• Donna Koczaja

Self-care during a crisis

The COVID-19 situation is changing by the minute here in the United States, and undoubtedly you have been receiving countless emails from businesses and organizations providing information and guidance. Your 'best bet' for the latest, most credible information on the virus, including how it spreads, precautions you should take, and recommendations for 'social distancing' are on the Center for Disease Control website. Please consider the following simple diet, lifestyle, and herbal suggestions to stay physically and mentally healthy through this difficult time.


While the grocery store was barren in terms of milk, eggs, bread, chicken, and other food staples, the produce department was still bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables. This is good news, because these foods contain countless essential nutrients that help your body function at its best, whether it's to stave off infection, increase energy, or reduce stress.

The easiest way to remember what to eat is to Eat the Rainbow: produce of all colors. This is because different pigments in fruits and vegetables indicate which beneficial compounds are present. Whole Foods summarizes this method nicely, including specific benefits for specific colors.

Adequate rest

For a strong immune system, sleep is essential. Research has shown that a lot of rebuilding and regenerating happens while we sleep. Specifically, the adaptive immune response - i.e., the formulation of antibodies to combat a specific antigen (e.g., virus) - is mobilized. The resultant specialized immune cells are migrated into the lymph system where they can enter circulation to be better positioned to fight invaders.

Good sleep hygiene

· Cool, quiet, dark room

· Eat last big meal 2-3 hours before bed

· No caffeine several hours before bed

· No TV/electronics in bed

· Strive for at least 7 hours/night

Immune-boosting herbs

Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic has amazing direct anti-microbial properties as well as boosting the immune system. Also high in anti-oxidants for general cellular health. Cook with it liberally (add it to stir frys, on toasted bread, soups).

Garlic bulb

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea): The classic immune-boosting herb, shown to increase adaptive immune cell activity. Root preparations are available in teas, tinctures, capsules. Moderate amounts may be taken as a prophylactic, or higher, acute doses at the first sign of illness.

Echinacea flowers

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous): This root is great for long-term support in strengthening the immune system over time. Best to start taking it before any symptoms occur to maximize immune response when faced with an invader.

Astragalus root slices

Practice calm

When our lives have been turned upside down as many of ours surely have in recent days, we may feel stress and anxiety. Remember your deep breathing - slow down, inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Common herbs such as peppermint, chamomile, and lavender can invoke a sense of calm either in teas or even just smelling their aroma. Additionally, for a calming tea, visit the grocery store and look for blends with either (or both!) of the following herbs:

Scullcap (Scutelleria lateriflora): One of my favorite 'nervines', great for taking the 'edge' off that nervous, jittery feeling. Mild-tasting, very safe, with no 'wonky' side-effects.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): Another nervine, with similar properties as scullcap. Pleasant, lemony flavor.

Scullcap and Lemon Balm plants
Scullcap and Lemon Balm


Though most gyms (i.e., germ-magnets!) are closed right now, getting out and moving is also really important for both mental and physical health. Now that the weather is getting a little warmer, get out and take a walk (while keeping that 'social distance'!), or find some Exercise Videos on YouTube for an in-home workout. Like sleep, research shows that regular exercise boosts your immune system.

Be Well!

I hope these simple tips and reminders help you make healthy choices for yourself and for your communities as what we do individually has tremendous impact on the global response.


Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master's Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna currently practices at the MUIH Natural Care Center in Laurel, Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenliving.com, or contact her directly at greenhavenliving@gmail.com or 240-353-8754.

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