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How Do Herbal Antivirals Work?
By Tamra Speakman - October 17, 2014

How Do Herbal Antivirals Work?

A common mistake often made is to think that the cold and flu are caused by bacteria, however both of these infections are actually caused by viruses. This is why when you go to the doctors for the flu they will not give you antibiotics. Unlike bacteria viruses are technically not alive. Therefore antivirals work differently than antibiotics. There are many herbs that have been shown to have "antiviral properties." The logical question is, if viruses are not alive then how do herbal antivirals work? Before learning about how herbal antivirals work let's take a brief look at viruses.

What is a Virus?

Keep in mind that the description given in this article for how viruses and antivirals work are only intended to give a very basic descriptions of these processes. You can find more information about viruses and herbal antivirals in the book Herbal Antivirals by Stephan Harrod Buhner. A cautionary note however on this book is that the descriptions of viruses are strongly dependent on evolution, however keeping in mind biblical creationism the herbal suggestions and descriptions of how viruses infect the host are very beneficial. The Merriam Webster online medical dictionary defines a virus as:
b: any of a large group of submicroscopic infective agents that are regarded either as extremely simple microorganisms or as extremely complex molecules, that typically contain a protein coat surrounding an RNA or DNA core of genetic material but no semipermeable membrane, that are capable of growth and multiplication only in living cells, and that cause various important diseases in humans, animals, or plants;
The main reason a virus is not considered to be live is that they can not replicate outside of a host. However viruses are considered by some scientist to be on the edge of what would be considered life. The difficult part is that defining life is more of a philosophical question than a scientific one. Generally to be considered a living thing something must have all of these attributes: derived from pre-existing life, made up of cells, requires energy, movement, growth, reproduction, reactions to stimuli, and death. Biblically we know that all life is sustained through the breath, word, and power of God. While viruses are not technically alive once they enter a cell the virus infects the cell and uses the cell to replicate as well as mutate. This can eventually kill the cell. Most viruses are however specific to certain host cells for example the influenza virus attacks the cells in the respiratory system.

If Viruses Aren't Technically Alive, How Do Antivirals Work?

Unlike antibiotics, antivirals do not technically kill the virus since the virus only seems to be living as it uses the living cell to replicate. A true antiviral effect would kill the host cell. Obviously this would be very detrimental to the body. Nonetheless herbs and medications that help to heal viral infections are often said to be antiviral or to have antiviral properties. There are several different ways herbs or medications said to have "antiviral" properties are thought to work. One such way is the disruption of the replication cycle. Another way that "antivirals" are said to work is by stimulating the immune system. Antivirals can bind to certain enzymes and prevent adsorption into the host cell. Renowned herbalist Michael Moore of blessed memory states in his Medical Glossary :
ANTIVIRAL An agent that experimentally inhibits the proliferation and viability of infectious viruses. In our domain of herbal medicines, some plants will slow or inhibit the adsorption or random initial attachment of viruses, extend the lifespan of infected target cells, or speed up several aspects of immunity, including complement, antibody, and phagocytosis responses. Herbal antivirals work best on respiratory viruses such as influenza, adenoviruses, rhinoviruses, and the enteric echoviruses. Touted as useful in the alphabet group of slow viruses (HIV, EBV, CMV, etc.), they really help to limit secondary concurrent respiratory infections that often accompany immunosuppression.
Many of the studies done on herbs that have shown antiviral properties were either done in a petri dish or on animal subjects. Because of this there are still questions as to exactly how herbal antivirals work in humans. No matter the controversy there are many herbs that have a long history of use and are considered to have antiviral properties.

Herbal Antivirals Vs Synthetic Medications

While pharmaceutical antivirals may have their place in acute and  life threatening viral infections there are some concerns with their use. Like antibiotics, synthetic antiviral medications are very specific to certain viruses. Herbal antivirals can often work to stimulate the body to heal as opposed to only attack specific viruses. Synthetic antiviral medications may also have unwanted side effects and so herbal antivirals can be a gentler choice. Unfortunately we are also seeing more and more resistance to specific antiviral medications. Resistance is not normally developed against herbal antivirals.

Herbs That Have Antiviral Properties

This is a list of some herbs that have shown to have one or more antiviral properties. There are many more herbs to choose from and it is important to become familiar with the proper use of each herb before adding it to your herbal repertoire. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and augustifolia) St Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) Garlic ( Allium sativum) Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Chinese Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)- Learn more about Yarrow at Shatul. While it is always best to try and prevent the cold, flu, or other viral infection through healthy living, when the virus wins it is great to know that we have some great help from God's creation via herbal antivirals.
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  1. sochmell
    Unfortunately not everywhere doctors cure properly, in Italy if you go to the doctor with a cold gives you antibiotics!!! in these countries is ' people who when he realizes who disregard the virus with antibiotics does. Thanks you for the valuable information & and thanks to our friendly and valuable herbs.
  2. Erin
    Do you have any recipes to go by and amounts to take. Tinctures for instance, what blends with what?
    1. Meagan
      If you search the website for things like "antiviral" or "flu shot" or even "elderberry" and other specific herbs you will come up with some remedy recipes we like and use. Amounts vary based on the herb and what you're taking it for. There's not set in stone approach. It can seem confusing, but we have a page on determining dosage that you should check out as well. Hope that helps some!