Herbs For Health Series- Part 4 | Herbs To Boost Your Immune System
This is Part 4 of the Herbs for Health Series. You can read Part 3 to learn about the Top Supportive Herbs For Women’s Health.
The material in this post is for informational/educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please see a qualified health professional for specific health concerns. Herbal remedies are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.
I think I had one of the worst immune systems ever when I was younger. It seemed like I got every cold, virus, and infection that came my way. Who knows how many days of school I missed being sick.
Thankfully, I grew out of it at some point. Or maybe my immune system finally got things figured out.
But winter is still my least favorite season- and not just because of the cold weather. It’s the time of year when germs get passed around and family togetherness means we all get each other sick.
Though I use them all year round, when winter comes I especially start pulling out my immune-boosting herbs to go with some extra Vitamin C.
Elderberries have strong antiviral properties and are easy to make into a syrup. Echinacea can be used at the first sign of sickness to help the immune system fight it off. Turmeric and garlic both support the immune system and provide some ‘heat’.
Read on to learn more about these immune strengtheners.
Elderberry: Cold & Flu Fighter
Elderberries come from a large, white-flowering shrub. They (along with the flowers) have been used for a long time in Europe as a cold and flu remedy.
Elderberry is one of the best immune-enhancing herbs to have on hand. The berries have immune-boosting and antiviral properties. They can also be used to help with respiratory infections, and elder flowers can help lower fevers.
Ways to use elderberry:
- Dried elderberries are sold in bulk from herb stores and can be used to make a tea or syrup. Make sure you buy from a quality store (like my favorite, the Bulk Herb Store). To make a syrup, use about 4 cups of water to 1 cup of dried berries. I also like to add a cinnamon stick and some freshly diced ginger root. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about 1/3-1/2. Strain out the berries, cinnamon, and ginger and add raw honey while it’s still warm. I use about 1/2 cup honey. Once the honey is dissolved, the syrup can be stored in the fridge in a glass jar or bottle for months. (Note: the syrup will not be thick like other kinds of syrup because we don’t cook it again after adding the honey.)
- You can take a teaspoon of elderberry syrup a few times throughout the day during cold and flu season to ward off sickness. Or if you’ve already caught something, take 1-2 teaspoons of syrup every 2 hours or so throughout the day.
- If you have dried elderberries on hand and don’t feel like making a syrup, add 1-3 teaspoons to 1 cup of boiling water and let steep to make a tea.
- Fresh elderberries can also be used to make syrup, tea, jam, pie, and even wine. Only the blue or black berries are edible, and they need to be cooked before being consumed in large quantities.
Final notes: Elderberry is a very safe herb to use, but do not eat large amounts of the raw berries. They can cause digestive upset, so it’s best to cook them or use dried berries.
Echinacea: Immune Fortifying
Also known as coneflower, echinacea is one of the more well-known herbs to boost immune system function in the western world.
Echinacea has antifungal and antibacterial properties, which makes it useful against those types of infections. It also stimulates and strengthens the body’s immune function, helping us to fight off viral and other infections before they take hold.
According to Rosemary Gladstar, echincacea is best used at the first signs of illness, before it has a chance to really take hold. However, one study shows that it may also help to shorten the duration of flu symptoms. (1)
Ways to use echinacea:
- The whole plant can be used in various remedies, but the root is most commonly used. Echinacea tea is probably the most popular way of using echinacea root and many companies have a pre-made version of it. (Traditional Medicinals even has a tea that combines echinacea and elderberry.) You can also just buy the dried root and make your own tea. Drink a few cups a day if you feel a cold or flu coming on.
- Echinacea can also be made into or bought in tincture form. Tinctures are much stronger than teas. If you feel yourself getting sick or are sick already, take 1/4-1/2 tsp. of tincture every hour.
Final notes: Echinacea is safe enough even for children, but certain people are allergic (it’s in the daisy family). If you get itchy eyes or throat, a runny nose, etc., stop using echinacea.
