Plants are a source of the planet's most potent medicines. Even some of the most powerful prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines are originally derived from plant compounds. And there is an abundance of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral herbs available to help boost your immune system during cold and flu season.
Antiviral herbs are a great addition to your herbal medicine cabinet, whether you're dealing with a common cold, the influenza virus, or other more chronic viral infections like herpes simplex virus or hepatitis C. While at-home herbal remedies shouldn't replace professional advice from your healthcare provider, it's a good idea to keep a few of these immune-boosting formulas on hand.
Health Benefits of Choosing Herbal Remedies
Just like with conventional medicine, there's no single, cure-all, herbal remedy that's right for everyone. But there are a number of science-backed natural remedies that professional herbalists recommend for at-home use. The best individual herbs and naturally-derived formulas on the market often produce fewer side effects than their non-natural, conventional counterparts.
For example, anti-inflammatory herbs
, ginger, and garlic are free of the potentially severe side effects you may experience from conventional drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (think ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen). Prolonged use of NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal ulcers, disrupt healthy kidney function, and lead to cardiovascular health problems, including high blood pressure (1
This isn't to say there are zero side effects associated with natural remedies (whether it's herbs or supplements
), but they tend to be minor. Side effects for the three herbs we've mentioned so far (turmeric, ginger, and garlic) include things like mild indigestion or upset stomach (2
The great thing about using herbal remedies like these is that they also contain anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties, giving you a more comprehensive solution for your ailments. And you get all of this without altering your gut biome, something that can't be said about most conventional treatment options (2
The rich antioxidant makeup of herbal tinctures and formulas are another point in favor of natural remedies. With the help of a trained herbalist or naturopathic doctor, you could use herbs like oregano oil or olive leaf extract to fight off an infection, and you'd not only be killing off the microbial invader, you'd be boosting your antioxidant intake too (5
Top 6 Antiviral Herbs to Stock at Home
While not all herbal remedies are supported by an abundance of research, there are a few that have some promising findings to back them up. Bolstering the modern scientific method are thousands of years of anecdotal evidence found in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach to healing. These two things combined helped us create our list of favorite antiviral herbs.
1. Oregano Oil
oil is the pressed oil that comes from the Italian culinary herb, which you're likely already familiar with. It's part of the mint family and, when concentrated into an oil, offers strong medicinal properties. One compound found in oregano oil is called carvacrol, which has been studied for its antiviral properties. In an in vitro study using both oregano oil and the isolated carvacrol compound, both helped reduce the activity of a virus called murine norovirus (MNV) within 15 minutes of exposure (6
Further studies suggest that oregano oil and the isolated carvacrol compound both have powerful antiviral activity. They’ve been shown to fight other viral infections in children and adults, including herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), rotavirus, and certain viruses that cause respiratory infections (7
You can find oregano oil, along with the other herbs on this list, in the aisles of most health food stores. A number of brands make it, just make sure you choose one that uses organic ingredients and has a reputation for quality manufacturing practices.
We already mentioned that garlic offers a host of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antiviral properties. Not only is it a top antiviral herb, it's also a superfood, due to an incredibly powerful compound called allicin found inside, which is known for its cardioprotective properties (4
While eating garlic regularly is helpful for boosting your immune system and cardiovascular health, using it as a medicine usually involves a concentrated tincture preparation. Most garlic tinctures are oil-based, but many other herbs are created using an alcohol extraction. Tinctures are liquid-based infusions or extractions and administered orally with a dropper.
When used in a clinical study, a concentrated garlic extract eliminated warts associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV) in 23 adults who applied it twice daily for 1-2 weeks (10
Garlic preparations are also commonly used for earaches, which can be either viral or bacterial. In fact, two studies showed that garlic oil was effective in children for both pain and middle ear infection, and sometimes more effective than conventional over-the-counter options (12
Echinacea might be the most well-known herbal remedy for head and chest colds. It's been part of the American herbal medicine arsenal for as long as Native Americans have lived here.
They use the flowers of the plant to fight viral infections. Modern science has backed up this folk medicinal practice in test tube studies using many parts of the echinacea plant, including the flowers, roots, and leaves (14
There are multiple varieties of the echinacea plant, and a number have been shown to fight viral infections like herpes and influenza in test tube studies (15
). Because each species of echinacea has its own valuable properties, look for a blend when you shop for yours. You can find it in a tincture, capsule, or gelcap form at most health food stores.
Another superfood herb we've already touched on is ginger. An important component in East Asian and Indian cuisine, ginger is a natural antiviral and antiparasitic. When used as a spice in food, it offers a gentle heat. But when used in concentrated doses medicinally, it offers potent anti-inflammatory compounds as well (3
Elderberries are part of a family of plants called sambucus nigra. If you've shopped the natural herbs section of a health food store, you've likely seen the words "elderberry syrup and sambucus" on the same packaging. In fact, there's a brand of syrup called Sambucol that's sold in more conventional grocery stores and even big box stores. You can also find sambucus in pill form.
Elderberry efficacy has been studied in mice and humans. In a study done on mice, elderberry juice suppressed influenza virus replication and stimulated immune system response (16
). In a human study of 180 people, elderberry reduced viral infections and upper respiratory symptoms (17
6. Licorice Root
A common herb in traditional Chinese medicine, licorice root is best known for its ability to ease digestive upset, but it also happens to have powerful antiviral properties. Three of the active compounds found in licorice root include glycyrrhizin, liquiritigenin, and glabridin (18
). Each of these has antiviral activity, including against the herpes virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV) (19
Antiviral Herbs and Remedies
While there's no replacement for professional medical care, it might be beneficial to also work with another kind of professional. Herbalists, naturopathic doctors, and TCM doctors will likely recommend the antiviral herbs we've laid out here (and there's a host of others) as alternatives or additions to more conventional medicines.
Whether you're using these as home remedies, as alternatives to conventional care, or as complementary medicines, it's a good idea to keep some of these in your medicine cabinet at home.
Always follow the instructions provided on the label of your herbal tincture or as directed by your healthcare professional. This will help you stay safe when using complementary, alternative, or integrative forms of health care, and it can help ensure that your herbal tinctures don't interfere with other medicines you're taking.