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March 15, 2021

How Herbal Medicine Can Help Fight COVID-19

In Chinese medicine, we have a saying: one disease, many patterns; one pattern, many diseases. Put simply, this means illness should be treated holistically, with the person’s constitution and individual presentation in mind, and not with a band aid prescription or simply suppressing symptoms. The same disease can express itself differently in different patients, and vice versa.

At Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College (AIMC), our clinic interns consider not only symptoms but also your life as a whole. By viewing your health from a bird’s eye view, we can customize our treatments to the individual. Herbal medicine can be a great way to do this. Our clinic intern practitioners are trained to identify and mix herbs into formulas or tonics based on your symptoms, lifestyle, constitution, and more.

In the case of COVID-19, we’ve seen this one disease affecting different people in many different ways. Western medicine is searching for pharmacological cures and vaccines, which are great and important causes to save lives. We believe this approach can also benefit from the individualization that Chinese herbal medicine allows.

In a recent Facebook Live interview, we asked licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and AIMC Telehealth Consult Supervisor Dennis von Elgg, about his experience using Chinese Herbal Medicine in the treatment of COVID-19. Keep reading or watch our video to see what he had to say!

Chinese Medicine and COVID-19

The practice of medicine in China often involves both Western and Eastern approaches. Dennis experienced the collaboration of these systems firsthand when working in Chengdu, China years ago. When it came to COVID-19, it was natural for hospital doctors to reach for Western pharmaceuticals, traditional herbal medicines, and Qi Gong movement practices when working with their patients.

By combining herbal medicine with Western approaches to medicine, China has seen staggering results:

“What they’ve seen is a marked decrease in the severity of symptoms and the duration of specific symptoms like fever, like cough, like fatigue. We don’t expect people to take herbs and be on the top of their game in three days. A lot of measurements for the average person in China [with COVID], it’s 10-12 days. And with good herbal strategies, it can shrink to six to seven days on average.”
— Dennis von Elgg

With results like these, you may be wondering what herbal strategies can benefit those affected by COVID-19. Keep in mind, this blog is not intended as medical advice. Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal formulas should be prescribed by a trained Herbalist & tailored to your individual presentation. If you are interested in this care & live in the state of California, feel free to schedule a free telehealth appointment with our clinic!

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Herbal Medicine and COVID-19

SARS-COV-2 (aka COVID-19) can express itself with many symptoms and patterns: fever, fatigue, loss of taste and/or smell, congestion, sore throat, malaise, gastrointestinal distress, or upper respiratory conditions to name a few. In Chinese medicine, we diagnose colds, viruses, and other acute illnesses based on the way they present in the body with terms like wind, damp, dry, heat, and cold. Common colds are often diagnosed as Wind-Heat or Wind-Cold invasions.

Because of the ferocity of COVID-19’s symptoms and its nature as an epidemic, it has a special designation in Chinese Medicine: Pestilent, Toxic Qi. It may take on aspects of heat or cold and it usually manifests with some amount of what we call “dampness”. In trying to understand these terms, you can think of a manifestation of heat as a fever, cold as chills, and dampness as the presence of a productive cough or even just a sense of heaviness & fogginess. Each of these diagnoses comes with a constellation or pattern of symptoms.

To treat pestilent qi, wind, heat, cold, and dampness, your herbalist may recommend a combination of several antiviral & toxin-clearing herbs.

Antiviral and “Toxin-Clearing” Herbs

  • Jin Yin Hua: Honeysuckle
  • Lian Qiao: Forsythia
  • Ban Lan Gen: Indigo/Isatis

There are some simple formulas people can keep on hand for the early stages of Wind-heat or wind-cold invasions (or even as preventatives) like the formulas Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling. If you need to travel this season but want to stay safe, try taking a dose of Yin Qiao San before flying as a preventative measure. Yin Qiao San is a classic formula in the Chinese Medicine cannon. Gan Mao Ling was developed in more modern times and includes a broad spectrum of highly researched anti-viral & antibacterial herbs.

Diaphoretic “Release Exterior” Herbs

Some symptoms of COVID are associated with what Chinese medicine practitioners call wind-cold. Wind is often the first symptom of an oncoming illness: stiff neck, muscle aches, generalized fatigue, headache, and stuffiness or congestion in the head can all indicate the beginning of a wind invasion. Diaphoretic herbs may be helpful to reduce wind cold symptoms & open the pores to induce sweating and clear the “wind”:

  • Da Suan: Garlic
  • Cong Bai: Scallions
  • Pao or Sheng Jiang: Dried or Fresh Ginger
  • Gui Zhi: Cinnamon
  • Gan Cao: Licorice

Because cold tends to contract the bronchial pathways, herbs that can treat wind-cold & help expand these pathways are ideal. As for formulas, Xiao Chai Hu Tang may be helpful to patients expressing wind-cold symptoms. Due to the complex nature of this formula, it should only be taken under the advisement of a trained Herbalist.

spices and herbs displayed

The Three Huangs (The Three Yellows)

For those expressing stickier symptoms, or for those whose symptoms are combined with a positive COVID test, the three huangs may be prescribed as part of your herbal medicine strategy. They’re all part of the “Clear Heat, Dry Damp” category and have high amounts of the constituent Berberine, which gives them their bright yellow color & anti-viral nature.

  • Huang Lian: Coptis
  • Huang Qin: Scutellaria
  • Huang Bai: Phellodendron

Ban Lan Gen, which is Isatis root (the same plant that makes Indigo!), can also work well for these symptoms. Dennis shared that he relies on this tea regularly if he suspects he’s coming down with something.


In some cases, those affected with COVID-19 are still expressing symptoms for months after being infected. Aromatic herbs can be deeply penetrating, and may help those with stubborn or persistent symptoms, especially folks with loss of taste or smell:

  • Guang Huo Xiang: Patchouli
  • Sha Ren or Bai Dou Kou: Cardamom
  • Bo He: Mint
  • Hou Po: Magnolia Bark
  • Da Suan: Garlic
  • Gui Zhi: Cinnamon

Your herbalist may even prescribe some of these aromatic herbs to you in the initial stages of your illness. Because they are so penetrative, they may help open up deep tissues in your body. This can help the tissues in your body be more receptive initially to any antiviral herbs.

Learn More at Your Telehealth Appointment

herbal medicine in bottles

COVID is a great example of the phrase we used earlier: one disease, many patterns. It expresses itself in different ways in different people, and treatment should be individualized based on your symptoms, lifestyle, and more.

If you or someone you know has suffered from COVID or is otherwise in need of medical advice, we want to help. Book your telehealth appointment, where we can offer you individualized treatment advice and create an herbal medicine prescription that is tailored to you.

Study at AIMC

Are you ready to learn the art of integrative medicine? Come study at AIMC! We have both master’s and doctorate programs available. Learn the difference combining Eastern and Western medicine can make, for you and your clients. Contact us with any questions you may have, or feel free to visit our school!

Don’t forget to check out our Facebook live with Dennis von Elgg, where you can learn even more about Chinese medicine and COVID!

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