Podcast 144: COVID Revisited
This week we take another look at COVID-19 and its long-term effects.
First, we check in on what have been our top 5 herbal interventions for COVID:
- Herbal steams – with aromatic herbs, to fight infection and stimulate local immune activity in the respiratory tract
- Garlic & thyme tea – for a strong immune-stimulating and lung-warming effect
- Elecampane decoction – an ounce or two every hour during acute illness, or when lungs are phlegmy
- Ginger (& chamomile) tea – for anti-inflammatory and circulatory warming actions
- Marshmallow root cold infusion – to maintain hydration and healthy mucous production in the respiratory tract
Those all still hold up! They continue to be important in acute, recovery, and long-haul cases. We go on to discuss those long recovery periods and lingering symptoms, and describe how we approach them as holistic herbalists.
Herbs discussed include: thyme, oregano, monarda, rosemary, sage, lavender, peppermint pine, spruce, garlic, elecampane, ginger, marshmallow, reishi, lobelia, pleurisy root, mullein, codonopsis, nettle, hawthorn.
Want to make sure your immune system is in fighting shape in case you get exposed? Looking for ways to rebuild immunity to make sure you’re back to full power? Our Immune Health course has everything you need to understand, protect, and strengthen your immune system. The course features all our best holistic strategies to boost immune responsiveness, and to corral unhelpful inflammation too. This self-paced online video course includes access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions so you can connect with us directly!
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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet, the power of the podcast. Yeah. All right. Well, today we’re going to take another look at COVID and see what we’ve learned over the last, I guess it’s nine months.
Nine months a year, depending on what dates you’re working with.
Yeah. But before we jump into that let’s just take a moment to remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and some ideas to research further.
Yeah. And we want you to remind you also that good health is your right and it’s your own personal responsibility. And this means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours.
And you know, before we jump in, I just want to put a note to a person whose name I think is Lindsey who contacted us through social media to ask if they could use that disclaimer. And for some reason I can’t actually reply. So please send an email instead and I will talk to you about it.
Personal messages through the podcast.
There we go. All right. Well, so now that it’s been months, you know, however many months, we’ve had a page on our website commonwealthherbs.com/coronavirus up since pretty early on in the pandemic.
Yeah. March or the first week of April we started doing that work.
Yeah. Just to offer some ideas around what we thought would make sense and what we’ve been trying in our own case and recommending to our clients and student base and getting some feedback from them. And so we’ve had that up there for a little while, and there’s a lot there that still really holds up.
Acute COVID & Inflammation
Yeah. Pretty much all of the recommendations that we started off with are still recommendations that I feel very strongly about. I feel that they were helpful in every case. So, the thing that we can start with, especially if you do not yet have COVID, I mean, hopefully you won’t ever get it. But the thing that is like the number one most important thing is focusing on inflammation. And part of that is because this disease itself has such a sort of vicious inflammatory component. And part of that is because our culture, like our society has a very high baseline inflammation level because everybody has stressed out. Everybody is working too hard and not getting enough sleep and all that stuff. And eating, you know, foods that contribute to inflammation as well. So we’re like, as a society we’re coming into this disease kind of primed for the situation to be worse than it might have otherwise been, because we’re putting an already inflammatory state together with a really high inflammatory disease state, and that’s creating just crazy inflammation. So the very first thing that we would focus on is to do every possible thing that you can within reason to lower your baseline inflammation. And there are some, actually some, maybe not super fun, but quite simple ways to do that.
Yeah. You know, our top three ways to accomplish this revolve around food and making different choices around food. So, you know, first one I would say there would be to eliminate sugar as much as possible from your diet. And, you know, recognize that most of the sugar is coming in from processed or packaged foods and sneaking into stuff that you might not expect. My example here is always ketchup, because I’m still blown away. Like why is there sugar in the ketchup? What is going on?
And even like how much sugar there really is in ketchup. Yeah.
Yeah. And in a lot of these foods, you know, it’s part there to be sweet and to trigger your food reward system, and it’s part there to be a preservative. And that takes a pretty high level of sugar to preserve something. So anyway, yeah, so that’s a really big one. Sugar contributes to inflammation in a lot of different ways in our system. And the more that we can cut that out, the better off we’re going to be.
Yeah. So another thing that you can cut out, this one is maybe a little easier than eliminating sugar, is to eliminate all of the industrial seed oils. So that is canola oil, soy oil, cottonseed, corn oil, or anything that’s labeled as vegetable oil. And the reason here is that these oils, the way that they’re processed makes them into a very pro-inflammatory thing. There’s actually two factors there, and we go into that in depth in the nutrition course. But just the sort of super short version is that they already were high in omega six, which is not bad. We need some of that. But it is pro-inflammatory. And these oils are sort of out of balance high in that, plus they form an out of balance, large part of the oil in modern diets. Plus the processing procedures create rancidity in the oils, and then they steam distill them to take out the rancid smell. So you don’t acknowledge the rancidity. You don’t have anything to tell you that that is the case in the smell. And so both of those are mechanisms for increasing inflammation. And so here it’s just really a matter of swapping your oils out for olive oil or coconut oil or avocado oil, ghee or lard, something like that. But the real trick here is in processed foods and take out foods, or any kind of restaurant foods, because of course, restaurants are producing flavors. They’re not producing nutrition. And so if they need to have an oil in the recipe, then in order to make money, like just the reality of keeping the business going is that they’re going to work with the less expensive oil. So that is a source of these inflammatory oils that sometimes we don’t think about.
Yeah. And then the third food point we would highlight here would be to eliminate gluten and dairy from your diet, as well as any known or suspected food sensitivities. So that could be an allergy. It could be an intolerance. It could be a sensitivity. But anything in that category we’re going to want to identify and then avoid as much as possible. When we have sensitivities to these things, it’s not only that they’re not really providing us with a lot of like super great nutrition. It’s that they’re inducing inflammatory responses, that they’re draining resources from our immune system. Because that inflammatory response, or that irritation in the guts, that does draw on the same kind of immune responders that you might rely on to protect you from an infection or some other kind of threat. So…
It’s like distracting your immune system from the job it really needs to be doing.
