6 Herbs for Immune Support

immune systemStaying Healthy

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.)

Bone Marrow

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.

The Spleen

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.

Click the link below to share on Pinterest!

immune system

 

Catnip; Health Benefits & Growing Tips

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Catnip, specifically Nepeta Cataria, (There are over 250 varieties) is an aromatic perennial herb in the mint family. It is generally used by humans as a carminative (helps to expel gas) and as a gastric stimulant. It is “calming, relaxing, pain relieving, and gentle.” (Herbs for Children’s Health/HCH)

“Catnip is best known for its curious effect of cats. Most cats respond to its scent and taste with kitten-like behavior, drooling, sleepiness, purring, anxiety, and apparent excitement.” (West Coast Seeds.) The active ingredient that makes cats go crazy is called Nepetalactone. Interestingly about 1/3 of cats don’t respond at all to catnip; apparently it is genetic.

What it looks like

Catnip grows about 3 feet height and has a somewhat minty appearance (and ability to spread!)It has “Heart-shaped gray-green leaves and whorls of white flowers with purple spots.” (Prescription for herbal healing/ PHH) The flowers are little and not very showy.

How to start it

Want to grow this cat-attractant yourself? Catnip can either be planted from seed or obtained from a nursery or friend and planted directly in the ground. From seed, plant your Catnip indoors in February or March then transplant or plant seeds directly in April or May. Seeds should be sowed about 1/8 of an inch deep. At 70-80 Degrees F (Some sites said 60-70 F), the seeds should sprout in 10-20 days. A heat mat can help seeds germinate indoors.

How to Grow it

From what I have read, Catnip does not seem very picky. It is hardy to zone 4 and does well in any soil or pot with good drainage. It seems that your biggest problem will be keeping cats off it if you either have pet cats or feral cats around your house. Some people suggest getting 2 foot dowels and poking them in your plant 2-3 inches apart so cats cannot roll around and squish it. Others suggest making an 18″ arch of chicken wire over your little plant and letting the stems grow through the chicken wire to keep cats off it. I would also consider NOT planting it near somewhere you do not want cats, like a chicken house. On the other hand, some sites suggested planting it places where you do not want mice, like the edges of your garden. Think carefully before you plant it! Wherever you decide to, plant your Catnip 18-24 inches apart; plants spread by seed and by runners that spread underground, so they need some space in your garden. Through the season, pinch the stems and flowers off to keep the plant full and bushy. You can bring pots of catnip inside for your indoor cat, but it needs LOTS of light, so most people with indoor cats have multiple potted catnip plants that they cycle through so the cats can enjoy their catnip and the plants can enjoy the full benefit of being outdoors.

Companion Planting

Catnip attracts useful bugs such as parasitic wasps, pollinators, and lacewings, which control aphids among other types of pests. West Coast Seeds says that, “Catnip repels aphids, asparagus beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and squash bugs.” I am somewhat new to companion planting, but I think I will be planting my catnip in pots to tuck into my squash bed next year. Our squash bugs were so bad this year that we only got a couple butternut squash, and I would really like to contain the problem as naturally as possible in the future.

How to harvest it

Both the leaves and flowers from Catnip can be used. Most advice I read suggested harvesting the tops of the plant in the fall either right before or directly after they flower. However, Bonnie Plants says that you can cut the stems to harvest the leaves whenever you need them during the growing season. To store them, dry the leaves on the stems (Check out my article on drying herbs here), and strip the leaves off the stems. Discard the stems and save the crumbled leaves in a jar or plastic sealable bag.

What are the benefits of Catnip for people?

Like I said at the beginning of the article, Catnip is generally used for soothing digestive/gas issues and to calm and relax. It soothes digestive problems by increasing gastric secretions, which helps the body move infection & food out of the digestive tract.

Catnip also relaxes the body and induces sleep without causing negative side effects the next day. Is used to soothe children and help them sleep.

Interestingly, Herbs for Children’s Health calls this one of the best herbs to reduce childhood fevers. It is used to relieve pain and lower fever associated with teething by providing it as a tea through the day. (HCH) Some parents also soak a washcloth in catnip tea and freeze it to create a soothing chew toy for their teething baby to gnaw on. I know my 5 month old would love this right now!

Catnip is also traditionally used to prevent hives in children in Europe (PHH) It reduces the eruption of hives when suffering from measles or chicken pox. Definitely something to keep in the back of your mind before a chickenpox outbreak!

Other studies have shown that catnip is antimicrobial as well. (PHH)

How do you use Catnip to enjoy the benefits it has to offer?

Catnip is used as a tea/infusion or tincture. You can check out how to make an infusion and how to make a tincture for more information. For Catnip, use 1 tsp. of herb to 1 cup of boiling water. According to the Herb Book, don’t let the herb boil in the water, only steep. Take 1-2 cups per day for adults to sooth stomachs or to relax. Many people say that catnip doesn’t taste very good, which is probably why it is mixed with fennel to make a tea or gripe water so often. Fennel improves the taste and offers the same digestive soothing & calming properties that Catnip does. You can also make up a tincture and take 1/2 to 1 tsp at a time. Herbs for Children’s Healing says that a few drops of catnip tincture before meals can help with digestion and a few drops of tincture before bed will help to sooth a cranky child. Gripe water with catnip in it has been incredibly helpful for my family, especially when my 2 year old was very colicky as an infant. Check out this article to learn more about using herbs with babies & children.

