During flu season or cold weather spices, herbs and teas provide nutrients that enhance immunity while fight off various viral infections. The simplest way to enjoy these spices is to steep them in hot liquid and serve in a form of spice elixir or chai tea. The warm liquid soothes the throat creating comfort along with numerous health benefits that will be d below. 

Highlights

What is a Natural Antiviral?

What is a Virus?

Viral Mutations

Top 10 (Chai Tea) Spices and Herbs

1. Star Anise: shikimic acid and Tamilflu

2. Nutmeg: myristic acid and antiviral properties

3. Cinnamon: cinnamaldehyde and essential oils

4. Cloves: eugenol for volume and potency

5. Cardamom: limonene, a mighty antioxidant

6. Coriander: linalool fights flu viruses

7. Fennel: polyphenols for strong organ systems

8. Ginger: linalool and gingerol power

9. Turmeric: curcumin and 100+ active compounds

10. Tulsi Herb (Holy Basil): polyphenols boost immunity cells

(Bonus) Green Tea: catenchins and EGCG star fighter

Final Thoughts

References

Have you ever wondered as to why the flu season comes every year?

And, why the flu shot is only effective between 10%-15%, [1] depending on the influenza strain?

The short answer: viruses change their genome and evolve over time.

Viruses have been around since the world began and occupy every part of it, including each living organism. [15] These include the parasitic types that infect our body causing pain and discomfort.

Scientists believe evolution of viruses and infection rates started increasing since the beginning of human civilizations, as we began living in communities, grew plants and domesticated animals. There are over 263 different human infecting virus species from 25 viral families that produce an ever-expanding range of illnesses, infections and complications. [2,3]

Our body’s immune system is the main line of defence against pathogen invasion. It engages numerous pathways combatting, overcoming and learning of the infection producing antibodies for future encounters.

Since the ancient times, specific foods were discovered and used to treat various ailments including virus causing diseases.

In this article, we’ll discuss top 10 chai tea spices that possess antiviral properties and help our body to fight infection, boost immunity while reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.

What is a Natural Antiviral?

Antiviral is a drug or treatment that is effective against viruses. Many natural and traditional remedies were derived using spices and herbs that fight infection and inflammation while enhancing immune system. Modern science has identified many compounds within spices and herbs as strong antioxidants that not only combat viruses but produce a multitude of internal health improvements.

What is a Virus?

A virus is a microscopic entity that needs a living host cell to replicate itself. Singular viral particles called virions are tiny non-living packages of own genetic material (either a DNA or RNA based) enclosed in a capsid and wrapped around protein and lipid bilayers for protection. The outer protective layer of the virion has specific surface attachments made from proteins and sugars which are used to connect to host cells.

Host cells also have receptors that viruses use to bind to. [4] Once attached to a host cell, virion inserts its genetic material inside hijacking metabolic machinery and begins producing multiple copies of itself which are then assembled inside the cell. Viruses inside the cell are released through a biochemical process called lysis, killing the host cell in the process. Many types of viruses infect all kinds of living organisms including plants, animals, humans and even microbes like bacteria. [4]

Numerous viral species are zoonotic, meaning they can jump from animals and infect humans. [3,5] Influenza A, Hepatitis B, HIV, SARS, MERS, Dengue and Yellow fever, Measles, Mumps and Smallpox all originate from zoonotic viruses capable of moving between humans and animals and responsible for recent infectious diseases in the past few decades. [5]

Viral Mutations

Due to their unique natural selection, virions have a great ability to evolve their genomes. This is done in two ways:

  1. mutation and
  2. recombination.

Mutation is a mistake made during copying of viral genetic material (DNA or RNA) by specific enzymes called DNA or RNA polymerases inside host cells. [6] Polymerases are genetic copying machines. DNA versions have proofread settings, while RNA polymerases don’t typically check copied sequences. Hence, RNA viruses have much greater mutation rates than DNA varieties. [6] This is also called antigenic drift, as with natural mutation results in slight modifications like new viral parts (antigens). [7]

