As we head into winter, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep my family healthy and free from colds and the flu this year. We got one brief cold already, but fortunately between taking homeopathic remedies and herbs it was out of the house within a few days! This cold caught me a bit off guard, but I want to be ready for any sickness we might come across the rest of the year. Thus I’ve been researching herbs and natural remedies to keep you healthy in the cold & flu season and help you heal quickly when you do get sick.
What follows is a brief explanation of what your immune system is and a list of six readily available herbs that can boost your immune system and help during a cold. There are dozens of herbs with anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities and many different natural remedies for fighting colds such as apple cider vinegar that I specifically chose not to address here. I purposely chose to research herbs that are readily available, can be combined with each other, and cover the full spectrum of an illness from strengthening your immune system before (Astragalus) to the sore throat (Licorice) to killing off the cold bugs in your body. (Yarrow) I would rather know a few herbs well than have an overwhelming list of herbs that I do not know how to use, might use wrong, or do not even have in stock. That said, as the winter progresses, I will definitely be doing more research and will be writing additional posts with more info on fighting colds.
What is your immune system?
“The immune system is the body’s natural defense system that helps fight infections.” (WebMD) It is composed of white blood cells, antibodies, and other cells that destroy bacteria and viruses that they identify as being different from normal, healthy tissues. Your immune system includes your tonsils, thymus, lymphatic system, bone marrow, spleen, and white blood cells.
The Lymphatic System
Your Lymphatic system is composed of lymph nodes/ vessels all through your body that transport and filter lymph fluid. The lymph nodes trap bacteria, viruses, etc. then white blood cells called lymphocytes destroy them. “When the body is fighting infection, lymph nodes can become enlarged and feel sore.” (Livescience.com.)
Your bone marrow is spongy tissue found primarily inside the bones of your arms, legs, pelvis, and spine. Bone marrow is made of red and yellow marrow, which makes red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
White Blood Cells
The white blood cells created by the bone marrow are very important because they protect the body from infection by destroying the bacteria or viruses that cause it. Lymphocytes are little white blood cells that are divided into two categories; B-cells and T-cells. Your B-cells make the antibodies that attack the bacteria and toxins in your body and the T-cells are white blood cells that work together to actively destroy infected cells.
Your spleen, the largest organ in your body, is also part of your immune system. It is located on your left between your ribs above it and your stomach right below it. This organ filters the blood to remove blood cells and platelets that are getting old or are damaged. (National Institute of Health) It also destroys foreign substances including bacteria.
Tonsils & Thymus
Your tonsils and thymus help your body by making antibodies against bacteria and viruses. The Thymus is a little organ shaped like a thyme leaf (Live Science) beneath your breastbone. It is here where T-cells mature.
Which herbs should you consider when trying to strengthen your immune system or help it fight off a sickness? Here are six common herbs in alphabetical order
6 Herbs for Immune Health
Astragulus: This root has been used for over 2,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Studies have shown that Astragalus boosts your immune system by triggering the creation of new cells in your bone marrow and Lymphatic tissue, increases the activity of immune cells, and protects cells against free radical damage. (Mother Earth Living) Take before a cold hits to build your immune system up, but stop if you end up with a cold so you don’t trap it in your body.
Echinacea seems to stimulate the immune system and helps to increase the body’s production of white blood cells. JJ Pursell of The Herbal Apothecary suggests taking it for the first day or two of coming down with a sickness then switching to something that treats your symptoms more directly. Mother Earth Living suggests taking, ” 30 to 60 drops of liquid extract or 1-2 capsules of 300-400mg each every two hours for the first 24-48 hours, followed by the same dosage four times a day for three days after symptoms disappear.” Check out my post on Echinacea for more info
Elderberry contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, as well as flavenoids and anthocyanins which all boost your immune system. The berries also contain antiviral properties. (HCH) Elderberry products are often used to treat cold, flu, and upper respiratory infections. Quick warning; there are a few different kinds of Elderberry. Don’t use the red elder as it is mildly toxic and don’t eat the berries of the blue elder raw in large amounts as they can cause gastrointestinal distress. Check out my post here for the Elderberry Syrup recipe that I use and love!
Licorice is an excellent antiviral. Herbs for Children’s Health encourages using it for soothing and healing sore throats, respiratory infections, viral infections, and gastrointestinal inflammation as it also has some valuable anti-inflammatory properties and is mucilaginous. It is deliciously sweet and can be added to other herbs to make them more tolerable. Keep in mind that anyone with hypertension, kidney or bladder problems, anyone using steroids, or anyone taking medicine for a heart issue should not use Licorice. Always use your own discretion & do your own research too!
Reishi Mushroom is appropriapte when your immune system is low and it seems you catch every cold that comes by. It strengthens your parasympathetic nervous system and the adrenal system. You can use Reishi as either a decoction or a tincture. Simmer a piece about 2″ long for 15 minutes & drink about 1-3 cups per day. Use as a tincture, taking 1-3 droppers 1-3 times per day according to The Herbal Apothecary.
Yarrow was tested against 5 different bacteria and 2 fungi including Staph, E coli, Salmonella, and candida and found to be a successful broad spectrum antimicrobial. It can raise the body temperature & induce sweating, which can help clear out an illness. To use Yarrow as an infusion, steep 2 tsp per cup for 10 minutes and drink 1-3 cups per day. To use as a tincture take 1-2 droppers 3-4 times per day.
I want to leave you with an immune building tincture from The Herbal Apothecary that you may want to start making now to be ready for cold & flu season. Check out my post on tinctures for more information . . .
Immune building tincture; Combine these tinctures together in the amounts indicated; take 1 dropper 1-3x per day.
2 oz elderberry
3/4 oz rosehips
1/2 oz astragalus root
1/4 oz ashwagandha root
1/4 oz licorice root.
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