Please feel free to share any experiences you have had with Catnip or any growing advice in the comments & click the photo below to pin to Pinterest!

catnippinterest

Herbs for Maximum Energy

energy herbs

It’s not a surprise; most people are looking for more energy. Whether you are working & going to school, keeping up with babies and toddlers, homeschooling & running a home, running a business, or playing with grandkids, no one is going to turn down a little extra pep in their step.

How do herbs work to provide energy?

Herbs give us energy in two basic ways; they either act as a stimulant or as an adaptogen.

Stimulants like caffeine excite the body, raising the heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, etc. (motherearthnews.com) Common herbal stimulants include coca, licorice, and ephedra. These can be dangerous because your body can adjust to the amount of alkaloids (like caffeine) in the herb, leading you to need to take higher and higher doses to feel an effect. I will not be talking about stimulants in this blog post and would strongly encourage you not to rely on them for your extra boost of energy.

Herbs can also work as an adaptogen. According to truththeory.com, adaptogenic herbs provide, “nonspecific enhancement of the body’s ability to resist a stressor.” Like the name suggests, they help the body adjust, whether that means calming your nervous system down, or balancing your hormones.

There are many herbs and compounds available that promise to increase energy. Carefully research both the herb and the brand of herb you are buying to make sure that you are making the right choice for you and your family.

I was hoping to find more “energy herbs” that can be grown locally in North America, but found only Ginkgo and Stinging Nettle. So, after some research, I thought I would share my top four herbal adaptogens that have been shown to increase energy. I will be adding to this list as I learn more, so check back soon!

Ginkgo:

Ginkgo has been shown to increase energy at a cellular level. It does this by increasing ATP production, which then helps the brain process glucose for energy. You learn something new every day. This is generally the most recommended herb for increasing mental energy.

Stinging Nettle:

Stinging Nettle has been said to provide more energy than a cup of coffee. I wouldn’t know because I have never had a cup of coffee, but I can say that an infusion of Stinging Nettle can be very refreshing when you remember to actually drink it. (side note; herbal infusions DO mold when you forget them in the back of the fridge.) It is chock full of nutrients, high in protein, and great for all around toning the body. JJ Pursell writes in The Herbal Apothecary that, “It is a wonderful blood builder and nourisher. . . Nettle has been shown to improve bodily function, whether it be sluggish thyroid, kidney, nerves, muscles, or gastrointestinal. ” It also relieves allergy symptoms, inflammatory pain, and nerve pain. Make an infusion using 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup steeped for 8 to 12 minutes.

Siberian Ginseng:

A not so local herb also very strongly suggested for increasing energy is Siberian Ginseng, also known as Eleutherococcus Senticosus. In Medical Herbalism; the Science Practice of Herbal Medicine David Hoffman writes, “Siberian Ginseng can be considered for prolonged use to ward off exhaustion and stress due to overwork on a long term basis without any side effects.” The benefits include a strengthened immune system, cold and flu relief, a boost in mental performance, and increased physical performance. As a side note, while David Hoffman says that this can be used with no side effects, I have also read that this herb can increase blood pressure or cause sleep issues. Keep that in mind when choosing which herbs to use. Remember; you are ultimately responsible for you & your family’s health.

Maca Root:

Another plant that gets a LOT of attention when talking about increasing your energy levels is Maca root. This is used to balance hormones, which can often be an underlying cause of exhaustion. It “nourishes and stimulates your hypothalmus and pituary glands to balance hormone production from the adrenals, pancreas, thyroid, ovarian, and testicular glands.” (naturalhealth365.com) Dr. Axe calls Maca root a nutrient dense superfood with benefits that include increased fertility in both men and women, increased energy, stamina, improved sexual function, memory, and focus. It’s long list of nutrients include over protein, phytonutrients, 20 amino acids, Vitamins B-1, B-2, C, E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sulphur, and iron. He suggests starting with 1 tablespoon of powdered Maca root and potentially working up to 2 or 3 tablespoons spread through the day.

I want to leave you with a recipe from The Herbal Apothecary called Energy Now Tincture that incorporates some of the herbs I have mentioned. It includes:

– 3 parts eleuthero root

– 3 parts ginkgo leaf

– 1 part guarana seed (a source of caffeine that is released slowly without the negative side effects of coffee. I would skip this.)

– 1 part peppermint leaf.

Combine into a tincture and take 1 to 2 dropperfuls as needed. Check out my post here about making tinctures

I will be adding to this list as I research and try more herbs that are said to improve energy. Remember, I DO NOT claim to be an expert, just a curious wife and mother wanting to keep her family healthy naturally!

Please leave a comment with any other herbs that you have used to increase your energy levels.