Antiviral & Respiratory Herbal Formulas

by Li-Lan Hsiang Weiss, Licensed Acupuncturist NC #355 on 11/23/22

Antiviral and respiratory herbal formulas is the first chapter of an extensive compendium of single herbs and specific formulas that may date back hundreds of years that a Master’s in Oriental/Chinese medicine requires of study.  When I was in the Master’s program in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2002, my first experience of benefiting myself from the efficacy of acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas was when I had a cold or flu.  Since then, almost 20 years of experience following the various signs and symptoms of the common cold and flu over the years comes down to the same principle always:  If you would like to help your system and that of your family to shorten the duration of a viral infection without suppressing your immune system, become familiarized with the following herbal formulas so you can make use of them as soon there are signs of an immune response to viral overload.  Consult your personal acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist for day to day follow up of herbal formulas and their doses if you have a viral infection.   

This post shares with you my experience of the herbal formulas that I have used consistently with results over the past 3 years.  I have tried to summarize and consolidate the formulas that are most effective.  If you look up the Chinese names of the formulas, you’ll find different brands that one may respond slightly different to as the herbal combinations may vary slightly.  I have listed the Chinese names as they provide more consistency is their formulations.  Like anything in life, this is a relationship one develops with herbs and specific formulas; it takes study, time, and experience to learn its intricacies.   As a general recommendation for dosages, a 50 lb child would use half the dose of that listed.  The brands listed are most convenient for those that are generally older than 14 years of age; younger than this are pediatric herbal brands that are made to include glycerin or honey to ease their take.  This post includes herbal teas that younger folks can find palatable.  

GO TO herbal formula for first signs of viral infection:  Gan Mao Ling.  We use Great Nature Classics tablets or Far East Summit herbal extract.   Those who have used Ilex in tablets is similar to Gan Mao Ling.   What are first signs?  Being exposed to the virus, scratchy sore throat, worn down/fatigued, drastic weather temperature changes, sinus congestion while also having hay fever “allergies”.  Take within four hours of feeling first signs at the dose on bottle every two hours for the first 12 hours.

If your sign is headache at the back of your neck or top of the head and feel fatigued and achy:  Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San, this can be taken together with Gan Mao Ling.   Remember there were viral strains in 2021 where this was a symptom?  It was very debilitating for those who experienced this.   

If you tend towards stomach virus even if the same viral strain might affect others differently, have Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San ready.   I’ll write about the herbal equivalent from the rainforest regions of Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize later in this post that can also be used.   

Herbal remedy for fevers: Zhong Gan Ling.   If fever over 100F is present, the viral infection has already been present for more than 2-3 days.   So if you can catch the first signs by using another herbal formula first, one wouldn’t need Zhong Gan Ling or as much of it.  This formula is not a fever suppressant, so it won’t lover the fever and then the person feels worse after the effect is diminished (this is what usually happens when taken acetaminofen/Tylenol, which lowers fevers but does not help the immune system fight the virus and the inflammation).  Children are different generally as the first signs an adult may notice they have a virus is because they are having a fever, but if a child is aware of what are the first signs, they might be able to communicate how they feel before a fever develops.  

At the tail end of certain viral strains, especially in 2022, sinus congestion resumes or is worse after the initial stages.  I have found that Bi Yan Pian, which is traditionally a sinusitis, hay fever, seasonal allergy formula, is very beneficial to clear the lingering mucus and phlegm.  A capsule version of this formula we carry is Plantiva’s Allerdx.   Unsure if one has seasonal/environmental allergies or a viral infection at the beginning or you think you have allergies but it doesn’t seem to get better with antihistamines?  Try Bi Yan Pian or Gan Mao Ling, the one that works will give you the answer, it’s ok to take both if unsure.