Yeah. So you don’t want that. So, you know, if you’re not sure what your food allergies are, then it’s always a great idea to sort that out. We like the whole 30 program for that, but there are lots of different ways to do it. The central idea is you’re going to choose one or better several potentially allergenic foods. Eliminate them from your diet for about 30 days. And then after that you can do a re-introduction to test out and say like, all right, is this one really a strong sensitivity? Or like, you can do some work on that end. But it’s very important to do it because most of us aren’t aware of food sensitivities that we may have had our whole lives. Certainly we both can speak from our own experience here where eliminating food allergens made an enormous difference in our day to day health.
An enormous difference and a shocking difference. We were like, hey, really? Like that was not something I was expecting.
Yeah. So it’s really worth checking that out. And you can kind of sum up, or there’s something I want to say about all of these interventions, which is that they really are much easier to accomplish the more you’re making your own food. And that dietary intervention is something that everybody agrees on. Whether you’re paleo or vegan or like full on carnivore or whatever, the more you can take control of your own food, the better you’re going to be able to make sure that the sugar is not sneaking in, and that those bad oils aren’t hidden in there and that you know exactly all the ingredients that went into it, and they fit your body well. So, that more than anything I think is great. And hey, we’re quarantining, so it’s a good time to really learn how to cook, right?
Yeah, exactly. Again, in the holistic nutrition course we talk a lot about how to do that in a way that fits into your life. Like how to cook for yourself, but not have it take all day. And you can find that in all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com.
Yeah. That’s us.
Okay. So, you know, in addition to food, they’re also plenty of herbs that help reduce inflammation. And by the way, also every vegetable. Every actual vegetable. Corn is not a vegetable. But vegetables all reduce inflammation as well. So if all those things feel too intimidating or just too large to get started on right now, then just increase your vegetable content and that will really help a lot. And then of course, any herb that you can add into your regular everyday routine is also going to help reduce inflammation. But we did choose five herbs that we felt were most important to target corona in terms of support systems in the body and immune function. And those five herbs, or actually it’s.
Five preparations. Yeah. There’s a couple more than five here, but they really have held up. These continue through all of this time to be our favorite most impactful strategies herbally for working with corona, supporting the body through COVID. And interestingly, all of them also have an inflammation regulatory component.
Yeah, absolutely. So the first one we want to talk about is doing an herbal steam. And we’re going to kind of just run through these pretty quickly because we’ve covered them in some more detail in other episodes and other places in our material.
Right. And if you are new to the pod and you have not heard those episodes yet, you can find them at commonwealthherbs.com/coronavirus. Also we cover working with COVID in both the cold and flu course, the respiratory course.
And the immune health and also the herbal community care toolkit. So there are lots of places in our course material where you can find COVID information.
Herbal Supports & Four Pillars
Yeah. So to start with herbal steams. All right. So here we’re talking about working with plants, like time oregano. We really like monarda, which is sort of like a wild oregano situation.
It’s also called bee balm and sometimes wild bergamot. So you may have heard it under any of those names.
Right. But also sage and rosemary. And then, you know, those are all kind of like pungent or like spicy-ish kind of kind of herbs from this group. But also plants like lavender and even peppermints. Or you could do a steam with needles from a pine tree or from a spruce tree or some other kind of aromatic evergreen like that. Yeah. So the point is that it has to be a plant that has a strong smell, right? Like if you had a jar of it, you open it, you can smell it from way over here. Right?
Yeah. And that smell is actually the main mechanism of action here, because the smell is the volatile oil component. And the chemicals, the organic chemicals, the constituents that are part of those volatile oils, that’s where a lot of the anti-microbial action is concentrated. But the reason that we like this in a steam is because that only works on contact. You have to get those actual organic chemicals to be in direct contact with the actual path of the pathogen that you’re trying to impact. And so in this way, in an herbal steam, it does actually have some germ fighting power. Because you are breathing those volatile oils directly into the respiratory tract and getting them directly in contact with the pathogen. But that’s not all that’s going on here.
Yeah, no, absolutely. There’s a lot going on in a steam, right? First of all, there’s the steaminess of it.
The steam in the steam.
Yeah. The heat of the steam itself is helping to make the environment in your respiratory tract, your lungs, your sinuses, to make that uninhabitable or uncomfortable for the invader, for the virus. Also at the same time that heat is ramping up your own immune responses. And honestly the constituents of the herbs, right? The aromatic elements there are also awakening immune response in the mucus membranes, through the whole respiratory tract, and getting them ready to fight, you know? So, yeah, they’re really fantastic. We like steams both for prevention and also when you’ve been exposed and when you have it. Really, it’s just a great idea to have herbal steams in your life. If you can do it a couple times a day, that’s going to be really fantastic. If it’s for prevention, it could just be a once a day kind of a thing. Or it could even be like, all right, well, I haven’t left my house for a week, but today I’m going to go grocery shopping. When I get back, I’m going to have a nice herbal steam. You know, something like that.
Right. Like wear your mask, do all this stuff. But then also add a steam. Like the more layers of prevention that you can pile on top of each other, then the more prevention you have.
But even in like the long haul cases or the lingering cases of COVID, this is still a helpful thing to do. And a lot of times what you’ll get is that there’s a feeling of like continued tightness or constriction or difficulty to get a good breath. Or feeling like even if you do try to breathe deeply, it’s just not oxygenating you very well. And we’ve had a lot of feedback from students about doing steams and feeling at least a few hours of relief afterwards.
