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Building and Protecting the Immune System with Herbs

Posted by Sarah Baxendell on
Building and Protecting the Immune System with Herbs

Incorporating immunomodulant, immune stimulant, and antiviral herbs can help to build, protect, and support your immune system in the long-run.

Immune Stimulants

Those who travel frequently, have become exposed to illnesses like COVID19, and are prone to getting sick, these herbs may be right for you. For individuals who have a lot of stress, increasing demands, or overwhelmed with simply tasks daily tasks, immunity herbs may play an important protective role

These herbs can be used on a short-term basis to address acute infections while stimulating white blood cell activity. They can help to fight off infection during the initial stages of and throughout the duration of an illness. To be affective, they need to be administered frequently. 

Used over a long period of time these herbs can result in imbalance, and should be used for short periods of time. 

  • Echinacea (Root, seed, aboveground parts): This immune booster walks the line between 'immunomodulant' and 'immune stimulant.' 

  • Garlic: Bulb

  • Japanese Honeysuckle: Flowers and flower buds

  • Usnea: Lichen

 

Immunomodulators

These herbs are traditional tonics used to support the immune system. They are slower-acting with more prolonged effects when compared to immunostimulants. Their effect is more balancing than stimulating for the body. Used to address low immune resilience, immune systems that are overactive (allergies, autoimmunity), and harmonize endocrine and nervous systems, which regulate immunity. Many immunomodulators are also adaptogens. Used daily, these herbs bolster immunity and lessen the chance of succumbing to common viral infections. 

Keep in mind, immunomodulant and tonic herbs are valued for gentle, general, and slow long-term benefits, and are not considered an emergency response or any kind of cure. These herbs aid in increasing immune responses.

  • Ashwagandha: Root

  • Astragalus (Root): Improve immune activity by increasing white blood cells, stimulating adrenal-cortisol activity, and encouraging red blood cell formation in the bone marrow.

  • Eleuthero: Root

  • Ginseng: Root

  • Holy Basil: Above-ground parts

  • Reishi: Mushroom fruiting body

  • Rhodiola: Root

  • Shittake: Mushroom fruiting body

  • Shisandra: Berries

 

Herbal Immune Tonics

These herbs are used as long-term immune tonics for cases of poor immunity. Immune tonics differ from Immunomodulators. They don't have the same scientific stamp of approval, but have the same degree of regulating effects on the immune system.

  • Calendula: Flower

  • Chaga: Mushroom fruiting body

  • Elder: Flower and fruit

  • Lion's Mane: Mushroom fruiting body

  • Maitake: Mushroom fruiting body

  • Turkey tail: Mushroom fruiting body

 

Antimicrobials

Antimicrobial herbs have compounds that deter pathogenic bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoans. They are helpful in aiding to trim an infection. It is helpful to know what kind of infection you are working with and the direct microbial qualities of any herbs you are considering for treating that infection.

  • Bee Balm: Aboveground parts

  • Black Pepper: Seeds

  • Cayenne Peppers: Fruit, seeds

  • Cinnamon: Inner Bark

  • Clove: Buds

  • Elder (Flower and fruit): A gentle anti-viral herb and folk remedy for the flu. 

  • Garden Sage: Aboveground parts

  • Garlic: Bulb

  • Ginger: Rhizome

  • Goldenseal: Root

  • Juniper: Needle

  • Licorice (Root): Immunomodulant and anti-viral that moistens and support mucous. 

 

Anti Viral Herbs

  • Elder

  • Garlic

  • Oregon graperoot

  • Osha

  • Yarrow

 

Respiratory Support

  • Elecampane

  • Garlic

  • Hyssop

  • Mullein

  • Osha

  • Thyme

 

Herbs for Dry Coughs

Demulcent herbs can be soothing to the irrigation of a dry or relentless cough or move dry, stuck lung congestion.

  • Marshmallow (Root, leaf): Steep a tea and drink it cool.

  • Licorice (Root)

  • Linden

 

Expectorant Herbs

These herbs work to release excess mucous when used in teas or herbal steams.

