Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge During COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has major implications on our physical, mental and spiritual health, with many of us worried that we will not be able to pay rent after being laid off or seeing our hours cut. This is stressful for everyone, but for Indigenous people, in particular, the pandemic resurfaces generational trauma of when infectious and contagious diseases were used intentionally as warfare against Indigenous populations.

These are just a few reasons why it is more crucial than ever to look back at traditional medicines that support our all around health.  In this time of great sickness, it is important to stay indoors with your loved ones; to think of your elders with the utmost honor, integrity and respect. And lastly, it is time to remember how to work with traditional medicines and seeds to help both our immune and respiratory systems as well as lift our emotional and spiritual well being.The novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, has further exposed the inequalities in the job and health care sector, the unsustainable future for urban populations, and the urgency of learning how to grow and work with plant and herb nations.

What is the Coronavirus?

It is important to know the facts of how the virus affects our families and community. It is important to stay in prayer. Pray for each other and for our elders; during sunrise, pray each time you drink water and before you eat your food.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and animals. There are two types of coronaviruses that we have seen in the past decade which have also caused outbreaks, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory System) and MERS (Middle Eastern Acute Respiratory System). The virus is named after the crownlike spikes that are on its surface. As of today at least 70,000 people in the US have tested positive across every state.

The virus spreads from person to person, and for that reason it is important to practice social distancing and stay indoors. Elders and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of complications. So it’s our personal responsibility to stay home to stem the spread of the virus. For Indigenous peoples, our elders are the keepers of tradition and knowledge. They are sacred to us, and we must protect them. Call your elders and check up on them; the settler colonial project in which we live, promotes individualism where our elders are often looked over and forgotten.

In response to COVID-19, nonessential businesses, universities, conferences, concerts and airlines have been shut down, and any gathering of 10 people or more has been banned. Considering that many Indigenous households often house two families and are intergenerational, it may not be possible for them to practice  “social distancing.” When it comes to responding to COVID-19, we as Indigenous people need to create our own response kits because the ones being shared over the media may not fit our realities.

The Impacts of COVID-19

So far, four in 10 Latinos in New York City have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. Undocumented workers make up most of the service industry where thousands have lost their jobs after restaurants and small businesses were forced to close. On the frontlines of the pandemic are those fighting against the virus, including doctors and health care workers, as well as farmers, grocery, food store clerks, and laborers in “essential” sectors.

The impacts of COVID-19 are disrupting systems that haven’t done a satisfactory job of protecting people of color. During this pandemic we come to realize that both our healthcare system and food systems are failing us. The United States now has a third of the COVID-19 cases worldwide and the federal government is not prepared for the overwhelming surge of infections because it chooses to bail out Wall Street instead of the healthcare system. COVID-19 is exposing the weakness in US health care systems; there is concern of a shortage of hospital beds, and lack of ventilators and medical equipment being dispersed. The government is not ready to adequately respond to the pandemic crisis, and our communities are on the frontlines of the disruption.

As we feel the onset of an economic recession, many of our relations face the inequity of the health care and food system. As the settler colonial capitalistic project inevitably falls apart, more families will lose their source of income and panic buying will empty grocery stores shelves, leaving the most vulnerable without food. Indigenous, black and brown families are struggling because these systems are failing to protect and care for us. At this very moment it is crucial for us to think about the society we would like to create for ourselves and leave for the future generations. It is fundamental for our survival.

That is why we are compiling an active list of Traditional Ecological Knowledge that we can study and utilize during this time. We are also including a running list of decolonial podcasts, articles and resources that address how Indigenous peoples can stay healthy and informed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is important we share that the herbs and plants listed below are in no way proven to be a cure for COVID-19. We are only listing traditional medicines that are known to help aid in strengthening our immune and respiratory systems.

Traditional Medicine Guide: Plants and Herbs that Strengthen our Immune and Respiratory Systems


  1. Osha or Bear Root – One of the most widely used medicines of the Southwest. A sacred mountain root that is threatened due to over harvesting. Contact your local herbalists to find out if they carry local Osha or if they carry the seeds for you to start planting them. In the Jicarilla language, osha is called ha’ich’idéé. The White Mountain Apache call it ha’il chii’ gah. According to White Mountain Apache elders, it is used to support winter wellness.