Yeah. And during the acute phase of COVID as well. You know, really one of the most discomforting things about COVID is that you feel like you can’t breathe. It hurts so much to breathe. And like, it hurts so much, and then when you do it, you still don’t even really get enough air. And so doing a steam in our experience sort of resets that sensation of not being able to breathe. And it’ll last for several hours. And then as it starts to hurt again and become tight and constricted, do another steam. I think that a big part of the reason that it’s helpful is because COVID is so dry. And it really dries all of the mucus on the inside of the lungs. And it sort of gets it very pasty, but also dry. And so that reduces the flexibility of the lungs. It reduces the elasticity as the lungs expand and contract. And there are many other factors going on, but this is like a sort of a mechanical factor that the steam directly impacts. Because getting that hot moisture into the lungs, dilutes the pasty mucus on the sides. It sort of moistens it back up again so that it’s easier to do the actual mechanical effect of breathing. So there are other factors involved, but in so far as that one, the steam itself is playing a really big role.
Yeah. That loosening, that can also help you to expectorate and get some of that phlegm up and out. And that’s true for a number of our remedies here, right? So the next one on our list is garlic and thyme tea. So this is a pretty strong preparation, right? You know, just a couple of cloves of garlic sliced up is good for a whole quart of water. Maybe a spoon or two of thyme we add on to that. But you want it to be strong. You want it to be like a serious herbal situation going on. We’re trying to drink two to four cups of this a day to get a good, strong amount out of it. So again, half a quart or a quart in a day is going to do the job. So this is good stuff, right? So you’re getting the volatiles from the garlic and the thyme. You’re getting those as you drink it. You’re also getting them if you like hold your cup and breathe it in, you know, as you’re drinking. So you’re getting those into the system. You’re getting some other immune stimulating and inflammation regulating components from those plants as well, including those aromatic or volatile elements, but also some that aren’t. Some that are going to just stay in the water. And then you’re going to go ahead and drink that in. Both of these plants have an aspect where even when you consume them through your mouth and your digestive system, they still act strongly on the lungs. And they deliver their antimicrobial activity and their immune stimulating activity right to that tissue or to that organ in the body. So they’re just what you want. I would say one thing is that it’s a good idea to add a little bit of honey to this tea. It makes it a lot more palatable. And it only works if you drink it. So, you know, palatability does matter.
RIght. If this is just not appealing to you as a tea, you can also put it in broth. Even if it’s store bought broth, that’s fine. You’re still getting the same action, but it may be a little more palatable because it’s in a savory base instead of something that you expect to be tea, you know? But I mean, it’s not my favorite tea, but it also is not the end of the world. It’s not bitter. It’s just very savory, and that’s not like the expected experience of tea. But it’s fine. And it works. So, yeah.
Yeah. I like it.
You know, another one around expectoration, helping to get that phlegm up is elecampane. Elecampane is one of my favorite herbs for all kinds of lung issues, partially because it really does help you to peel off any kind of mucus crud on the inside of the lungs. I would say the side of the lungs, but it’s not like your lungs are hollow. Like there’s all sorts of stuff going on in there. And all of it can be covered in mucus. So we want to peel all that off, and then be able to effectively cough it out when it’s ready. We don’t want to cough all day. Cough when we have something to cough and otherwise not be just hacking away. So elecampane helps a lot with that, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on with elecampane. Again, elecampane has a strong anti-microbial component and it’s fairly broad spectrum. But one thing that I particularly think is amazing about elecampane is that it has this biofilm busting action that can break up gloms of pathogens. And we know that bacteria do this. When there are enough of them, they start to glom together so that the immune system can’t fight them. And elecampane can break them up again. And you might be thinking, but Katja, COVID is a virus. It is.
Yes. But the thing is that you don’t have COVID alone, right? Like whenever we get sick, we identify it as a thing, but it’s not that by itself. Like there’s communities of pathogens in your lungs just sort of hanging out, waiting to get the upper hand so that they can multiply. And that is part of the problem with COVID. And part of the problem that starts to move into the long haul and the long recovery phases of COVID is that you can get follow on pneumonia. There can be other things that see the opportunity and rise up and contribute to the illness. And so elecampane is helping to keep those out of the way so that they’re not going to be a distraction in your body’s fight against COVID, which is really cool. The way that it does that is by breaking up their ability to glom together and become stronger than your immune system. And then of course, elecampane is also very warming. It brings circulatory fluids to the lungs so that your lungs are getting the nourishment that they need. It’s warming everything up. And it doesn’t taste good.
Yeah. So, you know, what we usually do with elecampane is make a good strong pot of decoction. Even let it cook down a little bit so it’s kind of concentrated. And then your dose from that is going to be an ounce or two to take in every hour or every couple of hours. And what you can do is you can shoot that back and then you can drink something that’s a little more pleasant, like your garlic and thyme tea. Yeah.
Wait, how about ginger tea instead?
Oh, right. How about some ginger tea instead, or together? I mean, you can add them. But yeah, so we take the elecampane. Usually we just take it by itself. Chug it back and then have something pleasant to drink to kind of chase that. But the consistency, the like repeated small doses of elecampane through the course of the day, honestly, that is our preferred method for working with that herb. I prefer that over somebody who’s like, no. I’m going to drink 16 ounces of it right now in the morning, and then not have any of the rest of the day. No, I’d rather those small recurrent intakes throughout the course of your waking hours.
Yeah. Really, if you just set an alarm and do it every hour when you’re awake, that’s the way to go. But then in between ginger really is a great option. Ginger is one of my very favorite inflammation regulating herbs. It is all about that Goldilocks zone. Just enough inflammation to get the immune function going, and not so much inflammation that things spiral out of control. So that is super duper helpful. But it’s also relaxing that spasmodic cough that comes along with COVID, and helping you to be a lot more comfortable and relaxing the tension in the muscles. All those intercostal muscles all around the lungs get so sore when you cough this much. I mean like you can get in these coughing fits that just lasts a really long time, and it just aches. Like your whole trunk just aches from the coughing. So ginger is really helpful here to relax that spasm-y cough and relax the muscles that have tensed up because they’re doing a lot of work to create the cough.
