Posts – Herb of the month

This is an update from The Herb Federation of New Zealand. Please read all the way through. It suggests specific herbs that may help with the Coronavirus – Covid 19.

Coronaviruses are large lipid -enveloped single strand RNA viruses of the Nidovirales order and Coronaviridae family. Coronaviruses take their name from their crown-like halo when seen under the microscope.  They are a family of viruses that are widely distributed among mammals and birds, causing respiratory or gut disease, but in some cases liver disease and neurological disease.(Lai and Holmes, 2001). These viruses were originally thought to be species specific however the viruses have modified over time to cross species barriers. The first diagnosed coronavirus disease in humans was in 1965 and so the disease previously confined to specific animal species is now “zoonotic”.

Global outbreaks of coronavirus disease affecting humans occurred in the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic of 2003 and the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome ) of 2012.
SARS was thought to be spread by bats but then that spread was by infected civet cats, a delicacy in China. The MERS virus is thought to have been spread by camels.

The Chinese Government reported this new (novel) coronavirus (2019-nCoV) to the World Health Organisation on 31 December 2019 after workers and regular visitors to a live animal food market – the Huanan Seafood Wholesale market  in Wuhan, China, fell ill and the disease had begun to spread.
The Press (Saturday, January 25, 2020) B2 World says many Chinese consumers like to buy their meat “warm”, that is,  killed to order. It states that the South China Morning Post advised that the Huanan Seafood Market advertised live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies, salamanders, snakes, rates, peacocks, porcupines and koalas for sale.

The disease symptoms has some similarities to SARS and MERS in that it affects the respiratory system  causing fever, cough, shortness of breath and interstitial pneumonia which can be progressive and cause diffuse damage to the alveolar of the lung where oxygen is received and carbon di-oxide removed.

While the disease can be spread human to human by droplet spread – coughing, sneezing or just breathing out – it can also be spread by touching items the infected person has touched (including themselves), and as with other human infections – doorknobs are a significant source of infection.
In a few short weeks the disease has spread to thirteen countries and the death toll is rising.

The virus, in a protective envelope, makes it difficult for the body’s usual defence mechanisms to detect
– just as you don’t know whether a letter in the mail is a Valentine’s card, an invoice, or containing anthrax. Thus the body unable to discern danger lets the virus pass into its cells. Once in the cell cytoplasm the virus sheds its envelope and deposits its genetic material into the cell cytoplasm where it interrupts cell messages, replication, and control.

There is not currently an antiviral pharmaceutical drug shown to be effective in treating Coronavirus (2019-NcOv). Since the SARS and MERS outbreak work has proceeded on developing drugs directed at viral proteases the virus needs to invade cells. These drugs are still in pre-clinical development. Structural biologist Rolf Hilgenfeld from Lubeck University in Germany has been developing such a drug and intends testing the drug on animals in Wuhan – where twenty million people are currently being held in lockdown in an attempt to reduce spread of the virus.

There are plants with constituents that are natural inhibitors against coronaviruses. For example  Yu, M.S et al (2012), identify the plant constituents myricetin and scutellarein  as inhibiting coronavirus helicase protein.

Myricetin is a flavonoid compound found in many vegetables and fruits, in combination with other flavonoids quercetin and  kaempferol  and present in many foods eg. onions ( particularly red onions and chives) kale, peppers, dill, dock leaves, fennel, loveage, sow thistle leaves, tomatoes, broccoli and parsley.  Fruits with good quantities of Myricetin include blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and strawberries. ( Harnly et al, 2006).

Scutellarein is a constituent of  Scutellaria baicalensis, a herb which has been used to treat coronavirus infection. Chinese have applied for a patent for its treatment of coronavirus infection – for SARS and other related infection.(Patent application CN 200480040083). The patent application details its role in treatment of coronaviruses.

Certain phenolic plant acids have also been identified as being effective against Coronavirus, such as those in Isatis indigotica ( (Liang-Tzung Lin et al, 2014) and Sambucus formosana Nakai contains caffeic, chlorogenic and gallic acids found to be active against human coronavirus NL63. (Weng ,2019). This Sambucus species has been found to neutralize the haemogglutin spikes present on viruses, and reduce the ability of the virus to replicate.

In addition to inhibiting viral binding it also increases cytokine response to the virus. In New Zealand Sambucus nigra (Elderberry/flower) is a naturalized plant and unfortunately treated as a weed by some local authorities. It contains the same phenolic acids as Sambucus formosana Nakai and also sialic acid and myricetin, so would seem to be a good choice to use in preventing and treating coronavirus infections. (Viapiana, 2017).

Liang-Tzung Lin et al,( 2014) also identify saikosaponins – present in the Chinese herb Bupleurum falcatum – as inhibiting coronavirus attachment and penetration stages.

Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort), which in New Zealand is treated as a toxic weed and is being exterminated in the wild, has been shown to be active against enveloped viruses. (Birt, D. et al, 2009).
Herbalists in New Zealand need to advocate more strongly to preserve this valuable herb .

