Viruses are enigmatic. They skirt the boundaries. They exist at the edges of life and are very much a part of the animate natural world, an intrinsic part of the web of life. The healer, herbalist, shaman, root doctor or benedetta has the job of remaining connected to the natural world, being informed by it and drawing insight and power from it. In order to do this she must also, like the virus, skirt the boundaries between worlds; between social and cultural boundaries, human and non-human communication, customs, traditions and limiting medical and other beliefs. The healer maintains a heightened sensitivity to the songs, gestures, murmurs of the natural world – the peal of lightning, the flight of a bird, movement of shadow or leaf, roaring of wind, rise of a virus – in order to make contact and learn from the powers of the land, and to bring back meaning to her community.
Jack was a Vietnam Veteran and we spoke together many times across decades about the psychology of war. One thing he always said was that when it came to war, “Know your enemy” was a foundation concept and everything else came after that. I didn’t really have any enemies at the time, so wasn’t particularly impressed with this admonition. But those words have come back to me recently and I began to consider the profound importance of understanding the perceived enemy.
Suddenly we are faced with this infectious virus and I began to realize how little I knew about viruses in general, and the new coronavirus specifically. Because ignorance generates fear, I decided to discover all I could. Hopefully this information will ease your mind, give you some ideas to work with and perhaps a few useful tools for supporting your health and resisting the virus.
Viruses are ancient. They are our ancestors. They have billions of years of evolutionary history and experience on this earth and far predate both plants and animals. Viruses co-evolved along with bacteria, long before we arrived. In fact, viruses and bacteria share a common ancestor that lived around 3.4 billion years ago, not long after life first emerged on the planet. From this single cell, bacteria evolved in the direction of increasing complexity, while viruses took the opposite approach; they have gradually shed genes to become increasingly more simple. And, all the while, they’ve been changing, adapting, altering themselves to accommodate the climate, temperatures, atmosphere and available hosts for the purpose of reproducing.
Viruses need a host. They cannot replicate on their own and do so only in other living cells. Viruses can’t keep themselves in a stable state, they don’t grow, and they can’t make their own energy. Viruses insert their genetic material into a human cell’s DNA in order to reproduce and they can affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly.
Scientists are still trying to fully grok viruses. Early on they were thought to be poisons, then primitive life forms, and now they are seen more like biological chemical packages; little envelopes of proteins, acids and other information, but lacking essential independent systems necessary for metabolic functions, the biochemical activity of life.
Viruses parasitize essentially all biomolecular aspects of life. This means that they depend on the host cell for the raw materials and energy necessary for nucleic acid synthesis, protein synthesis, processing and transport, and all the other biochemical activities that allow the virus to multiply and spread.
Viruses mysteriously inhabit a gray area between living and nonliving. In fact, they deeply challenge our concept of what “living” means. They carry genetic material, reproduce, and evolve through natural selection, but lack important characteristics (such as cell structure) that are considered necessary to count as life. Viruses are the constantly shifting boundary between the worlds of biology and biochemistry.
Viruses mystify. They are stealthy, cryptic, cagy and covert. You often don’t know they’re around until it’s too late. When viruses infect us, they can embed small chunks of their genetic material into our DNA. In fact, nearly 10 percent of our human genome is made of bits of viral DNA. For the most part, this viral DNA is not harmful. In fact, scientists are discovering that it actually has a beneficial impact. For example, some viral-repair enzymes, which excise and resynthesize damaged DNA, mend oxygen radical damage, and so on, are unique to certain viruses and have existed almost unchanged probably for billions of years.
Most known viruses are persistent and innocuous, not pathogenic. They take up residence in cells, where they may remain dormant for long periods or take advantage of the cells’ replication equipment to reproduce at a slow and steady rate. These viruses have developed many clever ways to avoid detection by the host immune system. In fact, essentially every step in the immune process can be altered or controlled by various genes found in one virus or another. And, some scientists and researchers, such as Philip Bell of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, contend that the cell nucleus itself is of viral origin.
“Furthermore, a virus genome (the entire complement of DNA or RNA) can permanently colonize its host, adding viral genes to host lineages and ultimately becoming a critical part of the host species’ genome. The huge population of viruses, combined with their rapid rates of replication and mutation, makes them the world’s leading source of genetic innovation: they constantly “invent” new genes. And unique genes of viral origin may travel, finding their way into other organisms and contributing to evolutionary change.”
