≡ Menu


bird feet

Image: Chris Potako (flickr/chrispotako), CC BY 2.0

The past couple of weeks haven’t quite been a vacation. I suspect most of us are anxious to get back to work. As we “non-essentials” alternate between quasi-homesteading and daily constitutionals, many of us may be filling the time gaps with DIY projects; or at least, looking for something to do.

Here’s a project: foot bath.

A foot bath doesn’t sound like your typical DIY activity. However, for a western culture not generally accustomed to herbal self-care, this can very well turn into a big task.

China loves foot baths. At least, compared to anyone I know. In China—and in Chinese medicine therapies around the world—herbs are often added to foot baths, depending on the therapeutic goal.

The following foot bath is a recent recommendation in China for home care and prevention of COVID-19. The recipe includes several herbs commonly used in Chinese medicine for infectious or inflammatory diseases.

Not all herbs are required. But the more you include, the broader the therapeutic spectrum. While a few of the herbs are common, most will likely be unfamiliar to you. This is where the DIY-sense starts to seep in—as you learn about and collect these herbs.

The herb collecting may be challenging. But you might be fortunate to have a local Chinese herbal pharmacy—that remains open. If so, I’ve included the Chinese (pinyin) names to aid your herb run.

Foot Bath Recipe

15 grams each:

  • Nepeta (jing jie)
  • Wormwood (qing hao)
  • Mint (bo he)
  • Houttuynia (yu xing cao)
  • Woad leaf (da qing ye)
  • Eupatorium fortune (pei lan)
  • Acorus tatarinowii (shi chang pu)
  • Polygonum flaccidum (la liao; la ma liao; or liao zi cao)
  • Turmeric root (yu jin)
  • Clove (ding xiang)

Plus, 3 grams of borneol [Important for aiding absorption of herbal compounds through the skin.]

Source: World Federation of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Societies (WFAS), Beijing, China.

The herbs are prepared by decoction; by combining all ingredients, adding water, and bringing to a boil before simmering for about 20 minutes. Then strain the herbs.

The decoction is generally cooled to 100-110 °F to allow foot soaking for 30 minutes. Pour the decoction into a foot basin and top it off with warm water until feet are submerged.

You can increase the dosages proportionately to make a larger batch to be stored in the fridge. Just reheat or add warm water to the foot basin for each soak. Do not re-use a decoction that has already been soaked in. Scientifically, because that’s gross.


China transport

Image by Dennis Jarvis (flickr/archer10), CC BY-SA 2.0

SARS-CoV-2 is an intrepid world traveler, but not an easy rider. And—politics notwithstanding—I believe the medical, scientific and governmental institutions are doing all they can to contain it. It’s challenging because the virus moves so efficiently; while effectively analyzing a new scenario typically requires time to build data.

We’ve seen a commendable concerted effort to meet this challenge. As evidence, I’m pleased that a scientific review of herbal compounds relating to possible anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity has been published in a short timeframe (Zhang, 2020); and it appears thorough. Even so—hygiene, etiquette, social distance, and quarantine will be the most effective means of viral infection control.

From experiences with SARS (2002/3) and MERS (2012), 115 naturally occurring compounds have been identified as showing anti-coronavirus activity. Based on the compounds’ digestive absorption, distribution within the body, metabolism, and elimination, the list was pared down to 13 candidates.

These candidates relate to individual compounds only. To identify Chinese herbs that might address SARS-CoV-2, they had to contain at least 2 of the compounds and to have been historically used to treat viral respiratory infections.

According to the referenced research, there are 26 plants that may help fend off SARS-CoV-2. Depending on their action, they may be used to either treat COVID-19 or prevent infection. These herbs are listed below with suggested time of use, i.e. during stages of prevention, early onset or suspected exposure, or infection.

For prevention

  • Fortunes bossfern rhizome

For early onset, or suspected exposure

  • Tamaricis cacumen*
  • Erigeron breviscapus
  • Bupleurum root

For infection, depending on symptoms

  • Forsythia fruit
  • Licorice root
  • Mulberry root bark
  • Chrysanthemum flower
  • Tussilage flower
  • Honeysuckle flower
  • White mulberry leaf
  • Hogfennel root
  • Wild buckwheat rhizome*
  • Coptis rhizome
  • Houttuynia
  • Hovenia seed
  • Inula flower
  • Loquat leaf
  • Astragalus root
  • Lepidium seed
  • Marlberry*
  • Aster root
  • Sun spurge*
  • Ginkgo nut
  • Anemarrhena rhizome
  • Epimedium herb

The herbs marked with (*) are not readily available in the U.S. So they would need to be analyzed for accessible substitutes.

There’s a but…

Now, I like identifying options. So I find the above list valuable because it expands the clinical repertoire. However, for mild COVID-19 cases, I believe the simplicity of rest and nourishment (as outlined here) should be sufficient. For severe cases, I would rather you go to the hospital for biomedical support. Pneumonia is life-threatening to the vulnerable population segment, where the severe cases are prevalent.

That being said, you have voting rights on the determination of your healthcare. So if you’d like to talk about the herbal options above, please feel free to contact me.

Interestingly, woad root (which I discussed here) was not included by the study referenced in this post.


Zhang DH, Wu KL, Zhang X, Deng SQ, Peng B. In silico screening of Chinese herbal medicines with the potential to directly inhibit 2019 novel coronavirus. J Integr Med. 2020; 18(2): 152-158.