COVID-19: Herbs for the Long Haul

Public discussion of COVID-19 has focused primarily on deaths and hospitalizations -- and with over 4.25 million dead worldwide, and hospitals in many places, including Maine, overwhelmed, it is easy to understand why. However, this has obscured the disease's other toll -- the chronic illness that can plague people who have been infected even if their initial symptoms are quite mild.

The National Institutes of Health have released a study that suggests that the virus can linger in many organs and tissues for at least eight months. It may be able to linger longer. It is also possible that some long haul symptoms are the result of immune dysregulation brought on by the infection -- akin in some ways to an autoimmune disease.

In general, I find that those who are dealing with either acute or chronic COVID related issues benefit from inflammatory modulators (Baikal Skullcap, Rose and various Rose family plants, mushrooms of many varieties, most adaptogens), vasodilators (Hawthorn/Black Cohosh [ecologically sensitive, so buy medicine made from cultivated roots or those dug by harvesters you trust]/Yarrow being my go-to formula, often with a touch of Lobelia) and lymphatics (Alder being my local favorite, but Cleavers, Red Root, Clover, and VERY small doses of Poke can be helpful too.)

Every person is different, and so is every case of long haul COVID. I want to run down a few of the more common symptoms I have seen and a few of the herbs and fungi I have seen be helpful. It is, of course, best to consult an herbalist when addressing any chronic health issue with herbs, and especially important to if you are also taking prescription medications or dealing with other chronic health issues.

FATIGUE -- This is by far the most common symptom I see. Here I gravitate toward Eleuthero, Panax ginseng, Damiana, Baikal Skullcap, Ashwagandha, Holy Basil. Schizandra and other herbs that up-regulate mitochondrial activity.

STIFFNESS AND JOINT PAIN -- This is often related to inflammation of the fascia. Solomon's Seal (ecologically sensitive, so buy medicine made from cultivated roots or those dug by harvesters you trust) or Shatavari can help restore lubrication to the fascia, Black Cohosh can reduce inflammation of the fascia, something warming and aromatic can help bring it to the tissues.

LUNG PAIN/CONSTRICTION -- This is often due to inflammation of the pleura -- which are the fascia of the lungs -- so will respond to the same herbs as stiffness and joint pain as well as to Mullein. A few drops of Lobelia can help relax tension in the muscles associated with the respiratory tract.

HEART PALPITATIONS -- Motherwort and Passionflower can be very helpful here. See a physician to determine whether there has been organ damage.

BLOOD SUGAR IMBALANCES -- Holy Basil, Schizandra, and Cinnamon. Dramatic reduction of carbohydrates. Weight bearing exercise.

SHORTNESS OF BREATH -- Cordyceps, Schizandra, and, if you can get it, Coca leaf can all help to restore lung capacity.

AIR HUNGER -- A sudden, intense shortness of breath. Eastern and Western Skunk Cabbage are specific here (ecologically sensitive and impossible to cultivate, so buy medicine made from roots dug by harvesters you trust).

BRAIN FOG -- Holy Basil is very helpful. Calamus is specific when there is difficulty processing language.

LOSS OF MOTIVATION/EXECUTIVE FUNCTION -- This is a low dopamine issue. I use a combination of Bacopa (which contains the dopamine precursor L-Dopa) with Damiana (which inhibits MAO-B, the enzyme which breaks down dopamine) and Lobelia (which slows dopamine's conversion to norepinephrine.)

These are just a few of the more common symptoms I have seen with long haul COVID. As always, I am glad to help people in whatever way I can regardless of ability to pay (though those who can pay full price for consultations allow me to help more people who cannot.) E-mail if you would like to set up a consultation.

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