“May we not feel, that in the virus, in their merging with the cellular genome and reemerging from them, we observe the units and process which, in the course of evolution, have created the successful genetic patterns that underlie all living cells?” Nobel laureate Salvador Luria
COVID-19 – A virus’s core of genetic material (DNA or RNA), is surrounded by a protective coat called a capsid which is basically protein. Sometimes the capsid is surrounded by an additional spikey coat called an envelope. Coronavirus has this spiky envelope. Under the microscope, this particular virus looks like a round ball that has its entire surface covered with spikes. The spikes help it to attach to the cells inside the lungs, which is where it wants to go. In fact, that is the one and only place this particular virus can do its thing, it is that specific. It needs to get inside your lungs to reproduce. Once attached there, it gets itself comfortable…it takes off its coat, bares its teeth and gets down to work. It begins to put information into the cells that allows it to make “photocopies” of itself and the virus begins to replicate. That’s one of its main objectives.
Our objective is to RESIST! Preventive Medicine is the true strength of herbal medicine, so we are going to get back to this point soon. In Part 2 of this series we will discuss what to do if you do get sick.
The World Health Organization has raised the global risk of the new coronavirus to its highest level and is highlighting the necessity of worldwide containment efforts. As of today, nearly 100,000 confirmed cases have been reported. 86 countries are affected and there have been a total of 3,309 deaths. Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch has predicted that the virus could ultimately infect between 40 and 70% of the global population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging U.S. residents to prepare for “significant disruption in their daily lives.”
And, according to news being reported out of China, the virus is mutating. There is now a second strain of the virus being detected. This strain appears to be more virulent than the original strain. The older ‘S-type’ is milder and less infectious, while the ‘L-type’ which emerged later, spreads quickly and currently accounts for approximately 70% of all cases. Scientists fear that the virus will continue to alter its genetic identity to make detection and treatment more challenging.
“COVID-19 is turning out to be a remarkably intelligent evolutionary adversary. By exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology selectively bred by its pathogen ancestors, it has already shut down many of our schools, crashed our stock market, increased social conflict and xenophobia, reshuffled our migration patterns, and is working to contain us in homogenous spaces where it can keep spreading. We should pause to remark that COVID-19 is extraordinarily successful epidemiologically, precisely because it is not extremely lethal.” Samuel Paul Veissière Ph.D.
BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY
This is not the time for cavalier, casual or inconsiderate attitudes. Nor the time for minimizing the risk or shrugging off the widespread concern. The threat of this virus is very real. Maybe not for you personally, if you are young, vibrant and healthy. But for your immune compromised neighbor, your elderly aunt with hypertension and your diabetic friend, it certainly has the potential of being quite deadly.
This is not the time to panic either, or to act out of fear. Remain calm. It’s good for your immune system, and you might be needed to help others. For sure, at the very least you need to assist the citizenry as a whole, by not participating in the spread of this virus. Our country has not had, nor does it yet have, adequate tests available. We actually have no idea how widely COVID 19 has spread here, or how many might be infected and/or contagious at this point. What we do know, is that our death rate is climbing alarmingly, with 14 deaths attributed to this virus reported in the US as of today.
PREVENTION IS KEY
So…let’s talk about preventative medicine, because that is what we need most right now. What can we good citizens do to curtail the spread of this virus and also what can we do to make infection less likely if we do come in contact with it?
Well, one thing, and probably the single most effective thing we can do, is to stay home! According to a comprehensive studyentitled Non-pharmaceutical Interventions Implemented by US Cities During the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic, the cities that acted the fastest to put interventions in place, had the best result…”the relation of early, sustained, and layered non-pharmaceutical interventions were consistently associated with reductions in mortality.”
This strategy is called social distancing. It means that our most responsible choice or “mode of operation” right now is to stay home, as much as possible, hunker down for a few weeks to curtail the spread of the virus. No indoor public gatherings; no parties, events, public dinners.
Get into Lent! Use this time to rest, restore, maybe work on a project that you’ve put aside. Start some seeds. And, attend carefully to nourishment of body, mind, and spirit.
Most people have to get out to work daily, do not have the option of staying home, and so must follow all the precautions recommended quite carefully…washing hands FOR 20 SECONDS often, not touching your face (as much as humanly possible), or surfaces, using hand sanitizer and wiping down surfaces that you do need to touch, 70% ALCOHOL, no shaking hands right now, keeping distance from others, avoiding close approximation to anyone who is coughing…and boosting your natural immunity.
