Herbal Antivirals, 2nd Edition

Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections


By Stephen Harrod Buhner

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Viruses are smart, mutating, and becoming resistant to antiviral pharmaceuticals. Global crises such as COVID-19, SARS, and dengue feaver spread more quickly than we can develop medicines to fight them. Herbalist and best-selling author Stephen Harrod Buhner has studied the antiviral properties of plants for many years. In this comprehensive guide, he profiles the plants that have proven most effective in fighting viral infections and provides in-depth instructions for preparing and using formulations to address the most common infections and strengthen immunity, safely and naturally. The updated 2nd edition includes an expanded guide to COVID-19, including a review of the most up-to-date medical research and the plant medicines that have been found to be most potent in preventing infection, lessening the impact of the virus on the body, and addressing longer-term effects and co-infections. 


For Our Children


Why This Book Exists

1. Emerging Viruses: What We Are Facing

2. Viral Respiratory Infections and Their Treatment

Cough Syrup Recipe

3. Covid-19 and the Coronaviruses

4. Viral Encephalitis and Their Treatment

5. A Brief Look at Some Other Viruses: From Cytomegalovirus and Dengue to Shingles and Their treatment and Protocols

Concentrated Sore-Relief Herbal Cream

6. Herbal Antivirals: The Materia Medica

Chinese skullcap


Elderberry Syrup for Colds and Flu

Antiviral Elder Recipe







Red Root

7. Strengthening the Immune System


Immune-Enhancing Broth

Immune-Enhancing Rice



Epilogue: What the Future Holds

Appendix: A Brief Look at Herbal Medicine Making

A Hot Infusion for Parasites

A Simple Decoction

A Concentrated Decoction for Sore Throat and Upper Respiratory Infection

Children's Ear Oil

Brigitte Mars's Herbal Tea for Ear Infections

Ear Infection Tincture Combination

Rosemary Gladstar's Tea for Diarrhea

Tincture Combination for Diarrhea



Metric Conversion Charts

Sources of Supply


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Why This Book Exists

It serves little purpose merely to be scared by viruses. But it serves a good deal of purpose to understand them.

—Frank Ryan, MD, Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues

If you aren't skeptical about your skepticism, you aren't a skeptic.

For several decades now, I have been deeply interested in antibiotic resistance, the intelligence of bacteria, and the use of treatment approaches that are, ultimately, more elegant than pharmaceuticals. Plant-based medicines, unlike pharmaceuticals, don't cause resistance problems, they are much safer, and they are ecologically sound—they are biodegradable and renewable, which most pharmaceuticals are not.

My long-term interest in herbal antibacterials resulted, after a considerable time (and an early initial look at the topic), in a very deep exploration of systemic herbal antibacterials for resistant infections (Herbal Antibiotics, second edition, Storey Publishing, 2012). And during that exploration, many aspects of plant medicine not hitherto developed in the West began to reveal themselves (such as the importance of plant synergists).

This book is the beginning, for me, of a similar exploration into the world of viruses, emerging and resistant viral diseases, and more ecologically responsible (and often more effective) forms of treatment. In this book you will find information on some of the best broad-spectrum, systemic, antiviral herbs on Earth. As with herbal antibiotics, they are easy to use, easy to grow, and easy to make into medicines for yourself, your family, your patients. And they are very, very effective for emerging and resistant viral infections. For the plants themselves learned long ago, just as they did with bacteria, how to stop viruses from killing them. Plants can't run but they sure can do chemistry.

The concept of herbal antibiotics as primary interventives has, over the past several decades, become common in cultures outside the Western industrialized nations. Medical systems in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America are turning away from pharmaceuticals as a first-line treatment for bacterial infections because of resistance problems and, most especially, because pharmaceutical corporations make a great deal too much money off the suffering of their populations. Cultures other than those in the West have realized that they just can't afford corporate greed any longer—and they are unwilling to let the poorer members of their populations die because of it. Researchers in cultures across the globe have found that plant antibacterials are often more effective than pharmaceuticals. So they are exploring which ones are most potent, which forms of preparation are most effective, and how best to grow them. Then they are traveling throughout their regions (especially in Africa), giving seeds to local villages, teaching them all they have learned, and letting them get on with their healing. There is no middleman raking off profits in the process. A new model of health care is coming into being—and it's about time.

It is my hope that this same kind of movement will begin in the treatment of viral diseases. (And in China, they are already years ahead of us; they see the writing on the wall.) We need a new paradigm of healing. We need new ways of thinking about viruses, their emergence, and their treatment—just as we have needed them about bacteria. (Even in the herbal communities in the West, our approaches to viral infections and viruses have been extremely shallow.) There is a lot we can do to create a more effective healing paradigm in our world, one that is ecologically sustainable while at the same time being more human friendly . . . if we step outside the box that our thinking has been trapped by.