Turmeric: Anti-Inflammatory and Immune-Enhancing
Turmeric is becoming very well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. This neon yellow-orange herb comes from the roots (technically rhizomes) of the plant, which is native to India and South Asia.
Because turmeric has become so famous for being an anti-inflammatory star, its immune-enhancing properties haven’t been talked about as much. But turmeric is yet another of the herbs that can really give your immune system a boost.
Turmeric also contains curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
Ways to use turmeric:
- Turmeric is most often used as a dried powder, but the whole rhizomes are now sold in some grocery stores. It can be used in cooking, especially in Indian dishes like curry.
- For daily use- or in the case of a cold- turmeric can be used to make ‘golden milk.’ Put 1/2-1 tsp. turmeric powder with 1 cup milk (coconut, cow, almond, etc.) and a tiny bit of freshly ground pepper (which helps to activate the compounds in turmeric). Combine in a pan and heat slowly. You can heat until it’s a good drinking temperature or simmer for a few minutes. Feel free to add other spices, like ginger or cinnamon, and honey to taste. Make and drink as often as needed when sick or once a day to support your immune system.
- When I take turmeric, I usually put it in capsules. (Golden milk is alright, but I’d rather drink tea.) I mix about 1 tablespoon turmeric with 1/2 tsp. ground ginger and 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper. I double this recipe as many times as I need to fill my capsules and take them with a meal. You can also look for pre-made capsules, just pay attention to what’s actually in them!
Final notes: Turmeric is a very safe herb. However, it may slow blood clotting, so be sure to talk to your doctor about stopping turmeric before any surgeries. It is also a warming and drying herb, so you may find yourself needing to drink more water when taking turmeric on a regular basis. (This does make it a good herb for those with cold-type constitutions.)
Garlic: Wards Off Vampires and the Common Cold
Garlic is probably tied with ginger for my favorite herb. I love the taste, and vampires don’t stand a chance when I’m in charge of the garlic.
The good news for garlic lovers is that it’s another of the herbs that can help boost your immune system.
Garlic’s immune-boosting properties come mainly from the essential oils and sulfur compounds found in it. Garlic can stimulate the production of white blood cells and is also considered antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial.
Ways to use garlic:
- Raw garlic has the most benefits for the immune system because all the oils and other constituents are kept intact. Adding raw garlic to pesto, pasta, and other dishes is a great way to use it.
- Of course, not everyone loves the strong taste of raw garlic, and it can be hard on the digestion. Cooking garlic will make it less potent, but it will still keep many of its benefits. Try gently cooking garlic, onions, and sage in butter or coconut oil for a cold ‘remedy.’ Or just add lots of garlic when cooking to give your immune system a boost.
- Garlic is also now available in capsule form. I’m not sure how effective garlic capsules are compare to raw or cooked garlic (I haven’t tried them yet), but they could be worth a try if you aren’t a garlic eater.
Final notes: Garlic is obviously a food, so it doesn’t have ‘side effects’. However, garlic is considered a ‘hot‘ herb. It can bother some people’s digestion, especially children and infants. So use to your comfort level, and try cooking garlic if the raw version is too much for your stomach.
Boost Your Immune System Today
If you find yourself in the middle of cold and flu season or feel like you’re coming down with something, give some of these herbs a try.
- Elderberry syrup or tea can help your immune system fight off viruses.
- Echinacea is most popularly used as a tea and can stimulate your immune system and even shorten the duration of flu symptoms.
- Turmeric is best known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but it’s also immune enhancing and has antioxidant properties.
- Garlic is a powerful, spicy herb with many immune-boosting properties. Eat raw or cooked in food or take in capsules.
A healthier immune system is a healthier you. Try out some of these herbs to give your immune system a boost. Bring on the garlic!
Sources: Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar. Storey Publishing. Copyright 2012.