Right. Yeah. And you know, that repeated coughing, that can lead to feelings of tension in the belly or the intestines, and can contribute to nausea, which you may have had anyway if you’re actively infected with COVID, or just dealing with a lot of phlegm in your throat. So the anti-nausea effects of ginger are really helpful here as well. We often like to mix ginger with chamomile. It could be half and half or like 60:40 or whatever feels good to you. Just because the two of them, they taste great together. And they’re a really nice pair for delivering a variety of different anti-inflammatory actions into the system.
Yeah. Sort of like you get a broader spectrum of that anti-inflammatory function when you add two inflammation regulating herbs together.
Yeah. We like it. Well, all right then. Marshmallow root is the next one.
Yeah. That’s our number five. You know, it’s the fifth one, but these are all equally important. Like we’d want to do all of them all day.
And, you know, take the ones that matter the most for your body, right? So if you have a lot of nausea, more ginger for you. If you’ve got a lot of phlegm in the lungs, more elecampane, or more focus on it is what we mean there. So marshmallow root, this is particularly important for when you’re running dry. And that can be whole system-wide, your whole constitution, but also and especially in the lungs, in the respiratory system. We make marshmallow root as a cold water infusion. So a few spoonfuls of herbs, you know. Pour on some cool water. Let that soak for several hours, and you’ll find that that water gets kind of viscous or a little thick. And that’s when it’s going to be giving you the strongest rehydration effect. So yeah, several cups of that in the course of the day. More when you’re more dry. You know, COVID is usually very drying in the lungs, especially the initial infection or the first time that you’re dealing with it. It tends to have a really dry situation going on in the respiratory system, lungs, sinuses as well. And marshmallow root is going to help to moisten things up there again. Yeah.
You know, I’m thinking about that dryness and kind of the way that we’re talking about all these things. None of this stuff is a cure for COVID. That’s not our purpose here. The purpose is supporting the body. So we’re really kind of getting at this how do we make it the easiest possible for your immune system to do the work that it has to do? And making sure that your mucus membranes don’t dry out is actually a big part of that job, because those mucous membranes are actually like the first step in your immune system. So, and honestly, marshmallow root, especially now that we’re into winter and people have the heat on, and that’s a very drying factor. Even if you don’t have COVID, marshmallow root could still be an important part of your prevention. Because if you have good, healthy mucus membranes, like a nice, good layer of snot. It’s not too drippy, it’s not too thick. It’s right there where it needs to be. You’re making it much more difficult for pathogens to get into your body at all, because they have to fight through this layer of slime. That’s the whole purpose of these mucus membranes. And so if you are dried out because you already have COVID, then other pathogens are going to find it easier to get into your body. And they’re going to make it harder for you to fight COVID, because now you also have to fight these other pathogens. If you don’t have COVID, and it’s dry because the heat’s on in your house and whatever else, then if you do get exposed to COVID, it is a lot easier for the pathogen to get into your body. So all the way around marshmallow root is a really important plant here.
Yeah. And hey, you know, sometimes with COVID you get diarrhea. So even more important there, because the dehydration is really…that can get risky, you know? So something like this is really important. All right. Well, there’s lots of other things that can be helpful for sure. Plenty of other things that you could do. And we recommend that you do any of them that you can. So, chicken soup with some seaweed in it. That’s really great. A bunch of different kinds of teas that tastes good to you and feel good in your body and match your constitution and all that good stuff, and bringing some of that inflammation, modulating action we’re looking for. That’s all fantastic. We’re trying to get lots of good foods with vitamin C, all the kind of stuff that you would do for any other flu like illness. Right. Make sure your vitamin D status is topped up. Yeah. Really, really important. That one.
Yeah. If you’re a person who takes vitamin D supplements sometimes, but then forgets. Like this is the time to say, oh right, I’m going to put it right next to my toothbrush so that I remember. You know, and you were saying foods with vitamin C and I sort of feel like that’s a stand-in for foods that are good. You know, like all of the vitamins are actually important. Vitamin C is great, and it helps immune function and stuff like that. But eat all the colors, just as many vegetables and berries and stuff like that as you can get in. I was just reading a new article about pomegranate in relation to COVID and some studies they were doing around pomegranate.
I’m so glad for you, because you have been just crazy about pomegranates lately.
I really have been.
And that’s awesome.
Long Haul COVID: Inflammation & Depletion
All right. Well, so all of that is the sort of stuff that we’re thinking about in terms of prevention and acute COVID. Honestly, all of that is still going to be relevant during the recovery phase of COVID, which can be very long, and if you’re a person experiencing long haul COVID. Again, this is about supporting your body, rebuilding your body. And in all of the long haul cases we’ve seen, it is still about inflammation. We’re seeing that the long haul cases tend to be in folks who were already compromised. So what we mean by that is either they had some kind of chronic illness, and then COVID on top of that was so much that the body was just like, I am now in this giant hole and it’s going to be a while to get out. Or they were in a state of super depletion before they got COVID. So maybe they didn’t have a specific chronic illness, but they were like totally sleep deprived, not really getting a lot in the way of healthy food. They were really stressed out because basically this is rampant in our culture. Like this pattern of just being super depleted, getting up again the next day, being exhausted and just trying to slog through again, because there’s bills to pay and everything else. So, what’s going on here is that someone going into COVID with this sort of lowered immune state already, and a lot of other things that their body was already trying to manage and slog through, COVID sort of was like, oh, great. Now I’m going to bash you over the head with a baseball bat, you know, like metaphorically in the immune system. And so things that maybe you were managing to drag through your day with, once COVID hit, everything was so knocked out and so depleted that now you’re just like, I can’t even. I can’t even. For me that recognition is actually a very helpful thing, because it helps me say like, okay. This didn’t come out of nowhere. Like I can understand why this is happening. And also if I can say, okay, I was really depleted before I got COVID, then that helps me understand what I can do holistically and herbally to support the body in order to recover. So again, we’re looking at inflammation: was I in a high inflammatory state before I got COVID? And depletion: what do I need to refill in my body, because I don’t have it to do the work of recovery right now? And these are two things that we can do something about herbally. We can’t do something about every single thing, but these are things we can really address herbally to support your body getting out of this hole
Right on. So yeah, in these long haul cases, then our two prongs of support, there are going to be that, first of all, we want to reduce that inflammation overall. And the fastest way is through those food changes, through some gentle herbs that we’re getting on a consistent intake. And then we’re going to look to restore our resources and refill the places where we got depleted. And that’s that four pillars work, right? That’s food and sleep and stress management and movement habit changes and all of the herbs that support that. So those are the key things that we’re really going to be focused on here.