Recombination is when two viruses infect the same cell. It happens when different strains of the same virus (like different versions of influenza A) infect the same host cell. Both viruses inject their genetic materials and use host cell to replicate and manufacture their own copies. And during packaging is where mismatches happen. Sometimes small, similar pieces in the genetic code of one virus can be detached and re-connected into the genome of the second virus. [6] Other times, big chunks of genome can be swapped and put together into a “new”  genomic sequence giving rise to a unique viral version. This is called reassortment and many viruses, like influenza produce new strains using this type of mistaken assembly. [6]

Recombination can produce subtypes of viruses that were never encountered before. Swapping of large genome parts translates into new combinations of protein shells and different mixture of surface proteins (antigens). This is called antigenic shift which gives rise to many new pandemic type viruses. [6,8] For instance, the subtype of the bird Influenza A during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, kept on jumping between animals and humans every decade and a half, including the swine flu pandemic of 2009. Each time, versions of the virus would infect an animal cell (human, avian or swine) producing a novel influenza A type. [6,8-13] The current coronavirus-19 (SARS-CoV2) is believed to be created from such antigenic shift of an original SAR-CoV of 2002. [14]

Top (Antiviral) Spices and Herbs to add to your Chai Tea

SHOP Exotic Chai Tea—Elevate—Black Tea + 5 Spices
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1. Star Anise: shikimic acid and Tamilflu

Numerous plants offer generous amounts of antioxidants that boost immunity and reduce the risk of infection, but none do it quite like star anise. The star shaped spice is rich in numerous potent antioxidants like vitamin A and C, which help fight various infections during the cold season however, its star ingredient is shikimic acid. For over 30 years shikimic acid was used to produce an antiviral vaccine Oseltamivir (also known as Tamilflu, a drug that used to treat avian influenza H5N1 bird flu). [16,19]

Besides bird flu, Oseltamivir has been also effective against human influenza H1N1 strain. Its essential oils slow down herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) and possess anti-HIV activity. [17,19] Star anise has the highest concentration of shikimic acid from all the plants in the world. Other polyphenols like quercetin (found in many spices) increase body’s innate immune response to a viral infection while beta-caryophyllene directly inactivates free HSV-1 virus particles. [17-19,39] Beta-caryophyllene’s anti-viral effect is still being investigated, but believed to interfere with virion envelope structure used to enter host cell. [39]

2. Nutmeg: myristic acid and antiviral properties

Nutmeg seed consists of oil (predominantly myristic acid), starch and essential oils made up of phytonutrients (terpenes and phenylpropanoids) which are strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-depressant and cellular protective agents. [33] Myristic acid is also a strong antiviral compound inhibiting progression of Newcastle disease virus (NDV) [34], vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) and Poliovirus type-1. [35,36]

Other active compounds of nutmeg (such as caffein acid, quercetin, epicatechin, alpha-pinene, kaempferol, limonene, linalool, oleanolic acid and vanillin) fight viral invaders while enhancing immune response through direct (infection) and indirect (inflammation) pathways. [37]

3. Cinnamon: cinnamaldehyde and essential oils

Cinnamon is a super-spice when it comes to naturally aiding in combating wide range of infections and diseases. The essential oils contain many immune-boosting agents which yield health benefits through multitude of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-mutagenic and anti-viral channels. Cinnamon’s active compound cinnamaldehyde can effectively slow down the growth of numerous bacteria, viruses and even drug-resistant fungi. [38]

Cinnamaldehyde’s numerous health benefits make it a key focus in cancer research. As with tumour cells, cinnamaldehyde combats and reduces virus expansions like influenza A/PR/8 (H1N1 pandemic strain). [38] Combined with other essential oils, cinnamon further inhibits progression of influenza A—H1N1 and herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) [39]—and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). [40,41] Scientists are currently working using cinnamon with nanotechnology, which is showing great promise against highly pathogenic viruses like influenza subtype H7N3 (avian flu). [42]

SHOP Classic Chai Tea—Arise—Black Tea + 7 Spices

Arise Chai Tea Health Benefits

4. Cloves: eugenol for volume and potency

We all familiar with powerful antioxidants like curcumin (of turmeric and ginger), eugenol, resveratrol, terpenoids (found in cloves, cinnamon, ginger), epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) (part of green, white and black teas). These compounds fight chronic inflammation and disease, improve immunity and organ function while reducing stress on chemical, cellular and structural levels. And, when it comes to polyphenol rich foods, cloves possess both—volume and potency. [43]