  2. Elderberry Syrup –  The elderberry flower has been used for centuries to treat illnesses such as the cold and the flu. It is an antioxidant, antiviral, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating medicine that we should all become familiar with.

  3. Lemon Balm – Known to help relieve stress, anxiety, treat cold sores and relieve indigestion.

  4. Goldenseal – Native to the hardwood forests of the Mississippi River, Goldenseal is used for the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections. It is also used to help heal bladder and eye infections.

  5. Cedar – Both burning cedar in your home and drinking cedar tea are excellent during this time, they purify your space and your body. Cedar tea is used to treat fever, chest colds, and flu-like symptoms. It opens your pores and eliminates sickness effectively, it also is known to contain large amounts of vitamin C.

  6. Garlic – It is the first thing our grandmothers might have told us to take when we get sick. Garlic has been proven to boost immunity, work as an anti-inflammatory and contains antibacterial properties.

  7. Oregano – Traditional oregano oil is used to treat fevers and respiratory symptoms. There have been many studies that confirm oregano has strong antioxidant properties and helps with flu symptoms such as body aches and sore throat. In other words, our ancestors just knew.

  8. Fire Cider – Follow recipe here.

  9. CBD Oil – For stress and anxiety check out Ayaora Conscious Hemp Cannabis, they carry artisanal crafted CBD products.

  10. Sauerkraut – Check out Raceme Farm Collective for their recipe here.


Articles and Resources on Seed Starting/Gardening:

  1. 8 Vegetables You Can Grow In Your Tiny Apartment All Year Round

  2. 14 Store Bought Vegetables & Herbs You Can Regrow 

  3. 9 Survival Gardening Crops to Grow in a Post Apocalyptic World  

  4. How To Start a Container Garden from Seed Easy! Step by Step 

  5. Planting by the Moon 

  6. How To Store Fresh Vegetables For Months…Without A Refrigerator 

  7. Making Bread Without An Oven

Relief Funds and Resources for Undocumented Families 

  1.  COVID-19 Resources For Undocumented Californians

  2. New York Restaurant Creates Relief Fund for Undocumented Workers

  3. Resources for Undocumented Workers in NY During the Coronavirus Crisis

  4. Resources for Undocumented Immigrants and their Families During COVID-19

  5. Recursos para Trabajadores Indocumentados en Nueva York durante la Crisis del Coronavirus

Mutual Aid Links

  1. Seattle area COVID-19 “Request Support” Form

  2. Welcome to Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville (MAMAS)

  3. Mutual Aid NYC – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

  4. Mutual aid groups deliver food and meds to vulnerable Brooklynites

Mutual Aid Links on Reservations 

  1. Northern Arapaho COVID-19 Support Fund 

  2. Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Help Request Form

  3. IIYC Covid-19 Community Fund

Volunteering Opportunities 

  1. Prep & Serve in West Harlem

  2. COVID-19 Response: Help Pack Emergency Food Donations

  3. Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Volunteer Form


  1. Coronavirus in Indian Country w/ Dean Seneca by Red Nation 

Subscribe * indicates required Email Address * First Name Last Name Birthday / ( mm / dd )

Related Articles

Why We Need to Protect Indigenous Elders During COVID-19 Pandemic

For indigenous people, elders are precious to us, they are the guardians of ancestral wisdom, they provide us with guidance, structure, and affection, and they do it all with love. Elders pass down to us the traditional way of life, they are a part of many creation stories and need to honored and taken care of. During the COVID-19 pandemic, elders are one of the most vulnerable populations, especially those who live on Native American reservations due to the underlying health conditions and the conditions of where they reside.

The Kings Of Democracy

As a little girl when people said democracy, I thought it meant we don’t have a king, or one person in charge of everything. The common people have more of a say in decisions, and we vote every four years to elect the leader that we want. I thought it was all fair and equal. Then I grew up.

Announcing our new Co-Youth Director Marlow Baines

As an organization, Earth Guardians encourages Youth leaders to show up with authenticity and let authenticity inspire our work. Earth Guardian’s work is anchored in these three qualities, authenticity, spirit, and family or community, and these qualities are the reason we have affected the change that we have. Tamara, our Executive Director, envisioned Earth Guardians out of a recurring dream she had of hundreds of thousands of youth collaborating and pouring into the streets, together. With this vision, she began the Earth Guardians school in 1992, in Maui, Hawaii.