Yeah. Right. And also I think that it’s worth saying that in order to do this work there is a community aspect to it. I saw somebody posted something yesterday that said self-care is a myth. That true healing requires community care. And there was some discussion afterwards and the person was like, well, no, self-care also is important. And self care is important. But the point that we’re really trying to make is that you can’t bootstrap yourself out of a chronic illness. You can’t bootstrap yourself out of total depletion. At some point, you’re going to need people to support you, whether that is people to watch the kids so that you can sleep more, or people to cook for you or people to cover you at work, or a boss who has compassion, or actually you need all of these things. Maybe somebody to pick up nourishing food for you. And a lot of people do not have this resource. So I think that that’s something that moving forward, we can take this like international experience of COVID and say, all right. There are some things that weakened us as societies to this. And if we had more time off, if we had more just and fair appropriation of resources so that good food was accessible to all people. And if everybody had community support so that when they need help with the kids, when they need help with whatever, and they need time to rest, that’s accessible to them. Once everybody is recovered, that’s something that I really want to be fighting for. Society is whatever we imagine it to be. Society is whatever we make it into. And if we all fight for more community support, stronger communities, then it won’t be easy, but hopefully we can build that.
Yeah. A better world is possible. Okay. So with these long haul cases with just like any kind of long-term illness or long-term depletion situation, we’re not going to be fixing this overnight, right? We’re not going to be fixing this with one single action that is the silver bullet or the magic key or whatever. It’s right there in the name, right. It’s long haul. It’s a chronic situation. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve heard all these things before. So we try to hold that in mind. And that can actually be helpful, because it can help us to set our expectations about what we’re looking for and what we’re trying to accomplish, how we’re going to do it. So we’re not looking for the one herb or the one formula that will fix it, that will single-handedly turn the situation around. We’re definitely not looking for like the strongest stimulant adaptogen you can find that will just give you more energy to burn through. We’re trying to rebuild the body from the ground up, right? Again, with our classic four pillars approach and with the herbs too. And so when our approach is to reduce excess inflammation and restore what’s been depleted, then our herb choices tend to be gentle, right? The ginger, the chamomile, the tea to help your guts digest well, and to have integrity, things like nettle and friends to nourish you and provide that mineral support, and also time is needed here. That’s T I M E.
Yeah. Time on the clock.
Although, you know, the plant, thyme is also pretty helpful as we’ve seen. So, you know, we’re trying to hold that in mind as we work with this. And that also means that we’re going to need to keep some eye or some work on herbs for frustration and herbs for agitation and herbs for stir craziness. So don’t neglect your nervines, is what I’m saying here.
Yeah. You know, we keep talking about this four pillars approach and that is focusing on food sleep movement and stress management. And we have a free video course about that, that you can that you can sign up for, if this is like a new kind of approach for you. And you’ll find it right up at the tippy top at oneline.commonwealthherbs.com. So I just wanted to, like…we keep referring to it. I wanted to make sure to refer you to that.
In each of those four areas, we have our favorite interventions and the things that seem to be the most effective or the most bang for your buck. But honestly, a lot of the strategy is simply make changes that improve your health through changing your diet. Most of us already know some things that we could change or shifts that would help us be healthier. And the idea is to take whatever action you can today in each of those areas, and kind of spiral around. And keep coming back and saying, all right, so I’ve gotten a bit of sugar out of my diet last week. What can I do this week?
So incremental improvements is the name of the game.
All right. Now, when we’re talking about long haul COVID and even just the long recovery that many people experience after COVID, building up your foundation of support, your nutrition, your sleep, all that kind of stuff, and reducing inflammation are going to be like the baseline things. But then everybody’s going to have some different experiences. You know, COVID has introduced some new words into our health vocabulary, like COVID toes or ground glass pattern. And COVID toes is when there is like a bunch of extra fluid in the toes, and so they turn like purple, almost like they’re bruised. And that ground glass pattern, it refers to a kind of inflammation pattern that shows up in the lungs.
On an x-ray. Yeah.
Yeah. And so, you know, there’s all kinds of different things that happen for different people. But we’re going to work with each one of these things energetically to support it. Or in other words, we’re going to say work with what you see as herbalists, that’s what we do. We’re not treating disease, we’re not diagnosing disease. We are looking at what we see and saying what support does the body need? So if this is persistent lung weakness, for example, which is very common, even if you had a reasonably mild case of COVID and you’re, don’t, you’re not experiencing long haul. You’re just in recovery. It still takes a long time for your lungs to feel back to normal again. And that can cycle. You can think, okay. I think I’m feeling pretty good. And then a few months go by and you’re like, yeah, I’m doing this. And then suddenly you’re like, hold on, I’m kind of out of breath again. What’s going on? Like these, it can go in cycles. So in this case, we’re looking at herbs that help strengthen the lungs, herbs that help us to breathe more easily, and herbs that fight inflammation in the lungs. So that’s going to be things like reishi and elecampane. Lobelia even when you feel that constriction.