Cloves’s main active ingredient is eugenol who’s extensive health benefits include immune-stimulation, antibacterial as well as antiviral properties. Eugenol is an absolute anti-inflammatory monster affecting many internal pathways; and no other spice has more eugenol than cloves. [44] The essential oils of this fragrant spice used for centuries as traditional remedies in fighting common cold and flu viruses. [45]

Eugenol shown to compliment numerous antibiotic and antiviral drugs improving their effectiveness while directly reducing progression of virus infection. [46] Like many other pathogens, viruses use our internal signalling pathways to proliferate. Eugenol interferes with these signals of infected cells thus reducing the spread of viruses like influenza A virus, feline calicivirus (FCV), tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV), 4 airborne phages (viruses that infect bacteria), as well as ever dangerous ebola virus (EBOV). [47] Eugenol can damage viral envelopes of newly formed virions of herpes simplex virus type-1 and type-2 (HSV 1 and 2) and of great interests to many scientists of numerous research fields including antiviral therapy. [44,46-47]

5. Cardamom: limonene, a mighty antioxidant

Another ginger family member, cardamom is known as “the queen of spices” and for a good reason. Essential oils are loaded with bioactive ingredients like alpha-terpinyl acetate and 1,8-cineole that give cardamom its unique aroma. [48] Active compounds such as terpenes, flavonoids and propanoids found in cardamom possess numerous antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, analgesic and immune enhancing properties. [48]

1,8-cineole is a potent ingredient found in many plants including cardamom with strong anti-viral abilities that decrease the spread of influenza A (H1N1 strain) and block attachments on top of herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) particles inactivating them from entering host cells. [39] Limonene is cardamom’s major component and another mighty antioxidant with great interests in cancer research. Along with reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, limonene holds strong antimicrobial properties, reducing viral infections in a similar manner to 1,8-cineole of common herpes virus [49] and avian influenza A (H5N1). [50]

6. Coriander: linalool fights flu viruses

Since the ancient times, coriander has been used as a healing tonic against infection and variety of digestive issues. Coriander is nutrient rich in compounds such as petroselinic acid (omega-12) and numerous terpenes like its main ingredient linalool, that not only carry pleasant floral smell but potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-depressant and neuro-protective properties. [51] Linalool is another antiviral ingredient inhibiting influenza A (H1N1 version) virus. [52]

Besides linalool, coriander’s essential oils contain other potent phytonutrients like limonene, carvone, geraniol, camphor, elemol, quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin and apigenin as well as caffeic, chlorogenic and linoleic acids. [51] These compounds enhance immune response, reduce free radicals, protect cellular integrity (including the brain cells) and reduce inflammation. [51]

7. Fennel: polyphenols for strong organ systems

Throughout history fennel was an important herb symbolizing longevity, courage and strength. Known for its digestive properties fennel’s active compound anethole is a potent antioxidant and found in similar spices like anise and star anise. Anethole along with other strong flavonoids (kaempferol, estragole, rosmarinic acid, coumarin acid and quercetin) promote wide range of benefits that improve digestive tract, detoxify the body, boost immunity, while fighting pathogens and inflammation. [31]

Fennel’s antiviral properties extend to both DNA (like herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1)) and RNA (such as parainfluenza type-3 (PI-3)) based viruses. [32] Polyphenols within fennel seeds improve immunity while reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. This results in stronger functioning organs and systems that fight infection with greater force. [31-32]

SHOP Green Chai Tea—Fortify—Green Tea + Tulsi + 5 Spices

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8. Ginger: linalool and gingerol power

Turmeric’s cousin, ginger is a long standing natural remedy against various ailments and infections. Ginger’s main compound gingerol shows numerous antioxidant, anti-inflammation, immune-stimulating and anti-viral abilities that reduce transmissions of several influenza pandemic strains. [23,24]

Gingerol’s virus fighting effect also extends to several respiratory strains such as human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV). [24] Fresh ginger taken with honey, shows strong potential for not only fighting cough and bronchitis, but effectively reducing HRSV within respiratory tract cells. [25] Other active compounds within ginger shown to reduce infections by affecting viral replication and entry into host cell mechanisms. [23,25]

