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

 

How to Make Echinacea Tincture

echinacea-tincture

As promised in my post on the benefits of Echinacea, here is how I made my Echinacea tincture. I’m not even sure you could call this a recipe because it is SO easy and such little work, but to make it look more official, we will call it a recipe still 🙂

How I made Echinacea tincture:

Continue reading

Tinctures: The Basics

tincturesweb

So what is a tincture?

The Prescription for Herbal Healing says that, “Tinctures are made by soaking an herb in alcohol. This causes the active constituents of the plant to dissolve, and gives the tincture a stronger action than teas or infusions.”

Tinctures are beneficial because they are much more concentrated, meaning it is easier to take or administer the amount of herbs you need for a treatment. For example, instead of trying to force down multiple cups of an infusion you can easily take a dropperful of tincture and carry on with your day. The downside is that you have can’t just whip up a batch of tincture like you can make a cup of tea; you have to plan ahead and wait 2-6 weeks for the alcohol to break down the plant suitably.

Technically, a tincture must have an alcohol base; anything else made with a glycerin or vinegar base is called an extract.

If you are morally opposed to the bit of alcohol in the tinctures, or are not comfortable taking them for any reason, you most definitely can substitute glycerin, which has the added benefit of being sweet without affecting blood sugar, or apple cider vinegar, which is healthy but not exactly palatable.

There are some benefits exclusively to alcohol however. According to wildernesscollege.com, alcohol will extract alkaloids, glycosides, minerals, essential oils, and other medical components that water (in an infusion) or glycerin will not. Alcohol also has the benefit of going directly into the blood stream, which obviously helps it to have a quicker affect. This is particularly helpful for treating things that need a quick response like relieving headaches or stopping bleeding. (The Herbal Apothecary)

Are Alcohol Tinctures Safe for Kids?

You may still be wondering, “Great . . . for me as an adult, but what about my toddlers or children?” I was wondering the same thing until I came across this AMAZING article on growingupherbal.com that explains perfectly why it is safe to use alcohol tinctures with your children. She explains it clearly, makes some excellent points, and will set your mind at ease without feeling pushy. She shares her reasoning based on the benefits of using an alcohol base, common foods our kids already may be eating that have notable levels of alcohol in them, just how very very very little alcohol they are actually consuming, and what a professional herbalist has to say on the subject. Basically, the gist of it is that in her mind the benefits outweigh the risks, common foods our kids go crazy about like bananas, orange juice, and fermented foods have more alcohol than a dose of tincture would, and then gives an example using the conversion formulas that shows you will find that a 70lb. 10 year old would be ingesting the equivalent of less than 1% of the maximum dosage of alcohol for his/her size when taking a dose of tincture.

If you are still concerned about the amount of alcohol in your tincture, you can evaporate much of the alcohol out by placing the dose in a hot tea and serving once it has cooled, according to growingupherbal.com

At this point my husband and I have decided that we would not give an alcohol based tincture to a baby just because it is more concentrated and we are trying to follow the principle that gentler is better for little ones. However after learning just how little the tincture dosages are for toddlers, and how to further eliminate some alcohol, we feel that we would be comfortable giving necessary amounts to our children from toddlers on up. (Especially seeing just how many bananas our daughter already eats!) Obviously this is something that you must talk over with your own family and come to your own decision that you will be comfortable acting on.

Once you have decided to go for it and lay in a supply of tinctures, what are some basic things you’ll need to know?

tincture-ingredientsweb

For anyone still wondering, the process for making a tincture is ridiculously simple. Almost as simple as taking your herbs out of storage, admiring them, and putting them back (which I have to admit to doing sometimes!)It is also not an exact science, which bothered me when I first began researching tinctures, but which I can now appreciate because of the flexibility you have in tailoring recipes to suit your needs. You will need . . .

Supplies:

-an appropriately sized glass jar (I’ve been using pint jars) and a lid,

– some 80 proof vodka,

-your herbs

– some patience.

Process:

– First you fill your mason jar up with the appropriate amount of herb, which will vary whether you are using fresh or dried herbs. See my guidelines below to help you determine how much to use (this is the “not exact science” part!)

-Next, fill the jar up to the shoulder with your 80 proof alcohol and tighten the lid on.

– Label it with what herb it is, what proportion of herb to alcohol you used, and when you started it. You may think you will remember these details, but trust me, once your pantry starts filling up with little jars of chopped weedy looking things, you will be glad you wrote down the details!

-Next find a dark place to store it for 2-6 weeks. If you remember, try to give the bottle a good shake every day to keep everything covered and well mixed. This is a good part for your kids to help with if you want to involve them!

– After 2-6 weeks, strain the tincture into a fresh container, store it away, and don’t forget about it or be afraid to use it when you need it!

Guidelines:

Alcohol: What kind of alcohol should you buy? According to Mountain Rose Herbs, 40 to 50% pure alcohol (which is the same as 80-90 proof Vodka) is standard. They say that a higher alcohol percentage is better when using more high-moisture herbs and will pull out more volatile oils. We bought 80 proof vodka to make our tinctures from. However, because he couldn’t find plain vodka, my husband bought one bottle of vanilla flavored (smells AMAZING) and one bottle of mango flavored, so our tinctures will have a little extra pizzazz to them!

If you purchase The Herbal Apothecary by JJ Pursell, she includes a great list on pages 221-224 of individual herbs and what percentage of solvent they need.

Herbs: The amount of herb you use is also obviously important; I was very pleased to find some general guidelines on Mountain Rose Herb’s website that can be applied to whichever herb you are working into a tincture.

Fresh leaves & flowers; fill the jar 2/3 to 3/4 full of chopped herbs.

Dried leaves & flowers; fill the jar 1/2 to 2/3 full of herbs.

Fresh roots, bark, and berries; fill the jar 1/3 to 2/3 full.

Dried roots, bark, and berries; only fill the jar 1/4 to 1/3 full because they will expand.

In conclusion, I’ve noted some of the benefits of tinctures, some of the possible concerns involved with using tinctures, basic guidelines for using herbs in tinctures, and the very easy process for making a tincture. So far I have made an echinacea tincture for beating colds, a chamomile tincture to help with teething, and will be making a nettle tincture to use as a tonic & replenish minerals, and give us an energy boost.

Now I want to encourage you to start thinking ahead to what health concerns your family may encounter in the future and prepare some tinctures so you are ready to meet any common health issues head on!

 

 

Creating a Herbal Notebook

dsc_1054Creating a Herbal Notebook

I want to share with you an exciting tool I’ve put together to wrangle all the new information we are gathering about herbs; a Herb Notebook! I’ll share the benefits & purposes of an herb notebook, break down each category I have included and give ideas for filling each section, post photos of my own notebook in progress, and

best of all, I have included FREE printables of the beautiful title pages I designed for each section for you to start your own notebook.

Why Maintain a Herb Notebook?

Continue reading

Garlic & Mullein Oil for Ear Infections

dsc_1028Crying, pulling on red, irritated little ears, boogery noses & cold symptoms that go along with it. Uhg. The dreaded ear infection. Fortunately we have not dealt with ear infections with our toddler yet, but I like to be prepared with the knowledge and supplies to treat things as they come up. Continue reading

New Week New Recipe: Elderberry Syrup

elderberry-syrup-recipeMonday is a day for fresh beginnings, tackling everything you ignored to spend time with your family on the weekend, and making new plans. My plan, especially as the cold sets in and winter is officially upon us, is to figure out how to prevent my family and myself from getting the flu bugs and colds that are going around. That means trying a new recipe!

Cue the Elderberry Syrup!

What is Elderberry Syrup, you ask? Continue reading