A variety of other herbs were used in other countries to treat SARS at the time of that outbreak and it may be that they may also be of use in this current emergence of another coronavirus.
eg. Artemisia annua,   Lycoris radiata (Red Spider Lily), Pyrrosia lingua (an epiphytic fern),  Lindera aggregate fruit (Lauraceae family).
See also the Broad spectrum antiviral table (Sohail et al, 2011) and natural compounds against flaviviral infections (Abubak, 2013)for more information on herbs with antiviral action.

So despite the absence of pharmaceutical vaccine or antiviral treatment for Coronavirus (2019-NcOv) I suggest we in New Zealand have some plants which could help us should the disease arrive in New Zealand and preventive measures we can take to prevent human to human spread here.

Abubakr, M.D. et al (2013) Natural Compounds against Flaviviral infection. Natural Product Communications Vol8, No 10. Pp 1487-1492.

Birt, D. et al (2009) Hypericum in infection: Identification of antiviral and anti-inflammatory constituents. Pharm Biol. 47(8): 774-782.

Lai, M.M.C and Holmes, K.. (2001) Coronaviridae and their replication. In Fields’ Virology. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. U.S.A pp 1163-1185.

Liang-Tzung Lin et al (2014). Antiviral Natural Products and Herbal Medicines. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Jan-Mar 4(1) 24-35.

Sohail, M.N. et al (2011) Plants as a source of Antiviral agents. Asian Journal of Animal and Veterinary advances. Pp 1125-1152.

Viapiana, A. and Wesolowski, M. (2017) The Phenolic contents and antioxidant activities of infusions of Sambucus nigra. Plant Foods Hum Nutr.March. 72(1) 82-87.

Weng, Jing-Ru et al (2019) Antiviral activity of Sambucus Formosana Nakai ethanol extract and related phenolic constituents against human coronavirus NL63. Virus Res; 273:197767. November 2019.


March – WHITE SAGE I am fortunate enough to have a large plant growing in a tub in my garden. I bought one years ago and it is now very large so I am able to harvest the leaves. Our climate here is foggy and wet in the winter and very hot and dry in the summer. I think growing it in the half wine barrel has kept the roots well drained.

Salvia apiana (white sage, bee sage, or sacred sage) is an evergreen perennial shrub that is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, found mainly in the coastal sage scrub habitat of Southern California and Baja California, on the western edges of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. S. apiana is a shrub that reaches 1.3 to 1.5 metres (4.3 to 4.9 ft) tall and 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) wide. The whitish evergreen leaves have oils and resins that release a strong aroma when rubbed. The flowers are very attractive to bees, which is described by the specific epithet, apiana. Several 1 to 1.3 metres (3.3 to 4.3 ft) flower stalks, sometimes pinkish colored, grow above the foliage in the spring. Flowers are white to pale lavender.

Native American names : Names for white sage in local Native American languages include qaashil (Luiseño), shlhtaay or pilhtaay (Kumeyaay), kasiile (Tongva), we’wey (Chumash), qas’ily (Cahuilla), shaltai (Paipai), and lhtaay (Cochimí).

Distribution and habitat: White sage is a common plant that requires well-drained dry soil, full sun, and little water. The plant occurs on dry slopes in coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and yellow-pine forests of Southern California to Baja California at less than 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) elevation.

Uses : S. apiana is widely used by Native American groups on the Pacific coast of the United States. The seed was a main ingredient of pinole, a staple food. The Cahuilla harvested large quantities of the seed that was mixed with wheat flour and sugar for gruel or biscuits. The leaves and stems were eaten by the Chumash and other tribes. Several tribes used the seed for removing foreign objects from the eye, similar to the way that Clary sage seeds were used in Europe. A tea from the roots was used by the Cahuilla women for healing and strength after childbirth. The leaves are also burnt by many native American tribes, with the smoke used in different purification rituals. Smudging with white sage, has been adopted in some variant forms into a number of modern belief systems, including many forms of New Age and eclectic Neopagan spirituality, such as modern Wicca. For hundreds of years, white sage has been considered a sacred, cleansing, purifying, and protective plant.  Native Americans started the tradition of using Sacred Sage to ward off evils spirits and negative energies, and white sage has been used in ceremonies to seek blessings of health and prosperity, banish spirits, encourage protection. Sacred sage can amplify any clearing and protective techniques that you are already using. As a plant, and a living being, sage also has a Spirit. The Spirit of sage is dedicated to offering protection, blessings, and clearing.

How can you work with white sage : Most people choose to burn it. Develop a practice to release and clear energy from your space, such as using white sage. Sage Smudging is a ritual where the leaves of the Sage plant are burned, and the smoke is directed into and onto areas that need clearing and protection.

The idea is that as the leaves are burned, and you speak express your gratitude for its assistance, the spirit of the sage plant releases its energy of protection and clearing into the space, or onto and around the object that needs clearing. As the smoke moves through the room or over a surface, the smoke attaches itself to any heavy, negative energy that is within the space, object or being. As the smoke clears, the spirit of White Sage carries with it the negative energy that was once attached, back up to the Spiritual Light. This heavy energy then becomes released, so that it may regenerate into something positive. You can perform this smudging ritual on anything or anyone that needs a clearing (if it is a living being, remember to ask permission!). You can use White Sage to help you clear a room, a building, or a property. White sage can assist you in releasing energies and thought forms from yourself or another that no longer serves you. You can ask Sage to assist you in cleansing unknown energies from a stone, or an object that you received as a gift!