9. Turmeric: curcumin and 100+ active compounds

Known by many names with 1000+ year history as a healing spice, turmeric is revered as a true superfood with over 100 active compounds identified thus far. [20] Its main ingredient curcumin has been linked to wide range of health benefits. Besides being a mighty anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenger, curcumin showcases its prominent anti-viral capacity against hepatitis C, dengue, herpes simples, human immunodeficiency, zika, chikungunya [21], papilloma and influenza A viruses. [22] Being a master anti-inflammatory agent curcumin stimulates immune response through numerous signalling pathways by directly affecting body systems and infection causing microbes. [22]

Curcumin’s great antiviral potential is currently studied in new techniques like photodynamic therapy as a photosensitizer to prevent early transmission of noroviruses (NoV). [22] Also, tiny nano-vessels loaded with curcumin show strong promise against respiratory tract infections caused by viruses like human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV). [22]

10. Tulsi Herb (Holy Basil): polyphenols boost immunity cells

Holy basil or tulsi has been part of the ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years promoting healing and improving illnesses and infections. Tulsi is a well known adaptogen for reducing stress, anxiety and inflammation, but it’s also a mighty immune booster and infection fighter. [26] Tulsi holds tremendous antimicrobial activity reducing numerous strains of pathogenic viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. [27,28] It’s main active ingredient eugenol shown strong results against infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV), polio type-3 virus, herpes simplex virus (HSV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV). [27] Other compounds within tulsi like linalool, apigenin and ursolic acid further extend anti-viral range affecting both DNA and RNA base virions. [27] Tulsi extract has also reduced avian Influenza A (H9N2) strain which can infect humans. [29]

The other part of tulsi’s viral combat is elevating our natural immune response. Tulsi’s active ingredients increase numerous immune cells (white blood cells, T-helper and NK-cells, etc) to engage and fight off foreign invaders. [28-30] Furthermore, tulsi is handy when it comes to internal protection and detox processes against toxic compounds, metals and free radicals. [26]

(Bonus) Green Tea: catenchins and EGCG star fighter

Green tea is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to health and well being. Polyphenols are one of the main bioactive compounds in tea, the major ones being flavan-2-ols or, catenchins. Green tea’s main catechins include epicatechin (EC), epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), epigallocatechin (EGC), and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). [53] These compounds produce a multitude of cell protective, immune-stimulating, and antioxidant actions which reduce infection and disease while enhancing internal systems. [53]

Green tea packs a mighty antiviral punch, affecting numerous types of RNA and DNA based viruses that infect humans, animals, birds and fish. [54] The main viral fighting star in green tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) that affects different stages of virus replication, assembly, signalling and transmission mechanisms (depending on virus type). At times EGCG directly reacts with the virions causing structural damage (like with HSV) and deactivating the virus in the process. [54]

EGCG shown to reduce human viral infection by hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV) herpes simplex type-1 and type-2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2), Epstein-Barr (EBV), human immunodeficiency type-1 (HIV-1), influenza A (IAV), influenza B (IBV), Arboviruses (dengue (DENV), chikungunya (CHIKV), zika (ZIKV), west nile (WNV), Japanese encephalitis (JEV), tick-borne encephalitis (TBEV)), human T-cell lymphotoropic type-1 (HTLV-1), enterovirus 71 (EV71 – pathogen of hand, foot and mouth disease), and ebola (EBOV) to name a few. [54]

Green tea extract also helps to protect against getting influenza A. Compound named QR-435 within green tea extract used in masks which prevented contracting Influenza H3N2. [54,55] Taking tea catechins as supplements or simply gargling with tea extract significantly reduces chances of getting the flu. [54]

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Final Thoughts

Spices have been used as natural remedies since the ancient times. These potent ingredients were once reserved for Pharos, Maharajas and Kings have now made their way into many of common kitchens. Spices’ unique fragrance and taste make them great additions to many dishes.

During flu season or cold weather, spices provide nutrients that enhance immunity while fight off various viral infections. The simplest way to enjoy these spices is to steep them in hot liquid and serve in a form of spice elixir or chai tea. The warm liquid soothes the throat creating comfort along with numerous discussed health benefits. 

Top antiviral spices and herbs discussed in this article can be found in our Chai Tea Wellness Collection—Arise, Elevate and Fortify. Be it loose leaf or tea bag variety, each cup comes with powerful polyphenols as well as a welcoming moment of enjoyment.

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