Since this is an entirely new virus, none of us have any natural immunity to it. And be aware that doctors also suspect that the virus may continue shedding for several days after recovery. The virus appears to be transmitted primarily through virus-filled droplets that infected people cough or sneeze into the air. This means transmission can be reduced through physical barriers, good hygiene and the reduction of mingling.
Preventive care is the true beauty and strength of Herbal Medicine. Here’s a list of easily accessible, protective, nourishing and mostly delicious herbs and foods you might consider integrating in rotation into your daily regime right about now to help boost your immunity and protect against viral infection. You don’t need everything listed here! What do you already have on hand from this list? Start there. You are looking for a diversity of nutrients, nourishment across the board. Sprinkle a pinch of this, simmer a bunch of that…you don’t need a recipe or a formula…be creative, play and love yourself, love your family and friends. Love is big medicine. Keep yourself well hydrated too.
LET FOOD BE THY MEDICINE
Specifics Garlic, ginger, lemon, cayenne, cinnamon, mints, orange peel, cacao, cannabis.
Warming aromatics such as cardamom, clove, anise, cumin, coriander, rosemary, sage.
Allium family plants; onions, garlic, chives.
Brassicas; broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens and kale.
Mushrooms like shiitake, lions mane, oyster, chicken of the woods.
Anthocyanin-rich fruits and berries; blueberries, blackberries, cherries, plums, grapes, raspberries.
Fermented foods; yogurt, ricotta, kifir, kim chee, sauerkraut, naturally fermented meats, olives.
Seaweed. Honey and maple syrup. Vinegar.
Anti-viral activity herbs such as hyssop, burdock, astragalus, lemon balm, St. John’s wort, Echinacea, Japanese knotweed, olive, rose.
Immune enhancing herbs include those listed above as anti-viral and the medicinal mushrooms like chaga, reishi, birch polypore. Adaptogens listed below.
Nourishing herbs like milky oats, red clover, wild grape leaves, nettles, red raspberry leaves, rose hips
Respiratory tonic herbs such as mullein, coltsfoot (see caution), thyme
Liver nourishing herbs; milk thistle, dandelion, licorice, yellow dock
Lymph movers: calendula, cleavers, dandelion, red clover, violet, grape leaves
Bowel movers: dandelion, licorice, cinnamon
Adaptogens: Baltic amber, Eluethero, Codonopsis, Schisandra, Rhodiola.
Skin Care: rose, calendula, lavender
VITAMINS ARE OUR PARTNERS IN LIFE – We need abundant vitamin A, C and D to enhance immunity and resist the coronavirus. B vitamins help keep you relaxed and centered. Zinc is a specific guard against respiratory illness. I like to get my vitamins from the foods and herbs I consume rather than a plastic bottle.
|Vitamin A regulates and maintains a wide range of bodily functions. It is essential for keeping the mucous membranes of the mouth and respiratory passages moist and plump, and thus able to resist infection. Adequate intake of vitamin A also boosts immunity.|
Foods that offer significant amounts of vitamin A, or beta-carotene (a natural pigment found in dark green, orange and yellow herbs, fruits, and vegetables that converts to vitamin A inside the body) include, in order of their content, beef liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, spinach, cantaloupes, kale, broccoli, winter squash, mustard greens, apricots, watermelon, endive, lettuce, asparagus, peas, green beans, corn, parsley, seaweeds, and eggs.
Herbs rich in carotenes include peppermint, yellow dock, uva ursi, parsley, raspberry leaves, nettles, and dandelion greens. Other good sources include kelp, green onions, violet leaves, cayenne, lamb’s quarters, sage, chickweed, horsetail, black cohosh, and rose hips.
Vitamin C is often called the “oil for the machinery of life” as it is essential to so many of our body’s biochemical processes, and literally holds our cells together. Luckily, it’s available to us in a wide variety of foods and herbs. A diet rich in fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs will provide you with plenty of this nutrient. Vitamin C is water soluble, and sensitive to heat. Try lightly steaming vitamin C-rich vegetables to retain this nutrient, or be sure to drink, or otherwise use, the water you’ve boiled them in. If you eat vitamin C – laden foods with herbs and foods rich in iron, you’ll boost iron absorption in your body four-fold.
