for what you need and leave some for others.

Accessing Medicine from the Herbal Barge

The Herbal Barge will not be open on the tow path until further notice. But I am available to current patients for Skype or Zoom consultations. I can post out medicines.

Also lots of herbal Barge products including herbal snuff, cough syrups, herbal teas and tincture mixes are available from Clapton botanicals which is currently still opening to serve the public.

Herbal Medicine and Calais refugee sites

I mentioned the medicine making campaign page - this was a page of resources put together for herbalists and others to make medicines for folk in the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk. Herbalists Without Borders UK have been out delivering first aid and acute herbal medicine for one week in every month since September. I feel so proud of the infrastructure that has evolved and the team the has been built up over these last winter months. The Coronal virus presents a challenge that sharply brings home the point that there are no borders in nature, and if we want to look after ourselves, then we need also to look after our neighbours. We have been lucky enough to have been given emergency funding to deliver a large blanket distribution of flu packs if we are allowed to travel in (and out of) France in the next ten days. I will report back on this in time.

Stay well

Of course a blanket distribution of a herbal medicine flu pack – cough syrup, chest rub, anti-microbial vinegar, hand sanitiser and a leaflet with reliable information for self care and prevention – this is something I would love to see rolled out for anyone and everyone! Two months ago this would have seemed a fantastical imagining. Stranger things are happening!

Wishing everyone peace, health and kindness in these challenging times.

Melissa Ronaldson

April 2020

Herbal Barge


If you wish to be removed from our mailing list, or we have sent you duplicates, please let us know by clicking on this link