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Viral infections are common and the body has an intricately designed immune system to detect and fight viral threats. While there are many ways to support the normal, healthy activity of the immune system, one of them is with the use of antiviral herbs.
What Are Antiviral Herbs?
Antiviral herbs have been used for thousands of years in natural and alternative medicine. Prior to modern medicine, these herbs were some of the only medical interventions that anyone had access to! While modern medical care has its place, there are still many benefits to utilizing the healing properties of natural herbs.
There are hundreds of viral infections that humans can contract. These range from the common cold (which can be caused by multiple viruses) to influenza to more serious illnesses like viral hepatitis, measles, mononucleosis, shingles, or even HIV.
Antiviral herbs support the body by either bolstering the immune system to be better at recognizing and preventing infections or by helping to support the immune system during a time of illness, as it deals with neutralizing the pathogenic threat. This can happen by lowering inflammation levels or helping to increase the number of white blood cells that attack and neutralize the virus. Some antiviral herbs also have antimicrobial properties that can prevent infections.
Many antiviral herbs have other benefits, not just for immunity. They may also support cardiovascular health, antioxidant levels, or metabolic wellness.
Top Antiviral Herbs & Their Benefits
There are many herbs and supplements that have antiviral and immune-supporting benefits. The ones we’ll talk about today are far from the only options, although they are some of the most widely used.
Oregano is a peppery-tasting herb that is used in Italian cooking, but it also has powerful medicinal benefits. Oregano as herbal medicine is made by extracting the oil from the herb, creating a supplement so powerful that it can work better than antibiotics for some types of bacterial infections. Oregano oil derives its primary health benefits from carvacrol, as well as from an antioxidant compound known as rosmarinic acid. It also contains an antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial compound known as thymol.
Oregano can work to destroy certain types of bacteria and suppress the pathogenic activity of some viruses and fungi. It can also support a healthy immune system in all of its various functions.
Oregano oil can be found in liquid extracts or capsules, and the leaves of the plant can be brewed as tea. Brands and products will vary dramatically, so follow dosing instructions accordingly. While studies on this have not been done, there is concern that oil of oregano could lead to uterine cramping and may put pregnancy at risk of miscarriage, so it should not be used if you are or could be pregnant. It should also not be used during breastfeeding or in infants or young children.
Garlic is a popular food that is frequently used in classic dishes from many cultures and traditions. It is known for its signature taste, but it also happens to have medicinal qualities.
Garlic is highly antimicrobial, with distinct antibacterial and antiviral. It’s also great for supporting healthy blood pressure and promoting cardiovascular health, along with having anti-aging and cognitive-boosting properties. Regularly eating garlic has also been associated with a decreased risk of certain types of cancer.
Some of garlic’s medicinal benefits come from allicin, a compound that is produced when garlic is cut, crushed, or chewed. Garlic is so powerful that the rate of sickness from common colds and mild viruses has been shown to be decreased by as much as 70 percent in people who take or consume garlic on a daily basis. Garlic also supports liver health, promotes healthy blood vessel function, and supports healthy levels of inflammation.
Garlic can be eaten raw, cooked, crushed and infused into a carrier oil, or encapsulated. Garlic supplements may vary in potency. When eating large amounts or taking garlic at higher doses, it is possible for your skin to smell of garlic. If this becomes troublesome, let your practitioner know. It is possible to take too high of a dosage of garlic supplements as they can interact with blood thinners, blood pressure drugs, and many other prescriptions. These can lead to excessive bleeding or toxicity concerns, so be sure to follow your practitioner’s guidance.
Olive leaf extract is made from the leaves of the olive tree. It is not the same as olive oil, which is made by crushing olives to extract the oil. Olive leaf as an herbal medicine has significant antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. It has been used for the common cold, but also for more serious infections, like malaria, hepatitis, pneumonia, shingles, and more. The medicinal benefits of olive leaf come from compounds such as tyrosol and oleuropein.
Olive leaf works by increasing the immune system’s ability to target pathogens for destruction, literally supporting your body in destroying the illness. It also has the ability to prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, making it a powerful weapon against cardiovascular disease. Olive leaf also supports healthy glucose metabolism, although research does not find it helpful as a treatment for diabetes. It is better at preventive glucose support than addressing already elevated levels.
Olive leaf supplements are typically in liquid or capsule form. Brands and formulations vary in terms of dosage and potency, and sometimes olive leaf is found in combination with other antiviral herbs, vitamins, and minerals.
Today’s Simple Step
While garlic and oregano that you cook with are much less potent than if you were taking them medicinally, they still have benefits and add generous flavor to classic dishes.
This Tuscan-Style Broccolini with Garlic and Onion is a great way to get garlic on your plate for dinner tonight. Be extra generous with it if your desire is to eat garlic for immune-supporting benefits!