We may be deep in the heart of cold and flu season already, but it’s never too late to use herbs to bolster your immune system. We do have a few more months of winter here in Vermont, after all. Here, we’ll walk you through two types of herbs you can incorporate into your daily routine that can keep your immune system humming along this season. For more information on holistic ways to naturally strengthen and support immunity check out this previous post. And for some inspiration to incorporate immune supportive herbs into your routine, remember the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Immune Tonics: this class of herbs stimulate deeper activation of the innate immune system and help bolster immune defenses. They usually work better over the long term, and have cumulative effects. These herbs are best used preventatively rather than during acute infection.
Elderberries: one of the most delicious immune tonics we have, elderberries make a great syrup that is easy and enjoyable to work into your daily routine - even most kiddos like it! The syrup can be taken alone but is a great addition to beverages or food. Try mixing it with soda water or a cup of tea or pouring it over yogurt, oatmeal, or waffles.
Astragalus: an ancient medicine used by Chinese medicine practitioners for thousands of years, this root is a great daily tonic for folks who are particularly susceptible to catching whatever virus is going around. With a sweet, mild flavor, astragalus can be taken as a powder, tincture, or in decoction. The root slices are also easy to toss into soups, stocks, and grains while they simmer (just remove before eating). Many herbalists advise folks to not take astragalus while they have an active infection.
Medicinal Mushrooms: a variety of mushrooms act similarly to astragalus as immune tonics. Some key ones to consider are maitake, shitake, reishi, and turkey tail. They can be taken as tincture, powder, or in decoction. Because of their earthy flavor, dried mushrooms also make a great addition to savory soups and stocks. Medicinal mushrooms have a modulating effect on the immune system, so while they help bolster deficient immune defenses, they can also help balance out hypersensitive immune responses, such as autoimmune or allergic conditions. When looking for medicinal mushroom products, make sure that tinctures are double-extracted and powders are steam activated to ensure you get the most beneficial compounds.
Adaptogens: this class of herbs supports a strong immune system by helping the body be resilient to the stressors of daily life. We know that stress hinders immune function, so by modulating the stress response we allow our natural immune defenses to do their job. Like immune tonics, adaptogens work cumulatively over time and should be taken regularly. There are a variety of adaptogens that suit different types of people, but here we describe a few that are pretty widely applicable and have extra benefits for the immune system.
Eleuthero: sometimes referred to as Siberian Ginseng, this root builds vitality and is mildly stimulating. It can be helpful for folks who need a little extra energy or endurance. It can be taken as a tincture, powder, or in decoction.
Tulsi: also known as holy basil, this aromatic herb is a widely applicable adaptogen that can be simultaneously uplifting and calming to the mood. It can be taken as a tincture or powder, but we suggest trying it as a tea to experience its unique and delicious flavor.
Ashwagandha: this nutritive, building root is often thought of as a more calming adaptogen and is especially indicated for folks who are depleted but unable to switch out of the sympathetic nervous system - a combination sometimes referred to as “tired and wired.” It can build resources and resiliency while helping to quiet nervous system activation. It can be taken as a tincture, powder, or in decoction.
We hope these suggestions are a helpful starting point for you to take some proactive steps to strengthen your immune system and prevent future infections. If you’d like help matching yourself with the most appropriate herbs, talk to one of our herbalists!
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