Ginger, pleurisy root to help make sure that moisture keeps coming to the lungs. Mullein for the same. These are all appropriate for that ground glass pattern of inflammation. And even if you didn’t have an x-ray, it is a very common type of inflammation to happen with COVID. And really, the thing that makes it important is that it’s harder for the body to resolve, and it makes it harder to breathe.
Yeah. The distinction is between this pattern and something like pneumonia, where you might get damage or irritation, but it’s going to be low in the lungs. Like it’s all kind of sitting at the bottom. With the COVID you get irritation or inflammation, or even like the worst pattern would be scarring, all throughout the whole lungs, distributed. So different presentation there. But yeah, you know, those herbs are really helpful. And there we go.
And none of them are helpful because this is the herb for ground glass pattern inflammation, right? They’re helpful because they’re supporting strengthening the lungs. They’re supporting reducing inflammation overall in lung tissue. They’re supporting relaxation in the bronchi, relaxation in the muscle surrounding the lungs. Supporting, making sure that you have adequate nutrition and moisture coming to the lungs. So those are all the tools that your body needs to resolve the problem.
Replenishing the Immune System
Yeah. All right. Well, if what’s going on is a kind of, and again, in like the long haul situation you’re dealing with persistent immune weakness. So that feels like I seem to catch every little cold there is. I can’t seem to shake these lingering infections. They just won’t go all the way away. That kind of situation going on. So we’re not actually going to look to immune stimulants here. We’re more interested in rebuilding work. So this kind of immune weakness is largely, although not entirely, but largely because we’ve used up a lot of our resources as we’re fighting something brand new, right? That’s hard work and it doesn’t happen super often. Usually we’re fighting something that we have a reference for. Even if it’s the flu, you know, yeah, It varies year to year. But it’s still got a lot of the same kind of code in it and look, honestly,
Like you already have a basic toolkit for it, you know?
Yeah. And I mean, there have been some indications that people who have had other coronavirus infections before, which can cause a common cold, have a little better protection against, you know, COVID-19. But still it is new enough that our immune system has a lot of work to do to get acclimated to it.
I think toolkit is a good metaphor there because if it’s the flu, it’s like, oh yeah, I’ll just get out of the basement. I already have the screwdriver for that thing. I’ve just got to use it. And if it’s, you know, suddenly it’s COVID, and you’re like, I do not have any of the tools required for this project. First I have to go get the tools. It’s a much bigger job.
Yeah. So, you know, if we were to approach that with immune stimulants then what we’d be saying there is let’s push the system beyond its available resources, right? Like the ideal case for an immune stimulant is more like let’s awaken a system that’s insufficiently responsive. Or like, in some cases let’s go from a mild initial response to a really robust one rapidly. So, there are cases where that makes sense, but this isn’t really one of them, right? That’s not going to help us out in this condition. We need to replenish those resources instead of like trying to get the last scraps out of the barrel.
Right. It’s almost like there’s nothing left to stimulate. And so we have to build back something to be able to continue that immune work.
Yeah. So we’re going to try and rebuild from the foundations up. And in the immune system, that’s like from the bone marrow out. So that’s where we’re going to start working. And to do that the best we can, we’ve got to give our body some space to heal, to sleep more, to make sure we’re getting those good nourishing foods, especially things that have been like cooked a good long time so you don’t have to work too hard to digest it. Soups and stews and so on, right? And then it’s herb time. You know, and in that you can put some of these herbs right into the soup or the stew. Codonopsis can go right in there. That’s a great immune level adaptogen that has that bone marrow activity to stimulate the production of…they call them naive immune cells. They haven’t figured out what their job is going to be yet. But you want to have a lot of them so you can like allocate your workforce efficiently. So that’s all going to be good. That’s a great one in broth. You can do decoctions as well. But medicinal mushrooms go into the broth. I mean, when we’re talking about rebuilding immunity from the ground up, mushrooms are where it’s at. Yeah. Shiitake, maitake, oyster mushrooms, all of that kind of goodness. And then seaweeds have a lot of crossover activity there. They have some immune modulating polysaccharides going on that are really fascinating and only occur in your seaweeds. Plus they’re so mineral rich, and just that mineral provision can be important. So whether it’s seaweeds or other high mineral herbs, we do want to get those consistently as we’re rebuilding. I mean, when you talk about building blocks, that’s like the earth element in a pure form. So, there we go. And in the meantime we’re trying to be compassionate to ourselves and to others around us. You’re more likely to catch colds after COVID, even ones that you would have been able to fight off in a different year. So we’re taking all our precautions. We’re wearing our masks. We’re washing those hands, and singing the song as we do. Get all the nooks and crannies. But when you get a cold, when you feel frustrated, when you feel like your immune system just isn’t up to the task, try to shift that frustration or take that as an energy, and oriented towards compassion, towards self-care work. You’ve got to do it.
Yeah. I mean, your immune system is exhausted. And it just is, you know. So, if you can try to provide yourself with some patience for that. That persistent fatigue is not just at the immune system level. That’s like at the whole body level. And again, like we just did a really Herculean thing. We’re not often exposed to completely new, never before seen pathogens. This is uncommon. And it takes a lot of resources. It takes a huge amount of work. So it’s actually okay if we need a long time to recover from that. You can think about what would you have to do if you ran a marathon today to fully recover from that experience. You’d be recovering for weeks afterwards. And you wouldn’t actually necessarily think that was weird. You’d be like, well, yeah, I just ran a marathon. I need a few weeks to recover from that. But when we are sick, we don’t tend to give ourselves a lot of space and patience for that recovery process. We’re like, no, I’ve got to get back to work. And like, that’s fair because you do gotta get back to work, because you do have bills to pay, because we don’t provide sick time in this country. And we certainly don’t provide recovery time.
Which are all contributors to how you likely went into this situation tired to begin with, because of how pervasive sleep debts and baseline fatigue already is in our culture.
Yeah. So the first thing that we want to do is set expectations that the body just needs to rest. And do whatever we can to slim down our obligations, which again is going to be easier for people with privilege. And that is a problem. So those of us who are healthy, we all need to be fighting for all people to be financially secure during this time, and for all people to have access to recovery time when they get sick.
