Our bodies are complex creations and work in wonderful and mysterious ways that scientists are uncovering all the time. To protect us from the ravages of pathogens of all kinds, our bodies are equipped with a line of defense that’s called the immune system. Find out how immune supporting herbs can help keep your family healthy.
The Immune System
The immune system is more than just white blood cells, although they are an important part of the defensive line. Various kinds of white blood cells, having different jobs, circulate throughout our bodies eradicating diseased and damaged cells including cancer! Tonsils, adenoids, appendix, thymus gland, spleen, bone marrow, and a complete net of lymph nodes all through our bodies are also parts of this complex system working 24/7 to keep us free from disease and infection. But sometimes we don’t take care of our resources and end up with a weakened immune system that’s ineffective when we need it most.
Cold and flu season and the beginning of the holiday season seem to go hand in hand…curious, don’t you think? Coincidence? Maybe not.
First, it’s back to school parties. Then there’s Halloween with all the candy treats, and let’s face it, whether you celebrate it or not, your kids are subject to its sugary overload. Then Thanksgiving at our house usually means cakes, pies, puddings, etc. Christmas brings us the candy cane/cookie season beginning the first of December. Parties, parties everywhere!
How does our body handle the large amounts of sugar we consume? Besides higher levels of glucose and insulin, eating too much sugar lowers our immune system by limiting the ability of the white blood cells to overpower and destroy pathogens for as long as 4 hours! Imagine the compounding effect repeated parties and celebrations can have on our ability to defend ourselves from cold and flu viruses and bacterial infections!
Immune Supporting Herbs
One sick person in a room or van load of sugared up kids can bring down the house for a few days as the germs spread like wildfire through defenses that may already be weakened by stress, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, not enough sleep, less fresh air and excess weight. So, what can we do to support our immune system naturally with herbs?
Start using immune supporting herbs early! Adding herbal immune supporters to your daily routine at summers end may help you get a jump on those viral bugs that will certainly become more plentiful as cooler temperatures cause us to spend more time indoors.
On my blog, The Woodwife’s Journal, I’ve written several how-to posts about creating your own Herbal Medicine Chest, which includes some of the preparations you’re going to be reading about here.
Some of my favorites include:
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) is a popular Native American plant because of its antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. The root of this plant can be used in several herbal preparations including tinctures, decoctions and capsules. Gargling with the decoction, as well as drinking it as a soothing tisane, can ease the pain of a sore throat. You can make your own tinctures and capsules or purchase them. You can also buy dried echinacea root to make your decoction.
Garlic (Allium sativum) stimulates the immune system as well being a natural antibiotic. Add it to your food, rub it on the bottom of your feet, take in capsule form to reap the benefits of this fragrant herb. Deodorized versions are available but are not as effective. Eating fresh parsley may eliminate garlic breath. Do not take therapeutic amounts of garlic during pregnancy or breastfeeding because it may cause indigestion and heartburn. Babies may not nurse well if they taste garlic in breast milk.
My Mypos Cure is a favorite herbal remedy we prepare when the garlic is fresh in late summer just in time for cold an flu season.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) often dscribed as a complete medicine chest because of the many theraputic and prophylactic properties it offers. The flowers can be made into a tisane or infusion to induce sweating in feverish conditions. Taken early in the season, it can bolster the lungs against pollen allergies. Tisane can be used during the cold and flu season to treat feverish conditions and mucous build up in the lungs. Berries can be made into syrups and wines to use early in the season to support immunity. Mixed with other expectorant herbs, it can be used for coughs.
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is a good warming herb to use before a cold stikes to boost body temp a bit and increase circulation. During a cold or flu, it can dispel fever, get rid of chills, calm an upset stomach and sooth nausea. You can tincture it, encapsulate it, decoct it and of course eat it.
Penelope Ode suggests boiling a couple slices in a cup of water for 10 minutes for phlem and chills. Add a pinch of cinnamon.
1-2 drops of ginger essential oil can be added to a cube of sugar or spoonful of honey for chills, phlem, indigestion, cramping, nausea, travel sickness and flatulence. Pretty impressive!
Use caution in early pregnancy, although it is great for morning sickness, just don’t overdo it.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is an adaptogenic herb used in TCM for thousands of years. Containing antioxidants, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, its ability to build our resistance to pathogens and reduce high blood pressure and treat diabetes make this an all around great herb to keep on hand. A caution though, do not give to a child with a fever as it may make it last longer and grow stronger. Check with your doctor.
Astragalus can be used topically for wound healing and rashes. The root of this plant can be powdered and encapsulated, tinctured, decocted, or made into a cream. I add a few strips of astragalus root to my soups.
There are many more herbs that can help support our immune system including turmeric, ginseng, and cats claw.
Nourish yourself with this recipe that incorporates some of these herbs in a healing soup.
Be sure to treat yourself well as we head into cold and flu season by getting enough rest, drinking plenty of water to flush out toxins and keep your body hydrated, exercising to eliminate stress and maintain a healthy weight, getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine, eating healthy and keeping ahead of the game by limiting your sugar intake. Include adaptogenic and immune supporting herbs in your cooking, teas, and medicine chest.
How do you keep your immune system up during this season?