David Crow on the Role of Botanical Antiviral Remedies


Welcome. The subject of this short video is the use of medicinal plants with antiviral powers. There are two primary sources we can look to for information about this important topic. The first is the centuries of accumulated empirical evidence from the historical use of herbs in traditional Chinese Ayurvedic and other indigenous ethnobotanical systems. The second is modern scientific research, including in vitro testing, meaning in a Petri dish, and in vivo, or clinical studies in animals and humans.

If we combine these two lineages of knowledge and information, we can get a very holistic understanding of what antiviral powers botanical species have and how we can best use them. One of the important things we discover if we study both historical and modern research is that traditional systems have been treating viral infections for centuries, even though they were using different terminology to describe the diagnosis and treatment.

For example, conditions we know now, such as herpes simplex and viral hepatitis, were understood as damp heat in the liver by Chinese medicine. But what a culture calls a condition is not ultimately what matters. What matters is that botanical treatments were and are effective, and we now have an extensive body of research describing the mechanisms of how the herbs and their compounds work, both against the virus directly, in vitro, and in the body.

The obvious question in everybody's minds is how can antiviral herbs protect us from the coronavirus pandemic? The first answer is that there is an extensive pharmacy of herbs and formulas that have been used historically for treating contagious respiratory conditions and we now have research that supports their efficacy and also explains the mechanisms of actions. For example, the traditional Chinese formula San Wu Huang Qin Tang is used to treat colds, high fevers and various infectious diseases. These conditions were named according to their presentations, such as wind heat and wind dryness. The modern research shows that the formula effectively inhibits the H1N1 virus both in vitro and in vivo, that it inhibits viral replication, it reduces the symptoms of the viral infection, and it demonstrated better antiviral activity than Tamiflu. The antiviral activity of this formula is thought to be because of its regulation of the immune system. It reduces mortality and decreases pathological changes in lung tissue in in vivo studies.

Another example, in this case, a single herb with both historical use and modern scientific confirmation is Andrographis. This is a medicinal plant that's been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for colds, cough, influenza and acute respiratory tract infections in adults and children. The modern research shows us in one case the results of 33 randomized controlled studies with 7,175 patients, which showed that the herb is beneficial and safe for relieving respiratory tract symptoms and shortening recovery time. That same research tells us that the active constituents have shown anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antiallergic and immune stimulating activities. Their herb has also been shown in vitro to be effective against avian influenza and human influenza viruses, such as H1N1, possibly through blocking the binding of the virus to the cells or by inhibiting H1N1 virus induced cell death.

Now, what do we do with information like this? One thing we don't do is to start broadcasting all over the internet that this formula or this herb will prevent, or treat, or cure COVID-19. Likewise, we don't do that with hundreds of other formulas and individual herbs that have both traditional and modern validation and proof of efficacy. What we can do is to become increasingly educated as self-care clinicians and then make our own decisions about what role we would like herbs to play in our current and future health. In order to do that, we need to put this valuable knowledge into a much bigger context and think beyond the panic of the pandemic to understand the broader role that plant medicines can play now and in the future.

There are several points to mention about this. First, there are epidemics of viral diseases happening all the time. Second, viruses are developing drug resistance, just as bacteria are to antibiotics. Third, we don't want to be going to hospitals or clinics for anything at this time if we can help it. Fourth, there's a role for these herbs in the current COVID-19 pandemic. And fifth, this pandemic is not going to be the last.

Let's look at these points briefly. First, there are epidemics of viral diseases happening all the time. One of the most common conditions that's seen in natural medicine clinics is the chronic fatigue and lowered immunity of Epstein–Barr virus, which is frequently connected to the longterm consequences of mononucleosis. There's the suffering caused by the herpes viruses. Viral infections are a contributing factor to autoimmune diseases, thyroid problems, and some cancers. HIV and AIDS are still a global pandemic, and dengue fever and numerous others. There's a huge need for natural nontoxic treatments for these conditions, and botanical antivirals are being recognized more and more as having tremendous potential uses.

The second point is that viruses are developing drug resistance just as bacteria are to antibiotics. Multidrug resistance is one of the main driving forces behind the medical research into botanical remedies. The research is not only confirming the antiviral powers of many plant species and the mechanisms of their actions, but also showing that they can be given in conjunction with antiviral drugs to enhance the effectiveness of the drugs, lower the dosage, reduce adverse reactions, and thereby slow or reverse viral resistance. This is the future of medicine.

The third point is that we don't want to be going to hospitals or clinics for anything at this time if we can help it. Most likely, the medical system will be under severe stress for a long time. Understanding the uses of not just antiviral herbs, but botanical medicine and a clinical level of self care in general is rapidly becoming a necessity.

The fourth point is there's a role for these herbs in the current COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of people who get this infection will not progress to late stage acute pneumonia, where using herbal formulas would be out of the question medically, legally and ethically. The majority of those people would benefit from knowing about clinical level herbal medicine, so they could effectively reduce the severity and length of the infection and improve overall outcome and prognosis.

Finally, the fifth point is that this pandemic is not going to be the last. It will not be the last, because human health is inseparable from the health of the biosphere, and inseparable from political realities, and inseparable from hygienic and nutritional conditions. Here, we can conclude by considering the longterm potential of botanical medicine in society, the current pandemic is already showing us that we are rapidly becoming more health conscious and looking for natural ways to protect our health. Ultimately, the only real immunity is restoring biospheric health.

I predict that botanical medicines will become one of humanity's most valuable natural resources, and when we recognize that, their cultivation could become a huge global effort. I believe that our salvation and the way out of our current and ongoing future crisis will be by planting a global garden. Thank you.

David Crow, LAc, is one of the world’s foremost experts and leading speakers in the field of botanical medicine and grassroots healthcare. He is a master herbalist, aromatherapist, and acupuncturist with over 30 years experience, and is an expert in the Ayurvedic and Chinese medical systems. 

David is a renowned author, a poet, and the founding director of Floracopeia Aromatic Treasures. Floracopeia was created as a way to help preserve and promote the use of botanical medicines as solutions to solving numerous interrelated global problems: lack of healthcare, poverty, environmental destruction, and loss of ethnobotanical knowledge.

David has presented his vision of grassroots healthcare, preservation of botanical medicines, and the use of plants for ecological restoration to hundreds of audiences, ranging from small private groups to conferences and lecture halls to a panel discussion with the Dalai Lama broadcast internationally to millions of viewers. Through his visionary synthesis of medicine, ecology, and spirituality, he has helped transform the lives of thousands.

In 1987, David journeyed to Nepal in search of teachings in Tibetan medicine and Buddhist meditation. For the next 10 years, he studied with many teachers. Using his newfound knowledge, Crow opened a clinic in Kathmandu and another in a small mountain village, where he treated beggars from the street as well as high abbots of monasteries. In Search of the Medicine Buddha interweaves medical teachings with insights into Tibetan Buddhism, evoking the beauty and wonder of a faraway land.

You can contact David through his website.


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This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 7: Love