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Notes from the Apothecary

Notes from the Apothecary Special: Five Antiviral Plants to Eat at Home



*Disclaimer: Eating any amount of plants and herbs cannot protect you entirely from catching any sort of illness. Healthy eating is great and boosts your immune system but should complement, not replace, good hygiene, prescribed medication, and safe social distancing measures where appropriate. Take a holistic approach to your well-being and always follow guidelines from medical practitioners and qualified experts. Stay safe!


Even prior to the current pandemic, there has been a lot of scientific research into what sort of plants might have significant antiviral properties. Antiviral plants are plants which help boost your body’s ability to fight viruses. They aren’t a magic cure, and there is no definitive single plant that gives your immune system a super boost. However, plenty of plants have been proven to help you deal with illnesses such as colds, flu, and other viral infections when eaten as part of a balanced diet.





Garlic is my “go to” plant during cold and flu season. My favourite food to make is curry, because a hot curry also contains chillies and ginger, which you can read more about below. I fry up seeds like mustard and cumin, then lower the heat and add in at least two more cloves of garlic than the recipe calls for! To get rid of garlic breath after a meal, have lemon juice or lemon water.

Garlic has a ton of potential health benefits, including:

  • Better heart health
  • Improved mental well-being
  • Boosted immune system

Garlic contains a compound called alliin, which transforms into allicin when crushed. Allicin then transforms into a range of other compounds which may have medical properties including an antiviral action.



I was introduced to an amazing elderberry tonic by a wise woman who knows more than I probably ever will about plants. She’s taken me on hedgerow walks, pointing out every plant and what its benefits are – completely amazing. The tonic combines fresh or frozen elderberries, sugar, and vinegar plus any other beneficial herbs to create a syrupy, sweet substance that kicks colds right out the door. We always have some in for the winter.

Elderberries have been used in folk medicine for generations, however modern science is now catching up. Studies show that elderberry juice may have a positive impact on reducing the impact of influenza.



Oregano is one of the herbs I use when making Italian or Greek dishes, especially pasta or salads. I’s fresh, fragrant, and it’s also a great addition to the culinary medicine cupboard. Oregano contains a chemical called carvacrol, which has been found to work directly to reduce the effects of murine norovirus (MNV). Oregano may also be effective against one type of herpes and the rotavirus.




As well as being completely yummy, ginger is used all over the world as a remedy for stomach upsets, morning sickness, and as an antiviral additive to the diet. Ginger contains gingerol and zingerone, compounds which may prevent viruses from replicating and attacking cells.

One study found that fresh ginger may have antiviral properties against viral respiratory infections. Try making a ginger tea by steeping thin slices of ginger root in hot water. You can add honey or lemon for a sweeter or zingier taste.


Chilli Peppers

I’m sneaking this one in even though chilli is actually antibacterial rather than antiviral. Chillies prove how weird humans are, because the whole reason chillies evolved to produce capsaicin, the chemical that burns, was to deter animals from eating them. Then we came along and masochistically decided we like the burn!

Chilli has a range of effect on the human body:

  • The burn of chilli causes the body to release endorphins, opiates which reduce pain and cause pleasure
  • One study suggests a correlation between eating a chilli-rich diet and having a longer life
  • Chilli can boost the number of “good” bacteria in the gut
  • Chilli can cause stomach acid to increase which helps kill harmful microorganisms
  • Chilli increases blood flow which can reduce inflammation

Chillies can also help when you have a cold as they may ease congestion and help you breathe more easily. Eat in moderation and never touch your nose or eyes after touching chilli peppers. It burns!


The Kitchen Garden

You can grow a number of antiviral plants and antiviral herbs in your garden or even on your windowsill. As well as the ones mentioned above, why not have a go at growing:

  • Sage
  • Fennel
  • Basil
  • Lemon balm
  • Rosemary
  • Mint

Most of these just need a pot of well drained soil and a sunny spot. What other plants or herbs do you use at home to complement your health and well-being regime? Let us know in the comments or via social media.

All images copyright free via Unsplash.


About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors & Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.