Bioflavonoids are a group of compounds found, along with vitamin C, in fresh fruits, especially citrus, vegetables, and herbs. Bioflavonoids strengthen the capillaries, those tiny blood vessels that provide the all-important link in the circulatory system between the arteries and the veins. Capillaries deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the body’s tissues and help remove toxic waste, thus providing the network within the body for the essential exchange of body fluids to take place. Capillary dysfunction plays a crucial role in a wide range of ills, including viral infections like influenza and coronavirus.
Foods rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids in order of content (highest to lowest), include fresh squeezed orange juice, green peppers, grapefruit juice, papaya, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cantaloupe, cooked turnip greens, raw cauliflower, strawberries, tomato juice, potatoes, cabbage, blackberries, raw spinach, blueberries, cherries, and mung bean sprouts.
Herbs offering an abundance of these nutrients include rose hips, yellow dock root, raspberry leaves, red clover, hops, nettles, pine needles, dandelion greens, echinacea, skullcap, plantain, parsley, cayenne, and violet leaves and flowers.
Vitamin D is available to us in few foods and is primarily manufactured inside our bodies as the result of a magical interaction between our skin and that ancient and mighty solar star, the sun. Vitamin D is absolutely essential for our body’s health. and is vitally important for strong immune response. Vitamin D regulates the expression of more than 1,000 genes throughout the body. They include ones in macrophages, cells in the immune system that, among other things, attack and destroy viruses.
Vitamin D switches on genes in macrophages that make antimicrobial peptides, antibiotics the body produces. Like antibiotics, these peptides attack and destroy bacteria; but unlike antibiotics, they also attack and destroy viruses. Vitamin D also expresses genes that stop macrophages from overreacting to an infection and releasing too many inflammatory agents – cytokines – that can damage infected tissue.
After the age of fifty, this metabolic process may slow down. Intestinal absorption of vitamin D begins to decline slowly, and the liver may not process this vitamin as well as it once did. The skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D declines as well, with the skin of a healthy seventy-year-old able to make only half the amount as that of a twenty-something. Attend to this.
Zinc plays an important role in maintaining the health of our immune system and helps us resist infections. Some excellent food sources for zinc include chicken heart, lean beef, liver, lamb, beef, dark turkey meat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Swiss and cheddar cheese, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, black-eyed peas, oats, soybeans, peas, chick peas, and lentils. Herbal sources include skullcap, oatstraw, sage, saw palmetto, wild yam, chickweed, echinacea, nettles, dulse, and milk thistle
Pray. Prayers are cool, they are pure vibrations of beauty and love. They connect us to something sacred and powerful, something bigger than ourselves. Praying relaxes us. I like saying the rosary, but any prayers of your choice will do. Wash your hands, say a prayer, an incantation, a holy poem, sing a sacred song…make a healthy spell. Here’s a simple prayer, perfect for right now. Please remove from me anything that is not me. Say it in your ancestral language if possible. Let the resonance sink deep into your cells. Your ancestors are listening. They are there informing you. They faced many viruses in their lifetimes. They have survival skills. Ask for their help. Offer them your love.
Water and salt. These are sacred and protective substances. Pour yourself a bath at the end of the day, add Epsom salts or sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, whatever you have. Soak yourself. Relax. No tub, no problem, do a foot bath. “Salt does whatever you tell it.” is an old saying among the Benedetti, in my tradition. Talk to the salt as you pour it into the tub. Tell it what you need. “I need to feel safe. I need protection. I need to be healed. I need your blessing. Please remove from me anything that is not me.”
Spray beautiful aromas into the air around you. Do you have any rose or lavender or lemon verbena hydrosol? Maybe sandalwood or sage? Spray liberally around your space.
Burn aromatic herbs such as rose, rosemary, lavender, bay, sage, frankincense and myrrh. Not only does fumigation raise your energy and the energy of your space, it also kills germs! This is an opportunity to bless your space and all who inhabit it. Make it feel clear and high and beautiful!
Wear your Baltic amber necklace, bracelet or anklet. Don’t take it off. Take a drop of tincture once a week in water. Use the oil as a energetic shield. Baltic amber has been known as a protector for millennia. It’s got many millions of years of presence on this earth. It knows how to protect us from viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. We can trust it.
