After almost 2 years into the pandemic, my family and I finally caught COVID-19. In some ways it was a relief, although we were very worried about infecting the more vulnerable members of our family and community.
While we experienced a few sketchy days in the second week of infection, overall, we are thankful that we experienced relatively mild cases and were able to treat ourselves at home.
With the omicron strain on the rise, it seems that the virus is doing what viruses are supposed to do and it is mutating to become more contagious but less deadly. This isn’t to say that some people won’t still be hospitalized and potentially die from a COVID-19 infection but thankfully, most people with the omicron strain will experience milder cases which can be treated at home.
As a holistic health practitioner, I am wary of a one-size-fits all approach. We know that diseases, and especially COVID-19, affects different people in different ways. Some people who test positive for covid, experience a very mild case, like my eight-year-old son, who only spiked a fever for one night, while others can be left hospitalized, with pneumonia and struggling to breathe. In addition, some people have also been left with “long-haul covid” which is characterized by debilitating symptoms long after the initial infection.
This article is just my personal experience with treating my own family with mild COVID-19 symptoms. It in no way replaces professional medical advice. If in doubt, please seek help from your doctor or health practitioner without delay.
Essential Equipment for Home Care:
Thermometer to measure fever
Rapid Antigen Tests (to test for covid infection, although they are known to be more unreliable for the omicron strain. For increased accuracy, schedule a lab PCR test)
Herbal Immune Support at Onset (Days 1-7):
Elderberry Elixir or Syrup: 2 tablespoons 3 times a day
Echinacea Tincture: 5 teaspoons 3 x a day
Fire Cider 1 tablespoon 3 x day with food
Andrographis: 2 tablets twice a day or Chinese Wormwood Leaf Tea: 3 cups a day
Herbal Throat Spray with Propolis : Spray as needed
Sambucus nigra, or elderberry has been traditionally used in herbal medicine for the prevention and treatment of colds and flu. Elderberries contain a protein that directly inhibits viral replication and reduces a virus capability to penetrate the cell wall. Clinical studies have shown that taking elderberry can reduce the duration and severity of viral infections.
These tiny purple powerhouses are also packed full of antioxidant anthocyanins which are responsible for their deep purple color and anti-inflammatory action. Elderberries also activate the healthy immune response by increasing the production of cytokines (chemical messengers of the immune system).
Contrary to misinformation on the internet, elderberries will not cause a cytokine storm (a clinical syndrome that arises when inflammation is so severe that it causes tissue damage, multi-organ system failure and even death caused by a failure of the negative feedback of the immune system).
The connection between elderberries activating cytokines and cytokine storm is over simplistic and to date there are zero reported cases or association of elderberry and cytokine storm. Furthermore, the cytokines elevated with elderberry are not the same cytokines elevated in cytokine storm (with the exception of Interleukin-6).
Elderberries are a whole plant used safely for thousands of years for cold and flu and have many mechanisms of actions (some are anti-inflammatory), not just elevating cytokines.
Elderberries are a great and delicious kid friendly syrup or tea to prevent and reduce the duration of viral infections. My family and I regularly take 1 teaspoon of elderberry syrup as a preventative and up the dose to 2 tablespoons twice a day at the onset of symptoms.
Echinacea: Echinacea root is a well-studied immune boosting herb that helps to shorten the duration of cold and flu and reduces severity of symptoms of respiratory tract infections. The herb works by strengthening the immune system against pathogenic infections through activation of white blood cells. One of the main active constituents are the alkylamides in the plant which create a characteristic tingly sensation in the mouth. This is one of the signs of a high quality echinacea extract.
Fire Cider: A spicy herb infused vinegar and honey tonic popularized by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. It contains powerful kitchen herbs like garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, rosemary, turmeric and thyme to warm you up, increase circulation, decrease inflammation and fight pathogens.
Andrographis: Andrographis paniculata is an herb used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine for acute respiratory tract infections and to reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu. Studies have shown that it shortens the duration of cough, sore throat, bronchitis and time to recovery. Androgapholides found in the plant have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic (fever reducing) and immune-stimulatory activities. Andrographis is also known as the “King Of Bitters” which I why many prefer to take it in tablet or capsules rather than as a tincture.
Chinese Wormwood: Artemesia annua, also known as Qing Hao, Sweet Wormwood or Sweet Annie has been used for more than 2000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a number of diseases (including malaria) to relieve pain, to combat fever and chills and to help the immune system fight off viruses. Scientists have been studying it as a potential treatment for Covid-19 patients.
Propolis: Bees create propolis when they gather the sticky resin from tree buds and bark, which gets combined with enzymes in their mouths to make a substance that is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and antioxidant. Bees use it to varnish their hives and to seal up cracks, while helping to prevent disease.
For sore throats it is effective as it coats the throat and has strong antibacterial and anti-viral actions. The omicron variant is said to dwell more in the throat than the nasal passages, so using a throat spray early on might decrease viral load.