Yeah. We’re here in the U S and saw an infographic the other day that was showing a bar chart of how much does each of these countries provide to their population in terms of a percentage of their prior salary or whatever. And it was like, 15 countries on the list like a hundred percent, 90%, 90, 75, 70, and then the U S at the bottom, zero.
Yeah. It was just…
Yeah. I mean, yeah. Okay. Well, anyway.
All right. Don’t get me started.
Helping with Fatigue
So, let’s look at the other factors that can cause debilitating fatigue, right? Because if we can remove some of them, then we have more resources to do the recovery work from the fatigue that was caused by COVID. Like if we’re already tired from other things, then that’s going to make it harder for us to recover from the fatigue that came from COVID. So that means we’re back to inflammation again, basically. I’m thinking about food sensitivities. I’m thinking about stress, even the stress that comes from reading Twitter or dealing with politics. Like there is some amount of being involved in politics that must happen right now, because it is critical. But reading Twitter all day is stressful. So, finding that place of like, this is the minimum amount of involvement that I need to have to be able to contribute meaningfully to society. Or even it’s okay to say I’m too sick. I need recovery time right now. And I’m going to need to trust that my community members are covering that for me. This is a time to absolutely be really focusing on nourishing food, focusing on getting rid of all of the distractions – whether those distractions are stressful media or stressful foods – so that you can focus your time on rest as much as you possibly can.
And if you’re hearing us talk about like making changes to your diet or to your lifestyle in other ways and saying, but I don’t have energy to even face that idea. It’s easier to just kind of go on with what I’ve been doing. And that’s real, right? So, what we’re trying to do is look at these things as experiments, not as like you have to do this to be good or, or whatever else. Because that’s just feels like a weight on you. So, try to look at it more as like, all right, I’m going to test this out. I’m going to see how my body reacts. I’m trying to learn more about myself, and approach it from that perspective. And that usually makes it much more easy to go through.
You know, if you’re trying to…maybe you’re a person who says, ah, I gave up gluten once in the past and actually I felt a lot better. But then I just sort of, you know, got out of the habit of it or whatever. That’s really common, and you don’t have to be gluten free and dairy free for life to get benefit from doing it right now. But those two are really inflammatory foods. And if you get rid of them, it does help a lot. So on the website, commonwealthherbs.com, if you just put the word substitute or gluten-free into the search bar, I have a whole list of gluten-free and dairy-free substitutes. So if you’re like, I cannot give up toast right now. It’s sustaining me. Fine. Just buy a different brand. I’ve got some really good, like this bread actually tastes like bread, options there and pasta and all the different things. And so even if you are just at the minimum replacing the things that are the low hanging fruit by just swapping out brands, every little bit that you do to make more space for your body to recover, to create less inflammatory work for your body to do, all of it helps. Every bit of it helps. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Right. Two other quick things I would say here are when there is fatigue, well, yeah, we do want to look at sleep. It’s so obvious that we can often miss it. So, you know, there’s lots that can be done herbally and also through habit change to improve sleep. We’ve got a whole course on it called Holistic Help for Better Sleep. So you can check that out in our course catalog there and see the whole story. But really whatever strategies you find effective for you at any other time, bring them forward here. So like, all right, I know I get to sleep better if I dim the lights an hour before bed, and I just read something that’s not too agitating during that time. So, that kind of thing, and simple herbs to help sleep like skullcap and passionflower, or valerian and hops, or whatever it is that works out for you. Those things can be really important. And oftentimes sleep can be disrupted in the course of long haul. And then the other thing I would say is movement. So this can be counterintuitive. When people are fatigued they feel less motivation to move and less interest in moving around, in the wintertime even more so. But moving can help to get you to be able to sleep better that initial night. The more consistently you move, the more your energy level seems to rise. And this doesn’t have to be super intense. We’re just talking about like a walk, you know, like light yoga flow at home, bed yoga if that’s what it has to be right now. That’s totally fine. We’re just trying to get that blood moving and circulating, get those fluids moving around the body. This is all going to help your immune system. It’s going to help your energy system. So yeah, that’s what we’re looking at there.
You know, and then herbally two of my favorite herbal helpers when I’m dealing with fatigue and like really deep fatigue are codonopsis and nettle. Again, neither one of these are going to stimulate a bunch of energy right now today. These are two herbs that are going to slowly build back the foundation, build back the stores that you have used up. And you needed to use them up because you were fighting something new, so that’s fine. But it has created this deep fatigue. And so, that slow build of building back what you have used up is key. So it codonopsis and nettles are my two favorite there.
Supporting the Cardiovascular System
Yeah, really good. Okay. So let’s turn now and look at the cardiovascular issues and heart issues that can arise with long-term COVID or long haul after effects from COVID infection. So yeah, so these things… Hi, Glory. Tiny kitten jumped on the table here. So, these issues, they started with the COVID infection, but now they’re manifesting or becoming these issues for the heart and for the vascular tissue. So we need to support those tissues in the body. And fortunately herbs are really helpful for that kind of thing. So this is just a matter of trying to build integrity and trying to reduce inflammation in the vascular structures, in your tubes, your blood tubes, right? So, the integrity there, that’s an aspect that we can really get from bioflavonoids. And that’s a particular very broad widely distributed class of constituents in herbs most easily found in berries. So, you know, when it comes to berries that are healthy for the heart and the cardiovascular system generally, we almost always say hawthorn, hawthorn, hawthorn. Because hawthorn is amazing and really, really good at that. So I want to say here it’s not just hawthorn, but kind of especially that herb is really excellent for this kind of support. And it’s not just a heart herb. Sometimes people talk about it that way, but it’s really about any of your vasculature, all of your blood vessels.