Wear a protective amulet. This can be anything at all, from your Baltic amber necklace to a little brevi bag of garlic and prayers hung around your neck. Keep a small magic bag of protective herbs or stones in your pocket. Hang a poppet doll near your bed. Draw the symbol of Solomon, or the protective Hand of Fatima, or an image of a scorpion on your hand or foot – these symbols have been used as protection for literally thousands of years.
Call your friends. Be a blessing to your community. Be available. Speak comforting words that are true. Find out who needs support and help them get it. Bring someone a jar of tea. You know what to do.
Dare to Dream. Enter the Dream Temple. Incubate a healing dream. Ask dream-maker to give you a dream of guidance or of healing – ask to be shown what you need to know. Keep trying, don’t give up.
ETYMOLOGY OF CORONAVIRUS
A corona is the rarefied gaseous envelope, the luminous halo around the sun and other stars. The sun’s corona extends far into space but is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse, when it is seen as a pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon. It is also observable with a device called a coronagraph. This virus is called coronavirus because it too has a halo, or corona, around it.
The word corona is Latin, meaning “crown”, from the Greek κορώνη (korōnē). Korone…Kore/Proserpina (maiden aspect, greening, vegetative goddess, bringing new life). The Goddess is here.
Corona also means a “garland or wreath”. Our Great Mother Goddess Demeter/Ceres, Proserpina’s mother, wore a corona di spica, a crown or wreath of marjoram and other warming, aromatic spices around her head. The Goddess’s mother is here!
The name Corona is a nickname for a person that is dearly loved by his family and friends. It comes from “caro,” which is derived from the Latin word “carus,” meaning beloved or dear. Our Ancestors are here!
Most of us are familiar with the ancient story of Kore. Kore was a young girl when she was abducted by the God of the Dead, Hades/Pluto and dragged down into the underworld to be his wife. Her mother Demeter/Ceres was consumed with grief and rage. She searched for nine days, but no one would tell her anything about where her daughter was. Why? Because Kore was abducted with the approval of Zeus, Ruler of the Gods. Kore’s father. Finally, Helios, the Sun God, (wearing his corona) who sees and knows all, told Demeter/Ceres what happened. Her anger and despair was unbearable. She rejected the world of the Gods and wandered among humankind. In her sorrow she withheld her gifts of fertility so that no crops grew. At this Zeus finally gave in and commanded Hades/Pluto to release Kore. And all the earth turned green again. There’s a deep message here, lean into it.
This virus may actually be our crowning glory, our corona. Clearly the Gods are at play here. Mother, Father and Daughter. The Holy Trinity has entered the theatre and opened a portal. Our beloved ancestors are with us also. We have nothing to fear.
There is an extremely ancient, intelligent alien species invasion going on, bringing new information both to our individual cells, and also to the cellular network around the globe, causing extreme excitement, movement and change, literally deciding who will live and who will die. What falls away and what remains. It is giving death, where death is needed. Think systems here, not necessarily people.
Coronavirus may be presenting itself to us as a tool for viewing…a tool of revelation, divination, uncovering what can usually only be seen in the dark. We’ve all been treading some dark waters these last few years. One trauma or crisis after the other and all the while, we’ve been more or less helpless in the face of it. And just when we think we cannot possibly take any more, here comes a “life” force never encountered before. Providing us with information directly and helping us to see. See what? Maybe to see how much we truly care for each other. How much we want to live. To realize all the tools we have at our disposal. All the non-human allies who love us, who we can depend on. To see that we are a part of the great and holy web of life…each and every one of us, human, animal, plant, mountain, rock, virus. The weakest among us. The strongest among us. The insured and the uninsured. We are all equal on this earth. And to the Gods. We are all deserving of respect.
We might see now how deeply derelict we have been in our care for the earth and all life upon her. Might see clearly our incredible vulnerability, our dependence on earth, as well as our strength, which we also draw from her. We are seeing clearly what we are up against and with the “information being transferred” perhaps we will also be participating in its dissolution right before our eyes.
And, if the Gods are favorable, we may see the earth greening again, hearing the mother’s cries of joy that her daughter has returned.
These are my musings…I’d love to hear yours. As herbalists, healers, earth lovers, it is our job to lean into the mystery, and try to make some sense of it for the benefit of all. I’m leaving some links here for you too. Be well! I love you.
Part 2 comes next week…what to do if you are infected.