Nutritional Supplement Regimen I used for 4 weeks (Days 1-28):
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC): 500mg twice a day with food
Quercetin (Phytosome): 250 mg twice a day with food
Zinc (amino acid chelated form): 20-50 mg once a day with food
Vitamin C: 500mg three times a day with food
Vitamin D3: 2000- 5000 IU once a day
Electrolyte Powder with Magnesium : 1 scoop in a large glass of water 2-3 x day
The main goal of this supplement regimen is to provide nutrients for immune support and to protect against inflammation. COVID-19 is associated with a hyperinflammatory response but the precise mechanism of how the virus induces inflammation is still poorly understood. Our goal here is to reduce inflammation, protect organs and hopefully stave off long covid and other complications.
NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) is an amino acid that is a precursor to the antioxidant glutathione. It has been used to loosen thick mucus in the lungs and treat acetaminophen overdose for decades. However, NAC can also boost the immune system, suppress viral replication, and reduce inflammation. Trials have shown that it can also reduce the incidence of pneumonia in COVID-19 patients.
Quercetin is a flavonoid that has strong anti-inflammatory actions. The phytosome form is a new bioavailable form used in studies that point to the potential for quercetin to shorten the time for virus clearance, reducing severe symptomology and reduce time for benign resolution of the disease.
Zinc is a mineral used in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body. Zinc deficient people are more likely to suffer from severe cold and flu and covid symptoms. Zinc has anti-viral activity by improving the immune function and by reducing viral replication.
Vitamin D3: It is well studied, that patients who are deficient in vitamin D3 are more likely to develop severe covid symptoms and end up hospitalized. Vitamin D3 is an important fat-soluble nutrient for proper immune function. People are more likely to become deficient in the winter months, if they have darker skin and if they live in areas of decreased sunshine.
Electrolytes: My experience with Covid is that it is a very drying disease so its super important to stay hydrated. I was drinking 2-3 glasses of water with a scoop of electrolyte powder (that includes magnesium) every day for 3-4 weeks.
Treatment Of Specific Symptoms with Herbs.
Sore Throat: Herbs that are demulcent such as slippery elm and marshmallow are indicated here. Also astringent, antibacterial and antiviral herbs such as sage, echinacea and propolis in a spray form can be helpful. I regularly use our Herbal Throat Spray which contains propolis and clove oil to relieve a sore throat.
We also carry an herbal tea formula that contains marshmallow, sage, slippery elm, calendula, licorice and a pinch of cayenne.
If herbs aren’t available, a simple gargle with warm salted water can also be soothing and temporarily relieve a scratchy throat. To make, add ½ teaspoon of salt to an 8 oz glass of warm water, stir until dissolved, and gargle 3-4 times a day.
Fever: Diaphoretic herbs help open the pores and induce sweating which can help lower a fever naturally. Suppressing a fever using acetaminophen can actually prolong recovery from an illness. A fever is the body’s natural response and can help the immune system fight off infections.
A classic herbal fever formula is YEP tea which contains Yarrow, Elderflower and Peppermint in equal parts. The trick is to drink this tea as hot as possible several times a day and bundle up under your blankets to sweat it out.
A word of warning though, this tea can be bitter and doesn’t taste great so honey can be added to make the medicine go down! My kids wouldn’t drink the, YEP tea so I made a milder tasting formula with Linden, Elderflower, Catnip and Peppermint.
Chills: Nothing beats ginger in warding off chills. Our family drank many cups of fresh ginger decoction with freshly squeezed lemon and honey during the acute fever and chills phase. The Chinese Wormwood taken as a hot tea can also be very beneficial here.
Body Aches/ Muscle Aches:
Adding an equal part of boneset to the YEP diaphoretic tea above can really help to relieve the body aches associated with covid fever. I also added Chinese Wormwood (Artemesia annua) to boost immunity and aid muscle pain and relieve fever and chills
Magnesium supplementation or an electrolyte blend with magnesium can also soothe muscle and body aches. Staying hydrated with electrolytes can also help.
I found essential oils diluted in a roller bottle (peppermint, rosemary) and applying a CBD salve topically to be the most helpful in relieving the headache I experienced.
For wet coughs with lots of congestion, elecampane root, osha and thyme are useful herbs. Our Cough Be Gone Tea is ideal for wet coughs as it contains herbs such as elecampane root and yerba santa to expel and break down mucus.
For drier coughs and bronchial irritation, I would lean towards more demulcent herbs like marshmallow root, slippery elm, plantain and mullein. Our Love Your Lungs Tea is ideal for a dry cough and contains mullein, marshmallow and licorice.
If your cough doesn’t resolve, please seek out advice from your doctor or healthcare practitioner to rule out pneumonia.