And if blueberries are easier for you to get your hands on, blueberries are going to be super helpful. It is again about getting the nourishment into your body so that your body has what it needs to build a strong vasculature, to build all those tubes, to be strong and to nourish the heart itself. So it is okay to get frozen blueberries if you can’t get your hands on hawthorn.
Yeah. So that I think would be the kind of universally relevant set of herbs or foods to be looking at when dealing with long haul cardiovascular issues. Beyond that, I would say again, go back to work with what you see. So if this is showing up with a racing heart rate and some spasms or tension or pain in the heart, consider working with motherwort and see if that gets at it.
Right. All the normal things you would normally be thinking about when you’re thinking about cardiovascular health.
Yeah, exactly. And then in terms of the broken blood vessels or the loss of integrity there, that’s going to show up with like bruising or blood pooling or fluid collections in different places in the body, whether that’s down in the ankles or in your hands or wherever else.
Or your COVID toes. Yeah. Like that is what that is. That’s just blood pooling in the area, which means that the fluids are in the wrong place, and they’re not moving. So, that is where the strategy around supporting the vascular integrity, supporting circulation, supporting lymphatic function. It’s where that strategy is all coming from is there’s a bunch of blood in the toes and we need to move it around. So, we’re going to look to the herbs who can support circulation, you know, ginger and yarrow. And herbs who can support lymphatic function like red clover and calendula. And those are not herbs for COVID toes. They’re herbs to support what the body needs to get those fluids moving again.
Right. So recurring theme there, I think you’re starting to sing along with us now as you say that.
All together now.
It’s Not Surprising Recovery Takes Time
So, you know, most importantly we want to understand that long recovery and these kind of weird bonus symptoms of this originally respiratory infection, this is not necessarily a scary new thing. This is associated with many different infectious illnesses. It’s just something that hasn’t until recently gotten a whole lot of attention in media or in popular discussions. But after a hard illness like this, it’s completely reasonable to have a lot of cleanup to do. And it’s reasonable to get tired from that and to have some lingering symptoms, even if it was the flu or pneumonia or whatever else. So there’s always this longer recovery period. And there are people dealing with this all the time. We just don’t make a whole lot of space for people to talk about it, or for people to cope with that in the ideal way, the like perfect world. Someone to be there and take care of you until you feel all the way better. Because yeah, that’s where the real problems are coming from is not having that kind of community support, or someone to take care of the kids, or be able to pay your bills if you take the time off of work and all of that. That’s where the core of these issues is arising.
I think that’s really important, because when we hear long haul COVID, that sounds very scary. But if we think about, you know, if you’ve known somebody who’s had a really hard pneumonia and then watched their recovery, a lot of it looks very similar to some of these long haul symptoms. And because we don’t give it a name, and because it’s only happening to maybe one person that we know, it doesn’t seem as pervasive and therefore scary. But I really feel like acknowledging this reality that first off, COVID has a long recovery and long haul COVID is a thing, but also that, that is a thing in any kind of a very hard illness. That can help us to not be afraid about these persistent symptoms. Not to be like, oh no, what’s wrong with me. I’m never going to get better again, but instead to adjust our expectations and really recognize that even though this is not fun or easy, in terms of bodily function, it’s kind of reasonable to expect that our bodies are going to need more support, more recovery time after a very hard and totally novel illness. So, just for me that reframes my mental relationship with what’s going on. From this is scary. My body has never done this before to, oh, my body has never done this before. It’s pretty reasonable that it’s going to be hard for me to recover from it. And you know, the last time we had a big pandemic in 1918, this was a huge factor, actually. It was a long-term and persistent factor, and it required a lot of public support, which you’re starting to see a lot of articles about now about the public support and the public policy impacts about that afterwards. So if we think about some commonalities between 1918 and right now with COVID, serious overwork and a lot of malnutrition, right? So back then we didn’t have unions yet. So whatever you think about unions now, at that time in history, it was unions that gave people any kind of rest time, any kind of workplace safety. Before that people worked ridiculously long hours, seven days a week. And also folks in cities didn’t really have easy access to vegetables or even always to meat. So, today we’re seeing again the severe overwork. And we also see a lot of malnutrition, although today it’s a little different.
It’s a different form.
Yeah. Most of the time most people have enough calories available or accessible, but the calories that are available do not necessarily provide the nutrition that is required. So, that’s kind of a little bit different, but ultimately as far as the body is concerned, there still is a malnutrition aspect there.
Yeah. So none of this is to say at all that the long haul symptoms aren’t important or they’re not real or whatever else. But if we can see these patterns, this helps to reduce fear and mystery. When we recognize that these kinds of long haul symptoms are common in any hard or novel illness, especially where there’s pervasive fatigue and overwork and inflammation in the population already, that helps you to see clearly the work that needs to get done both at an individual level and at a population level. Instead of looking at it and thinking, oh, no, this is so new and weird, and we don’t have any idea what to do about any of it at all. It’s sort of like if we can’t solve the entire problem, we can’t solve any piece of it. And that’s not really the case at all.
Right, right. So, at any rate at a personal level, I mean, there’s a lot of work societally that needs to be done in terms of support, more compassionate community support. But at a personal level recovering from COVID and getting healthily through long haul COVID is going to mean building some new habits for yourself so that you know that you’re getting the herbs and the nutrition and the sleep and the movement – all the different points of support that your body needs to be able to recover well. And just to build as much of that into every day as you have the energy and the resources to do. And if that starts with a long infusion of nettles every day, then that’s where it starts. Wherever you can start to provide more nutrition, more resources for your body to rebuild. And then to kind of be patient while you are rebuilding your whole immune system and rebuilding everything that got spent to get you through COVID. That is the long-term strategy.
That’s all we’ve got, folks.
Kind of boring, but like Paul Bergner likes to say: Be a boring herbalist. Yeah. It works.
All right. Well, thank you for listening. I think that’s it for us for this week. And we’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you.
So until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other, and drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
Yeah. All right. Bye.
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