  • Eucalyptus

  • Thyme

  • Peppermint

  • Hyssop

 

Non Herbal Activities That Affect Immunity

Our moods - and sense of connection - have a profound effect on our white blood cells (immune cells, B cells, T cells, NK cells, macrophages). Stress and social isolation are immune "downers." Loneliness is associated with increased cortisol levels and lowered immune profiles. Adrenaline and cortisol weaken immune function. That is why if you've been feeling stressed or down, you may begin to feel under the weather. Conversely, when we are happy, our cells signal the production of serotonin, dopamine, and relaxin, which have a strengthening effect on the immune system. That is why taking care of yourself, ensuring you are doing the best for your body, and feeling happy is important. If we consistently ignore the basics of good sleep, nutrition, water, and lifestyle, we have feel adverse effects.

 

Herbal Medicine Recipes

Fire Ciders

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red onion, chopped

  • 3 heads garlic, chopped

  • 1 lemon with rind, diced

  • 1/2 cup ginger root, grated

  • 1/2 cup turmeric root, grated

  • 1/4 cup horseradish root, grated

  • 1/4 thyme, chopped

  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

  • a few fresh cayenne or jalapeño peppers

  • honey to taste

  • raw apple cider vinegar

Place herbs in a jar and submerge with apple cider vinegar. Cut a piece of waxed paper and cover the mouth of the jar. Cap tightly with a lid. Ensure there is a barrier between the apple cider vinegar and all metal, as vinegar will corrode metal. Store in a dark cupboard for a few weeks, shaking the jar daily. After a few weeks, strain and discard the non-liquid.

Potential Additions:

  • Elder berry

  • Cinnamon 

  • Echinacea

  • Astragalus

 

Immune Support Tea 

1 part Astragalus, 1 part Reishi Mushroom, 1 part Echinacea 

To make 1 quart, use 1.25 oz herb. Simmer with a pot top for 40 minutes and then strain.

 

Anti Viral Tea

3 part Echinacea, 2 part Yarrow, 2 part Marshmallow; 2 part Licorice, 1 part Osha, 3 part Elder

To make 1 quart, use 1.25 oz herb. Simmer with a pot top for 40 minutes and then strain.

 

Anti Viral Tincture

1 part Yarrow, 1 part Oregon Grape Root, 1 part Echinacea, 1 part Licorice, 1 part Osha, 1 part Willow

Prepare tinctures separately, and then blend them together. Take 2-3ml 4-6 times daily.

 

Throat Gargle

Make as tea and gargle while warm.

1 part Licorice, 1 part Sage, 1 part Thyme, 1 part Echinacea, 1 part Osha, 2 part Propolis

 

When to Visit a Doctor

  • Pronounced lethargy

  • Fever over 100.4 degrees F

  • Difficulty breathing

 

Article by Sarah Baxendell

Sarah Baxendell helps women access the power of herbs and take control of their personal wellness. As Chief Creative Officer at Desert Bloom Botanicals, she designs products and programs that are easy to use, accessible, and ignite your wellness journey. Sarah is a permaculture designer, clinical herbalist, and nature educator.

 

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Scientific Resources:

  1. Cohen, S., Tyrrell, D. A. J., and Smith, A. P. "Psychological stress and susceptibility to the common cold." New England Journal of Medicine. 1991;325(9):606-612.
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  6. "Vitaminc C." World's Healthiest Foods website.
  7. "Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health website. 
  8. "Vitamin D: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health website.
  9. Aviva Romms' COVID-19 article series: COVID-19: An Integrative MDs Commonsense Approach
  10. American Herbalist Guild's COVID-19 Resources page
  11. Guido Mase's COVID-19 Coronavirus slide show
  12. Paul Bergner’s COVID-19 Coronavirus resource page
  13. Rosalee de la Foret’s Herbs to Consider for Coronavirus blog post
  14. Sevensong’s An Herbalist’s Notes on the COVID-19 Virus article
  15. Stephen Buhner Herbal Treatment for Coronavirus Infections article and addendum
  16. Todd Caldecott’s Herbal Medicine and COVID-19 blog post
  17. John Chen & Lori Hsu’s How COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) is Currently Treated in China with TCM article
  18. Lesley Tierra’s Coronavirus blog post
  19. Liu Lihong’s Report from the front line at Wuhan article
  20. Michael Tierra’s More Herbal Treatments for COVID-19 blog post
  21. Elsevier’s Novel Coronavirus Information Center (health & medical research on COVID-19)
  22. SpringerNature’s SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research articles

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