HERBS & ESSENTIAL OILS FOR SARS
As one physician put it in a recent national television interview about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), now is the time to "live well". This doctor describes living well as eating wholesome foods, exercise and stop smoking. A few weeks before this TV interview, another MD voiced the opinion that addition to our focus on containing this contagious virus, and our search for a vaccine, we should also be making efforts to boost our immune systems. My contribution here is just to say there are antiviral herbs and essential oils and just as important there are herbs and oils that can enhance our immune defenses.
Those who study history know that herbs and essential oils were successfully used to protect against the most devastating contagious diseases that swept through Europe during the Middle Ages. Fumigation with herbs indoors and out and perfumed candles burning in hospitals and sickrooms were just some of the methods used. At the time of the Great Plague, aromatics were known as the best antiseptics. Essential oils were used not only for perfume but also as medicine and for various industries like tanning leather. For protection against the Black Death, herbs were hung around the neck and perfumes were in great demand. It is impossible to really know how effective these measures were but it was clearly known that those individuals who closely handled the aromatics, like the perfumers were immune from these contagious diseases. Even into the beginning of the 19th century doctors carried aromatics at the top of their walking sticks. They would be held up to the nose for protection when visiting contagious cases. In the second half of the 19th century there were considerably more acres of flowers grown for the expanding essential oil industry especially in the south of France. It was noted in the flower-growing districts that workers processing this aromatic plant material were quite free from contagious respiratory diseases. Tuberculosis was much more common then and what was so outstanding was the low incidence of this disease in these areas. It was obvious that the essential oils contained in these plants were playing a role in protecting health. In 1880 the role of microorganisms in disease was first recognized which led to the first recorded laboratory test on the anti-bacterial properties of essential oils in 1887. While on the subject of tuberculosis, I find one clinical trial involving garlic oil very interesting. At the beginning of the 20th century all known treatments, 52 in fact, were tried on over 1000 TB patients at the Metropolitan Hospital in New York. The treatments included vaccines, serums, antitoxins, surgery, arsenic, mercury compounds and garlic. The conclusion: garlic gave the best results, no matter what part of the body was affected. One doctor’s remarks included the realization that unlike any other known antiseptic, garlic was completely harmless to body tissue. I believe the success with all these natural agents is because they are both antimicrobial and offer support to our immune systems.
It may be prudent for us to consider that the role of microorganisms in infectious illness may be overrated. The climate or constitution of the body may be just as important as the activity of the infectious organism itself. Consider some of the facts of the spread of SARS. Death rate is higher the older the age of the victim. In fact kids don’t seem to be getting infected as much as would be expected considering the crowded classrooms. Exceptions are for kids whose older relatives in the household are affected. Stress, it would seem to me, to be a factor here. Stress has a direct effect on our immune system.
I found it very encouraging to hear about the esteemed Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, where all staff members took Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal formulas for immune boosting and general prevention of respiratory illness because of the wide spread occurrence of SARS. Very recently they report not one incidence of the illness in their staff population. More information about this and the article in the Beijing Evening News recommending herbs for SARS can be found above.
Around the world we have many excellent choices of herb products to consider using as a response to SARS. One of the first ones that come to my mind is one of our Red Sage Classical Chinese Herbal Formulas calledMushroom Power which includes Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake, Poria and Trametes. Mushrooms have historical use in Traditional Chinese Medicine with an immense list of functions including: reduce stress, regulate and enhance immune function, hypotensive, anti cancer, reduce cholesterol and fat, anti-hepatotoxic, enhance brain function (especially memory), improve creativity and relaxation. It can be said mushrooms provide tonic therapy while enriching life and longevity.
Echinacea, Lapacho (Pau d’Arco), Garlic, Astragalus, Ginsengs and Elderberry are other herbs that are scientifically proved to be antiviral and/or immune boosters. Especially Lapacho, Astragalus, Garlic and the Ginsengs are very suitable to take daily on a long-term basis. There are a variety of effective preparations to suit a variety of lifestyles that include drinking teas, liquid extracts or extract capsules.
Essential Oils are the strongest form of herbs available today. Many are proved to be antiviral in vivo and many of the same ones are known to be of benefit to the immune system. There is quite a long list of antiviral essential oils that include: Bay, Bergamot, Camphor, Cinnamon Leaf, Clove, Eucalyptus, Hyssop, Lavender, Lemon, Lemongrass, Melissa, Myrrh, Niaouli, Palmarosa, Peppermint, Ravensara (True), Rosemary, Sage, Tea Tree , Thyme (Red), Thyme (Linalol). Some of these essential oils are quite safe and non-toxic when used appropriately on the skin but some of them fall under categories such as sensitizers, phototoxic and skin irritants. The latter categories would be very appropriately diffused in the air for inhalation or used to disinfect surfaces. I encourage you to take a look at the list of herbs and oils in the botanical and safety information at the end of this article.