I hope that you find the material in this book stimulating to your thinking. I hope that you begin, yourself, to add to this emerging paradigm of healing, one that is slowly extricating itself from the outmoded thinking of the past. We have a great opportunity to create something new, something that reflects more accurately the world around us, something that truly addresses the healing needs of the people who come to us.

I think the viruses are going to be pretty insistent that we do so. And soon.

1Emerging Viruses: What We Are Facing

It is naive to think we can win.

—David Livermore, MD

Viral diseases, caused by pathogenic virus infections which have high morbidity and mortality rates, are still the leading cause of death in humans worldwide. . . . Moreover, the emergence of viral resistance to drugs, as well as the serious adverse effects induced by antiviral drugs, has caused serious medical problems, particularly when [the drugs are] administered in combination over prolonged treatment periods. . . . And these drugs are quite costly, thus limiting their use in developing countries, where infection is most prevalent.

—Kaio Kitazato et al., "Viral Infectious Disease and Natural Products with Antiviral Activity"

For much of the twentieth century, infectious diseases in human populations of Western countries have been in retreat, as we learnt to sanitize our cities, cleanse our water supplies, improve domestic hygiene, use antibiotics, control vector organisms and vaccinate. As a result the developed world became rather complacent, naively welcoming the false dawn of a life mostly free of infectious disease. Since the 1980s things have looked much less secure, however, with the emergence of many previously unrecognized infectious diseases, and the re-emergence of known infectious diseases that were thought to be under control. This trend has continued until the present time and many infectious pathogens, predominantly viruses, have been newly identified.

—Thijs Kuiken et al., "Emerging Viral Infections in a Rapidly Changing World"

During the summer of 2006 a hitherto little-known viral disease swept across a large and diverse range of islands in the Indian Ocean. On the island of Réunion 265,000 people became critically ill—out of a population of 770,000. Very few of those infected were asymptomatic; the illness was, in nearly every case, severe. Health-care workers and the island's hospital system were overwhelmed. Even if they had not been, there was little they could do. So, they offered "supportive" care. In other words, they watched. They waited. Either the person's immune and bodily systems would fight it off, or they wouldn't. For many, they didn't.

The virus soon jumped to India, where an estimated 1.3 million people became ill. The culprit? A relatively little-known viral disease, chikungunya fever.1 The virus is known to medical science but not well; it's not a common disease. But it had mutated. Later analysis showed that the mutation had occurred sometime between the spring and fall of 2005. Within 6 months it had become pandemic in the region. By the end of 2006 over two million people had become infected.

The disease is attended by severe joint pain (somewhat like dengue fever). The ankles and wrists are the most impacted; conjunctivitis and a rash often occur. The pain in the joints can last for weeks . . . or months, and it is debilitating. There is no treatment and there is no cure. The physicians recommended the use of acetominophen for the pain. The cause of death for many of those who died? Liver damage . . . from the acetominophen.

People visiting the region who traveled back to their homes in the United States and Europe brought the disease with them. Over 1,000 in the United States were diagnosed with it; person-to-person transmission occurred in a number of instances, infecting new hosts.

The disease is primarily spread by mosquitoes (similarly to most of the diseases discussed in this book), specifically Aedes albopictus. This is a mosquito that was once limited in its geographical range but has, in the past 50 years, spread to every continent on Earth.

This is an example of just how fast a new viral pathogen can spread in the global village. It began with an African virus entering an Asian mosquito that traveled with people by plane and boat to the Indian Ocean and India. And from there, it went everywhere. This same dynamic is now playing out everyplace on Earth. The chikungunya outbreak is not an uncommon event. West Nile encephalitis virus emerged in the United States in a large outbreak in 1999. It soon spread throughout the world and is now endemic in Europe and Asia. In the fall of 2002, SARS emerged in China and quickly spread throughout the pan-Asian region. The epidemiologists who studied the SARS outbreak discovered that it had initially emerged in a small region in China. The physician who attended the ill then visited Hong Kong, where he infected 16 people. Some of them traveled and in doing so spread the disease worldwide in a matter of weeks.