Cough?  Our Go To herbal formula is Respiratory Tonic by Equinox Botanicals, a company in the western side of the Appalachian range.  This extract is excellent for a cough with phlegm and it smells fabulous (elecampane is the herb I’d look for if you are browsing through the cough formulas at the natural foods store).  For a dry cough, I prefer honey-based syrups that include fritillaria and loquat, two Chinese herbs that are great for soothing the bronchioles and healing the mucosal lining, but Chinese herbal based cough syrups seems difficult to find nowadays at the natural foods stores.  Once there is a cough, you have to take a formula that focuses on the lungs, and the other formulas based on what other symptoms are presenting.  For constant cough that impedes sleep, I would suggest a cough suppressant from the pharmacy at night, while taking the herbal cough formula during the day.   If one treats the viral presentation early enough or the viral strain doesn’t affect one too deeply, one can prevent cough from presenting and symptoms just stay in the throat, muscle ache, and sinuses.  Once phlegm presents in the body for several days, it can be harder to treat and may require herbal antibiotics to prevent phlegm from harboring a bacterial infection which one prolong the malaise and the recovery process.

Post viral infection and still fatigued?   Use Astragalus (Huang Qi), which we have available as dry herb to cook in broth, soup, or as a very mild tasting tea.  This is an tonic food grade herb, meaning it is commonly used in many Asian countries for cooking or how one may drink green tea.   At various times we have Astragalus in dry herb, liquid extract, or tablets as part of a classic formula that can be used for preventing viral infection or post infection recovery known as Yu Ping Feng San/Jade Windscreen.   

Another common herb that can be used in the very early stages (pre-symptom, or within the first 4 hours) or towards the tail end that is effectively mainly if the person tends towards a strong immune system is Chinese chrysanthemum/Ju Hua.  There is yellow and white varieties, they vary slightly in taste and properties, but can be used interchangeably.   We purchase Ju Hua from a local grower Maple Spring Gardens.  This herb can also be taken as a tea to help hydrate the body when one has sweated a lot, has night sweats post viral infection, has red itchy eyes from allergies, and for children for mild fever.   It makes a tasty tea warm or cold and can be sweetened with honey.  I like to combine Ju Hua with home grown dried Lemon balm (Melissa) as both are mildly antiviral.  If Ju Hua doesn’t effect improvement in symptoms within 30-1 hour of taking a strong tea, it is best to use the above formulas that will have a more profound systemic support.   

I have used Rainforest Remedies, and continue to carry them at Armonia Health, which are the herbs sourced from Belize that Dr. Rosita Arvigo learned and helped formulate from her years of living and studying herbal remedies of Belize since the 1980s.  I have found them effective and easy to use and I appreciate that they are ethically sourced and wildcrafted.  Jungle Juice is a palatable tea that includes hibiscus/Rosa de Jamaica, it can be used upon the first signs of a common cold, a urinary tract infection, and to provide absorbable iron for those anemic and during pregnancy, it tastes nice with apple or pineapple juice if ones wants to sweeten it.  Immune Boost includes Jackass Bitters, a potent antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic leaf.   This formula can also be used as a daily respiratory virus preventative as an option to Yu Ping Feng San or Ju Hua by taken it once per day, it is slightly bitter which has general health benefits for the liver and gallbladder.   Jackass Bitters can be a go to herb to have on hand as it has many uses, including for a stomach virus.  It is very bitter, but when needed, it actually doesn’t taste very bitter at all!!

A note of consideration, some herbal formulas can be taken six months ahead of the viral infection season as a preventative, but do not solely rely on herbs or supplements to provide this preventative support.  As we have all learned and experienced from 2020 to now, there are various factors involved and nothing is foolproof.   This doesn’t mean that herbs don’t work, it is more about understanding the complexities of each person’s system and adjust accordingly.  Hope you find this article helpful! 

This is another article that was written by our practitioner before 2020 What our practitioners do for themselves to protect from & treat common viral respiratory conditions

You’ll find uses of some of the above formulas with this article that I wrote in 2021 Li-Lan’s Covid-19 vaccine self-care

To learn more about the holistic approach to health using the Chinese Five Elements/Phases for seasonal attunement, our Blog has a Chinese Elements and Self Care category as well as our Youtube Channel Tones for your Bones

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