Nausea and lack of appetite seems to be a major symptom of the omicron strain. I was drinking the fresh grated ginger tea with lemon and honey to help with the nausea. Also drinking a hot tea of carminative herbs like peppermint helped a lot with nausea. Our Digestive Tea blend is excellent for nausea, tummy troubles and gas.
I also ate a simple, easy to digest diet of nourishing soups and broth with rice during my days with low appetite.
For diarrhea, a gruel made with slippery elm powder is a nutritious and soothing herbal remedy. A good probiotic or eating probiotic rich foods is also essential for a healthy gut microbiome.
Fatigue: Fatigue was one of the main symptoms I experienced. I would nap after lunch and then need another 9-10 hours of sleep at night. Knowing that sleep and rest are crucial for a faster recovery, I just succumbed to allowing myself as much rest as needed and even watched a few fun series on Netflix.
I also couldn’t exert myself with physical activity for the first 20 days or I would relapse, get short of breath and feel exhausted. This fatigue and shortness of breath can continue for months after infection and is a good reminder to listen to our bodies and allow ourselves the time to heal.
After the acute feverish phase was over, I began adding 2 teaspoons of Cordyceps Mushroom Powder to my coffee and tea. Cordyceps is a medicinal mushroom and adaptogen used in in Traditional Chinese Medicine for convalescence, stamina and energy. It also has a protective effect on the lungs and kidneys and increases the availability of oxygen to the blood.
A good B-complex vitamin can also improve energy at the cellular level, protect against stress and nourish the nervous system.
For complete exhaustion and resistance to deep rest, Olive Flower essence might be helpful.
Brain Fog: Some people suffer from brain fog after Covid and my number one herbs for increasing mental clarity are bacopa, gingko, rosemary, and also rhodiola. Our Mindfulness Tincture contains all of these herbs that help focus and concentration. Lion's Mane medicinal mushroom may also be beneficial here.
Anxiety/Depression: Everyone reacts differently to being sick. Some people become very fearful and anxious and others despair of ever feeling better. Many people suffer emotional fluctuations, cry a lot or feel depressed when they have COVID-19.
I used homeopathy and flower essences to address these issues in my family. I highly recommend that you reach out to your local practitioner for extra support as needed.
Sleep: For difficulty sleeping, I found melatonin to be useful. I was taking about 10 mg on nights I couldn't sleep. Herbal options for sleep support include valerian, hops, passionflower and chamomile.
Shortness of Breath: One of the complaints that crops up after about a week after infection and during recovery is feeling short of breath. If you feel breathless with small amounts of activity, then it’s best to seek medical attention. Pneumonia is also something to be aware of and screen for.
If you have any of the following symptoms you should seek immediate emergency medical attention:
Tightness or pain around your chest that doesn’t go away.
Sudden confusion or extreme sleepiness
Bluish lips or face
I used a digital pulse oximeter to monitor oxygen saturation and pulse rate. If it falls and stays below 93% go to the emergency room and seek emergency medical care.
Cordyceps Mushroom and Rhodiola are two adaptogens that might help improve shortness of breath by reducing the negative effects associated with inadequate oxygen supply. Cardio-protective herbs like hawthorn and motherwort might also be indicated here.
Loss of taste and smell: This occurred on Day 5 for me. I realized I couldn't smell when I opened the kimchi in the fridge and couldn't smell a thing! I also realized how much we rely on our sense of smell and taste to see if food has spoilt and for pleasure while eating.
This symptom is reportedly less likely to occur with the omicron strain but nevertheless I lost my sense of taste and smell for about a week. Zinc, quercetin and NAC might help repair the viral damage to the supporting olfactory cells. Some people use smell training with essential oils of lemon, clove or eucalyptus with varying degrees of success.
Joint pain: The inflammatory effects of viral infection might cause a flare up of joint pain in some people. Turmeric, Omega-3 fatty acids, Boswellia and Black Seed Oil, as well as topical CBD might be helpful for this symptom.
This can take a long time and many people don’t take enough time to fully recover before going back out in the world and taking on all the responsibilities they had before getting sick. In my experience, the acute phase symtpoms lasted only three days and then I felt better on days 4-7. Between days 8-21, I kept getting hit with waves of nausea and fatigue and shortness of breath if I tried to do too much. It is important to rest, keep taking the anti-inflammatory supplements and stay hydrated.
Not everyone can afford to miss work but, if possible, it’s crucial to take as much time as needed to deeply rest, otherwise you might find yourself relapsing. Many people report that it has taken them a full month and some several months to fully recover. It is important to rest, keep taking the anti-inflammatory supplements and stay hydrated during this phase.
My advice is to reach out and ask for support from family and community. Perhaps a friend can bring you a healing soup or go grocery shopping for you?
It’s also a good time to reach out to your doctor or health practitioner for extra support for your individual symptoms and to help protect against developing long-haul covid.
Take care and stay healthy friends!