Then came swine flu and headlines like these:

Doctors shocked by spread of swine flu—and its severity

—Jeremy Lawrence, The Independent, December 22, 2010

460 flu victims fighting for life as experts admit 24 deaths from swine strain may be only a fraction of the true number

—Sophie Borland, Mail Online, December 24, 2010

Flu crisis hits cancer surgery: Hospitals struggle to cope as deaths rise and Britain teeters on the brink of an epidemic

—Sophie Borland, Mail Online, December 27, 2010

Only a year later, in the fall of 2011, a worldwide epidemic of dengue fever began in northern Africa. It soon spread to the Philippines and Puerto Rico, crossing the ocean in both directions. Finally it hit Brazil. By April of 2012 over 50,000 people had been admitted to hospitals. Five hundred newly infected people were being admitted each week.

And then, of course, in late 2019 the Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic began. It began, as SARS did, in China. In a matter of months most countries, and people, around the globe were affected. Shutdown orders for both businesses and public gatherings were instituted in an attempt to stop the spread of the pathogen. That slowed the spread but did not stop it . . . then it began to resurge. Countries believed free of the infection suddenly were not. And in some countries 10,000 new infections, and 1,000 deaths, were being reported every day. (As the pandemic spread over the next 18 months infections and deaths would increase exponentially.)

The world's economies went into free fall as its peoples and governments struggled to come to grips with the worst pandemic since the 1918 influenza.

Viral diseases such as these are emerging in new and potent forms every place on Earth. Covid-19 will not be the last; it is only the beginning of what we face. There are few medical treatments for these kinds of pathogens if a reliable vaccine does not exist (or cannot be created) . . . and for most of them it does not.

Welcome to the twenty-first century.

But We Won . . . Didn't We?

When the first antibiotic, penicillin, came into common use in 1946 it was heralded as the beginning of the end for infectious diseases. And as each new antibiotic was discovered, and ever more diseases conquered, the voices proclaiming the end of infectious diseases grew louder. The success of antibiotics stimulated concerted medical assaults on epidemic viral diseases, primarily through the development and use of vaccines. The first widespread success was the polio vaccine.

Though it is not widely known, nearly everyone in a given region, when the poliovirus spread to that area, became infected. It was, in fact, a very common virus with very few symptoms for most people. For over 90 percent there were no symptoms at all. Only about 8 percent or so had mild to moderate symptoms, generally a self-limited flu-like condition (which nearly every virus causes). But for about 1 percent of the population, the virus entered the nervous system and those people developed what most people think of as polio. It caused shrunken limbs or paralysis or even, for some, the loss of the capacity to breathe on their own. For those, the rest of life was lived encased in a shell that raised and lowered the chest mechanically.

Oddly enough, given the memories that some people still have of the disease—and the fear it engendered prior to the late twentieth century—it was relatively uncommon. Polio epidemics, as such, were unknown throughout most of human history. But by 1910 major epidemics of the disease began to sweep the world. It became the scourge of the industrialized nations.

The success of antibiotics after World War II combined with the deep public fear of the disease drove a powerful medical movement in the search for a cure. And as with most viral diseases, the focus was on a vaccine. It didn't take long. The Salk vaccine was discovered in 1955 and, after trials, in 1962 it was licensed for widespread use. Worldwide epidemics soon faded from memory, and infections declined from the millions to the hundreds of thousands, and by 2007 to a mere 1,652, almost all in Asia and Africa. It was a powerful success story and the belief that medical science could defeat all infectious diseases spread.

A 1963 comment by the Australian physician Sir F. Macfarlane Burnet, a Nobel laureate, is typical. By the end of the twentieth century, he said, humanity would see the "virtual elimination of infectious disease as a significant factor in societal life."2 Seven years later, Surgeon General William Stewart testified to Congress that "it was time to close the book on infectious diseases."3 And for a while, it seemed they might be right, for the next viral disease they attacked was smallpox.

Though they rarely get credit for it, it was Russian physicians in 1958 who began to press for a worldwide program to permanently eradicate smallpox. By 1967 the program was in full swing with some 250 million vaccinations occurring throughout the world each year. Within a decade, mostly due to the efforts of an American physician and epidemiologist, Donald Henderson, the last regions still endemic for the disease were cleared. And the world celebrated. For the first time a major human disease pathogen had been eradicated from the planet. (Though to be fair to the virus, both the Russians and the Americans kept just a little around, in case they needed it later—you know, for the kids.)