We have some very new products at Cheryl’s Herbs called Respiratory Spray and Clean Spray. Respiratory Spray (Eucalyptus, Hyssop, Palmarosa, Ravensara (True), Cinnamon Leaf Essential Oils & Alcohol) contains the fantastic antiviral essential oils with known use in respiratory colds and flu. These new products are meant to be sprayed in the air much like using a diffuser would fragrance the air. The sprays are versatile in that you can carry them with you to spray your car or work space or even your clothes or a handkerchief to be held up to the nose. Because of the choice of essential oil, the spray is not meant to touch your skin directly. Clean Spray (Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Clove, Lemongrass, Oregano Essential Oils & Alcohol) is also meant for the air or surfaces only and not only are these essential oils tested to be antiviral but antibacterial and antifungal as well. The pleasing fragrance makes it appealing to spray in the air, on surfaces and even inside shoes! Antibacterial household products are becoming common but there is a problem with these chemical ingredients encouraging the transformation of bacteria into mutants resistant to our antibiotic drugs. By using natural antibacterial agents we can avoid this problem altogether.
I find all these options encouraging for our future health. As our authorities are doing what they can to protect us from contagious disease, with natural alternatives we individuals have measures we can take to do our part. Several decades ago – I call it the age of innocence – Americans put a lot of faith and trust in our doctors and authorities for their health. It is a different era now and it is with great pride that some of us are taking back that responsibility for ourselves. Often when I use one of these essential oil sprays I feel refreshed by how beautifully intriguing they smell. What a great way to be "master of your domain"!
Astragalus Root Astragalus membranaceus Safe to consume when used appropriately.
Bay Essential Oil Laurus nobilis Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid when pregnant. Possible skin irritant. Potentially sensitizing.
Bergamot Essential Oil Citrus bergamia Tested non-toxic at low levels. Phototoxic. Possible carcinogenic. Slight possible skin irritant.
Camphor Essential Oil Cinnamomum camphora Tested non-toxic at low levels. Potential toxic reaction. Possible convulsant, neurotoxic. Avoid when pregnant.
Cinnamon Leaf Essential Oil Cinnamomum zeylanicum Tested non-toxic at low levels. Potential skin, mucus membrane irritant, sensitizing. Should not be used when pregnant or by children.
Clove Essential Oil Eugenia caryophyllus Skin and mucus membrane irritant, Potentially sensitizing. Use only highly diluted. Possible hepatoxic.
Echinacea Root Echinacea angustifolia Some authorities suggest it should not be used in autoimmune diseases.
Elderberry Sambucus nigra/canadensis Safe to consume when used appropriately.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil Eucalyptus globulus Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid with high blood pressure and epilepsy. Not for small children.
Garlic Alium sativum Occasional gastrointestinal disturbance in sensitive individuals. Some authorities feel that consumption of fresh garlic in children might be dangerous and possibly contraindicated in pregnancy. The long history of garlic as a food has established it to be safe in reasonable quantities. These warnings may not apply to processed garlic products.
Ginseng Root Panax quinquefolius & Panax ginseng Avoid during hypertension but some authorities disagree with this caution.
Hyssop Essential Oil Hyssopus decumbens Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid with high blood pressure, epilepsy. Possible neurotoxic. Should not be used when pregnant or by children.
Lapacho (Pau d’Arco) Bark Tabebuia avelleneda Safe to consume when used appropriately.
Lavender Essential Oil Lavandula angustifolia Tested non-toxic at low levels.
Lemon Essential Oil Citrus limonum Tested non-toxic at low levels. Potential skin irritant, sensitizing. Phototoxic.
Lemongrass Essential Oil Cymbopogon citratus Tested non-toxic at low levels. Should not be used when pregnant or by children. Possible skin irritant, sensitizing.
Melissa Essential Oil Melissa officinalis Possible skin irritation. Avoid when pregnant.
Myrrh Essential Oil Commiphora myrrha Avoid when pregnant. Possibly toxic in high levels.
Niaouli Essential Oil Melaleuca quinquenervia Should not be used when pregnant or by children.
Palmarosa Essential Oil Cymbopogon martini Tested non-toxic at low levels.
Peppermint Essential Oil Mentha piperita Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid when pregnant, lactating. Skin irritant. Keep away from infants.
Ravensara (True) Essential Oil Ravensara aromatica Should not be used when pregnant or by children.
Rosemary Essential Oil Rosmarinus officinalis Should not be used when pregnant, with epilepsy or by children.
Sage Essential Oil Salvia officinalis Tested non-toxic at low levels. Possibly toxic at high levels. Should not be used when pregnant/lactating or by children. Possible neurotoxic.
Tea Tree Essential Oil Melaleuca alternifolia Tested non-toxic at low levels. Possible skin irritant.
Thyme (Red) Essential Oil Thymus vulgaris Tested non-toxic at low levels. Skin, mucus membrane irritant. Avoid with high blood pressure, pregnancy. Potential hepatoxic at high levels.
Thyme (Linalol) Essential Oil Thymus vulgaris Should not be used when pregnant or by children. Possible skin irritant.
Duke, James A. Dr. Duke’s Essential Herbs. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks. 2001.
Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks. 1998.
Griggs, Barbara. Green Pharmacy, The History and Evolution of Western Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. 1981.
Murray, Michael T. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing. 1991.
Schnaubelt, Kurt. Advanced Aromatherapy. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press. 1998.
Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla. The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual, Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Tampa: Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy. 1997.
Tisserand, Robert. The Art of Aromatherapy. Saffron Walden: The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd. 1991.
Tisserand, Robert. Aromatherapy to Heal and Tend the Body. Wilmot, Wisconsin: Lotus Press. 1988.
White, Linda B., Foster, Steven and the staff of Herbs for Health. The Herbal Drugstore. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press. 2000.
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