The first rule of working with White Sage is this: After you light the sage, do not stop it from burning. The spirit of white sage knows just how much negativity or heaviness needs to be released and will burn accordingly. In fact, I’ve burned entire wands of sage in one sitting or had other wands stay ‘lit’ for only a minute or two. If you feel you are done burning sage, place the wand in a fireproof bowl, or on the stove and allow the sage to cease burning, naturally. If you watch the smoke, sometimes it will drift to a particular part of the room, car, or person   that is where the healing/protection energy is most needed.

February – FEVERFEWTanacetum Parthenium This plant is not a common one to have in NZ gardens. Mine grows up to 1-2 metres high and needs support, but the average height is 51cm – 61cm. Brushing against it gives of a very pungent musky/bitter smell.

Qualities – Feverfew seems most used for protection. Binding the flowers to the wrist is said to assist in drawing out pain as well. Sachets and pouches are recommended to ward off everything from minor accidents to insects.

Magickal -Feverfew is often used in mojo bags. Alone or combined with hyssop and rosemary in a bag it is used to prevent general accidents. To prevent accidents while traveling, put it in a bag with comfrey root and a St Christopher medal and put it in your glovebox, rear view mirror or carry- on bag. Likewise, using feverfew as a bath tea will help break hexes designed to make you more accident prone. Growing this plant around the outside of your home is said to prevent illness from entering.

General – There are several varieties of feverfew which can grow from 9 inches to 2 feet in height. The plant has pungent, grey-green leaves that are either deeply cut in a feathery look, or with scalloped edges. The flowers are a small, white flower with daisy-like yellow centers. Feverfew is a plant that is native to Asia Minor and the Balkans but is now common throughout the world. Feverfew leaves are normally dried for use in medicine. Fresh leaves and extracts are also used. Feverfew has been used as far back as the ancients Greeks. It was listed in their medical literature as remedy for headaches, menstrual discomfort, inflammation, and the reduction of fever. In the 1600’s, it was again used for general aches and pains, and was targeted as being most useful for women. In the 1700’s, it remained the leading use for headaches, and for rheumatic aches and pains. It was used in the 1800’s for hysteria and became known as an antidote for overdoses of opium.

Uses: Internal – Feverfew is used to relieve migraine headaches, but most recommend taking the leaves or teas on a daily basis for maximum effectiveness. The tea is used to relieve headaches, and minor aches and pains. A tincture is used to relieve the pain of bug-bites, the tea is also useful if suffering from menstrual cramping but take care due to the laxative nature. External – the leaves tend to repulse insects in the garden and home.

Cautions – Feverfew has blood thinning qualities and should not be used by anyone who is taking blood thinners or who is planning to undergo surgery. Pregnant women should not use feverfew.

January – CHAMOMILE – This little plant grows on my gravel driveway. It seems to like it dry and hot, but still needs water to thrive. Late spring is when it flourishes and this is when I cut some of the tops off. I never seem to have enough but fortunately it is a ‘cut and come again’ plant.

Magical properties – Chamomile is known as an herb of purification and protection, and can be used in incenses for sleep and meditation. Sprinkle it around your home to ward against psychic or magical attack. If you’re a gambler, wash your hands in chamomile tea to ensure good luck at the gaming tables. In a number of folk magic traditions, chamomile is known as a lucky flower — make a garland to wear around your hair to attract a lover, or carry some in your pocket for general good fortune.

Other Names: Ground apple, Whig plant, Maythen, Roman Camomile
Gender: Masculine
Element: Water
Deity Connection: Cernunnos, Ra, Helios

Latin Names : Matricaria recutita, Chamomilla recutitaCommon Names : Bodegold, Camomile, Chamomile, Common chamomile, German chamomile, Roman Chamomile, Hungarian chamomile, Sweet false chamomile, Wild chamomile

Suggested Properties : Anthelmintic, anti-allergenic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-peptic, anti-pyretic, anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, sedative, stomachic

Indicated For : Aiding digestion, aiding sleep, allergy relief, asthma, bacterial infections, burns and sunburn, burns (minor), Crohn’s disease, colic, colds, conjunctivitis, diverticular disorders, eczema, eye inflammation and infection, facilitate bowel movement, gastritis, gastrointestinal problems, hemorrhoids, heartburn, inflammation, inflammatory bowel conditions, insomnia, irritable bowel problems, lumbago, menstrual cramps, nausea, nervous complaints, peptic ulcers, rashes, relieving morning sickness, restlessness, rheumatic problems, skin ulcers, stress-related flatulence, stress relief, teething problems, ulcerative colitis, wounds

Side Effects : If you suffer from allergies to plants of the Compositae family (a large group including such flowers as daisies, ragweed, asters and chrysanthemums), you may wish to be cautious about using chamomile at first. While there have been isolated reports of allergic reactions, causing skin rashes and bronchial constriction, most people can use this herb with no problem.

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