The triumph over smallpox was the apex of the success of the medical assault on microbial disease pathogens—though few knew it at the time. It was thought to be the beginning of the end for every disease pathogen on Earth. The hubris level, already immense by 1963, grew larger. If humans could defeat smallpox, they could defeat every virus on Earth. The word spread; the newspapers were filled with optimistic scenarios of a future without disease. Researchers were quoted extensively (as they still are) as saying that, soon, in just a few years, none of us would die from infectious diseases. Most people in the industrialized world accepted this at face value . . . as they still do. It is, regrettably, part of the utopian future-myth of science (especially medical science) that many people take for granted. But it never has, and never has had, much to do with reality. As physician and researcher Frank Ryan comments, "Perhaps it reflected, in part, a regrettable separation of clinicians from basic scientists." He goes on to say:

In fact those people whose living depended upon a study of microbes, of their potential and durability, were never deluded. A prescient few, such as René Dubos, warned us openly that the optimism was unjustified. But on the whole people were not inclined to listen. Most doctors, never mind members of the public, were infected with the prevailing overconfidence, hardly perceiving the growing threat of social changes to the "global village." They seemed unable to grasp the new potential afforded to a very ancient peril arising from world travel. . . . Today, as one after another of the dismissed plagues returns to haunt us, as new plagues every bit as deadly as anything seen in previous history threatens our species, it is obvious that the postwar years were an age of delusion. It was comforting, a very understandable delusion, but a delusion nonetheless.4

As it happens, the scientific and medical beliefs about the Earth and its interrelated life forms, including bacteria and viruses, that have been widely spread are not very accurate. Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, in their book What Is Life?, note that once "the germ theory of contagion finally caught on, it did so with a vengeance. Different types of bacteria were implicated in anthrax, gonorrhea, typhoid, and leprosy. Microbes, once amusing little anomalies, became demonized. . . . [They] became a virulent 'other' to be destroyed."5 But there are many problems with this belief about microbes. Two stand out for me. The first comes from the particular medical paradigm in use in the West and the second from a very inaccurate, outmoded nineteenth-/early-twentieth-century view of nature.

The medical paradigm problem is simple enough, though it's rarely recognized for the problem it is. Specifically: Most physicians and medical researchers commonly speak of the "cause of death" when speaking of mortality. The assumption, deeply embedded within that communication, is that the bacteria or virus (or heart disease or stroke) caused the death. Even deeper is the communication that if all "causes" of death were defeated, then there would be no more death. As Harvard researcher and zoologist Richard Lewontin puts it,

The claims made by medicine imply this possibility without explicitly stating it. Medical scientists speak of 'preventing' deaths by curing disease, but the evidence is that death cannot be prevented, only postponed at best. Moreover, the postponement has not been as effective as is sometimes claimed during the last fifty years of great progress in physiology, cell biology, and medicine. . . . [The truth is] that although the proximate causes of death can be dealt with, death itself cannot. So, there must be a cause of death as a phenomenon, as distinct from the individual cases.6

In other words, if every "cause" of death were removed, in spite of what physicians (and news reports) say, there would still be death. Death is inherent in this place. The unstated and deeply buried assertion that microbes "cause" death is not only false, it stimulates people to view microbes as enemies, as participants in a war against us—and this is very far from the truth.

Bacteria and viruses are not a "virulent other." They are, instead, intimately interwoven into the underpinnings of life on this planet. They cannot be killed off without killing off every form of life on Earth. This is the great error of the nineteenth-/early-twentieth-century view of nature that continues to plague us. Or, as Lynn Margulis once put it, "The more balanced view of microbe as colleague and ancestor remains almost unexpressed. Our culture ignores the hard-won fact that these disease 'agents,' these 'germs,' also germinated all life."7 We are, counterintuitively and most upsettingly, only a form of bacteria ourselves—in extremely elegant, symbiogenic, innovative shapes. Bacteria are the foundation of every life form on this planet. Had bacteria not developed resistance to antibiotics all life on this planet would have already become extinct simply from the millions of tons of antibiotics now present in the environment.

With bacteria the paradigm problem is bad enough, but when viruses enter the picture, the complexity rises by orders of magnitude. Viruses are not and never have been parasites, though they may act as or seem to be parasites when we fall sick with one. They, in fact, perform highly elegant ecosystem functions—as everything on this planet does. Viruses, as Frank Ryan comments, "weave in and out of the genomes of every form of life on earth. As a result, terrestrial life [has] become a dense web of genetic interactions."8


On Sale
Aug 31, 2021
Page Count
480 pages

Stephen Harrod Buhner

Stephen Harrod Buhner

About the Author

Stephen Harrod Buhner is the author of Herbal Antivirals,Herbal Antibiotics, and 17 other works. He speaks internationally on herbal medicine, emerging diseases, complex interrelationships in ecosystems, Gaian dynamics, and musical/sound patterns in plant and ecosystem functioning. He is a tireless advocate for citizen scientists, amateur naturalists, and community herbalists everywhere. He lives in New Mexico.

Learn more about this author