Echinacea, Elderflower & Elderberry – Important Covid-19 Info

I am writing this in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic that’s hitting the world hard.  We have received some conflicting information as to whether Echinacea, Elderflower (which we use in our Cold Comfort Tincture), and Elderberry are safe and appropriate for viral infections, namely the Covid-19 infection. 

There has been some conjecture as to whether Covid-19 could cause a “cytokine storm” which means an over-response by the immune system.  As this virus is so new, not much is known about it yet and whether this is true or not.  Some have expressed concern that these herbs might further stimulate the immune system and cause an over-reaction, making a cytokine storm worse.  After doing some exhaustive research, I have new and interesting information for you on this. 

These are my findings:

One notable piece of information was written by Kerry Bone, who is the Director of Research and Development at MediHerb, a company Bone co-founded in 1986 that produces herbal products for health care professionals. He has written six textbooks defining principles and practices of phytotherapy (plant healing and therapy), and is an advocate of wholistic health.  He is described as being passionate about producing “good science” to provide health care providers looking to do more with herbal care.   

First, here are a few terms you will need to know: 

Cytokine:  a substance which is secreted by certain cells of the immune system and have an effect on other cells. Translation:  Basically, a cell secretes a substance which in turn affects another cell.

Macrophage, monocyte:  both are types of white blood cells, our body’s infection fighters.

Acute:  this means sudden, critical onset.  It is the opposite of chronic which means a long-term ongoing issue, disease or problem.  The Covid-19 is an acute viral infection.

TNF-alpha production:  Tumour Necrosis Factor alpha (TNF alpha), is an inflammatory cytokine produced by macrophages/monocytes during acute inflammation and is responsible for a diverse range of signalling events within cells, leading to necrosis or apoptosis. The protein is also important for resistance to infection and cancers.  Translation:  This basically means that the white blood cells produce an inflammatory substance (cytokine) during an acute inflammatory event (such as contracing an illness or virus) which in turn signals other events within the cells that ultimately lead to the cell death.  What is not clear to me with the descriptions I saw is whether it’s the cell that dies or the virus.  Keep in mind that we have numerous cells that die and are created in our systems each and every day.  This is normal. As this definition goes on to state that the protein is important for resistance to infection or cancers, it makes me think it’s the virus or cancer cell that is killed, as well as the name Tumour Necrosis (meaning death) Factor, which would lead one to think it’s killing tumors not healthy cells.   

mRNA:  Messenger RNA (mRNA).  Molecule in cells that carries codes from the DNA in the nucleus to the sites of protein synthesis in the material within a living cell.  Translation:  Basically this molecule is a messenger between the DNA and the material or protoplasm within a living cell. It allows cells to communicate with one another.

Bone has written a somewhat lengthy piece about Echinacea use with the Covid-19 – most of which is highly technical but his summary says this. (Contact us and I will be happy to send you the entire thing.)

“So, on the evidence we have to date, Echinacea will prime the immune response before the virus exposure but will then tone it down and sustain it once the virus takes hold. Exactly the opposite of the misinformed concerns based on a very superficial knowledge of the published literature. (these misinformed concerns meaning that Echinacea or Elderflower/Berry could make a cytokine storm worse.)

Kerry Bone
March 20, 2020   

He goes on to further state “The results of this study suggest that Echinacea acted more as a modulator or facilitator of the immune response, rather than as an immune stimulant. In resting monocytes, it prepared them for a quicker immune response by inducing TNF-alpha mRNA. However, in overstimulated monocytes (as in the case of a virus that induces cytokine storm) it first reduced, and then extended their response in terms of TNF-alpha production.”

Translation:  In the study, Echinacea was shown to be more of a regulator or modulator (helps to support the immune system when needed and balance it at other times) of the immune system rather than actually stimulating it.  In white blood cells that are at rest (not stimulated by any current virus or infection), Echinacea prepared them for a quicker immune response by prompting the communication between cells, and in turn the cells themselves, to fight and attack the virus or infection. However, in over-stimulated white blood cells (such as in the case of a virus that induces a cytokine storm), Echinacea first reduced the over-activity and then prolonged the cell’s infection fighting-response.  It modulated it. 

This tells us that Echinacea would be helpful in cases of a cytokine storm type of virus – or any kind of virus.  (Bacterial or fungus infections also – the immune system works on those as well.)  Whether this Covid-19 is one of those type of cytokine-storm type of viruses is unknown (as far as I know) – no one really knows all that much about it yet although we are learning more every day, but in any event, Echinacea would be a helpful herb for us after all according to Mr. Bone.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Echinacea and Elderberry (and Elderflower) would be helpful to take when there is a threat of potential illness (like there is now) or if one has been exposed to an illness (which we may have been – it’s hard to tell without everyone being tested).  It will support and help “wake up” the immune system to prepare it for a quicker response.  It will then modulate and regulate the immune system response, even when the immune system is over-responding. Using Echinacea or Elderflower/Berry all of the time is not necessary however – only in times of threat, exposure or need.  Use it only when necessary.  As this current Covid-19 pandemic represents a threat, need and possibly potential exposure, now would be an appropriate time to use both herbs.

There’s your science lesson for the day! 🙂

I also received some information on Elderberry and Elderflower (which again, we use in our Cold Comfort Tincture).  Written by a pediatrician who specializes in difficult cases, he has written information on Elderberry and Elderflower which also are immune modulators rather than stimulators as described above in the case with Echinacea.  Here is the link to his information – it is much easier to read and grasp!

He suggests taking moderate doses of Vitamin C whereas some other sources say to take very high doses. My recommendation is to take it to bowel tolerance. Your body knows what it needs.  Too much for your body will cause diarrhea.  If that happens, just cut back until you find the right amount for you. Smaller doses taken more frequently (such as every 2 hours for example) will help your body to accept and use more.  For me, I can’t remember to take it that often, so I take it morning and night to bowel tolerance.  Do what you can!

He also published a more comprehensive piece on the Covid-19 that has some really great information and suggestions.  He explains why some people seem to be affected so intensely while others slide through it relatively easily.  Here is the link for that.  Again, lots of good information and easy to understand!

I hope that was helpful to you all. 

Take good care and stay well!!