Herbal Allies for Immunity
by Judith Yisrael
The spreading of the Coronavirus has lead many folks to begin seeking out immune boosting herbal plant allies. I have received numerous messages and inquiries about proper herbal preparation, which herbs are more effective, and even easy to grow herbs for their immune boosting qualities. This is so great.
There are many herbal allies a person can look to when boosting the overall immune system for their families. However, it’s important to note that we should not rely solely on plant allies when considering the overall health of our bodies. Basics such as proper hand washing, getting adequate rest and drinking water are some of the most important and basic immune boosting activities. Managing stress is another big one to consider. I have spoken to folks who are extremely panicked and stressed during this time while others are approaching the situation with a calm demeanor. The stress hormone can flood your system and suppress your immune system which can make you more susceptible to illness and infection. Take time to analyze where you are on the spectrum and adjust where necessary before you begin to introduce herbs into your daily routine. I want you to think of plant medicine as a supporter not the fixer.
In response to the inquiries I’ve received, I’ve put together a short list of seven herbs that can assist you. Keep in mind, you must know your own body and do your own research on whether these herbal allies will be right for you. If you are new to some of these plants or new to herbalism in general, I recommend you gradually incorporate a new herb in your life.
A few years ago, I studied the benefits of wild weeds as detoxing cleansers for the body during springtime. I went into my back yard and picked several different wild weeds such as cleavers, plantain, nettle and several others. I made this wonderful overnight infusion and a few hours after drinking it, I experienced the worst stomachache ever. I could not pinpoint which herb affected me because I had use so many. So, I share this story with you in hopes that you will not make a similar mistake and instead will build a relationship with these amazing plants.
With that said, here you go...
Astragulus (Astragalus propinquus)
Astragulus root comes from a perennial plant in the pea family. Local herbalist Candis Cantin
introduced me to astragulus root about two years when I took a yearlong herbal intensive course that focused primarily on Traditional Chinese Medicine. I consider my relationship with this herb to be still fairly new. Astragulus has many health benefits to include anti-aging, fatigue, and used to help treat heart disease and diabetes. The Chinese have used this root for centuries to boost the body’s immune system due to its high content of antioxidants that inhibit the growth of free radicals in the body. However, taking too much astragulus can actually suppress the immune system.
Make a docoction of astragulus to release its useful compounds for a medicinal beverage or use as a tincture. Some herbalist will grind it into a powder once the root is dried and pack into capsules that can be taken easily. Though there’s no official consensus on the most effective form or dosage of astragalus, 9–30 grams per day is typical.
If you ever have an opportunity to see an Elder tree – do it. They are quite beautiful. The trees produce clusters of tiny beautiful white flowers (which are also medicinal) and those flowers will produce the popular berries many people are already aware of. Elderberries are first green when grown then eventually turn a dark purple/black color. Green elderberries are toxic and should never be used. I wait until our berries are almost black in color but before they begin to fall to the ground – this usually happens in late spring to early summer. Fresh and dried elderberries have been known to still carry traces of cyanide. It is believed, cooking ripe elderberries further reduces cyanide content.
I sometimes use the fresh berries to make elderberry syrup for my family, but I generally prefer drying them as it can prolong their shelf life. Elderberry syrup is quite popular but you can also use them for teas and tinctures. They give a beautiful purple liquid however they tend to taste very earthy and musty. These berries are a powerful antiviral and have been known to hasten the recovery time of the flu. Use as a tincture, a syrup, a decoction, infused honey or an infused oil. Infused oil of the leaves relieves pain and inflammation from sprains and bruises. Spiritually, elderberries help with letting go and accepting change. It assists when dealing with death and life transformations.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Echinacea is another top immune-boosting plant ally the earth
gives us each year. Its benefits for immune enhancing is extremely popular as many people have had great success in using this plant. Not only is the plant a powerhouse in the body, its breathtakingly beautiful and is just gorgeous in the garden. The root, leaf, flower, and seeds of this amazing plant are all medicinal, however it is the root that is primarily used for medicine. It works by increasing T-cell activity in the body which is the body’s first line of defense against foreign harmful toxins, and is rich in polysaccharides, which protect cells against viruses and bacteria. Echinacea is an antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial – what a powerhouse!
Echinacea can be used as a tincture, in teas and even infused for a sore throat spray. As a poultice, echinacea is a classic remedy for eczema, acne and boils. There are several species of Echinacea however, because of the popularity of this herb, some of the species are now considered at-risk and some are endangered. Echinacea augustifolia has been found to be more effective in lab studies however echinacea purpurea is also highly medicinal. Be sure to source from a responsible grower with sustainable practices so we can save this plant for future generations. Some people are allergic to echinacea and will experience allergy symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes or a scratchy throat when using it. Spiritually, echinacea gives strong supportive energy for the warrior experiencing emotional transitions.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is a spice that comes from the turmeric plant and is used often in Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine. It’s relatively
easy to grow in pots and containers with just a few organic roots you can obtain from your local grocery store. Growing in popularity, turmeric is effective for many skin infections such as ringworm and athlete’s foot as well as being effective for inflammation and its antioxidant properties.
Infuse turmeric in honey and take by the teaspoon to ease a sore throat, stimulate the digestive system and reduce inflammation. Make a hot tea of fresh shavings of ginger and turmeric with a dash of cinnamon and honey for a healing tasty beverage. Or make a hot cup of Golden Milk with turmeric root powder, coconut milk (or other plant-based milk), honey (maple syrup if vegan), MCT oil, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
(For 1-2 servings just use 1/3 of amounts below. I make extra to store in the fridge for my family)
3 cups unsweetened almond or coconut milk
6 teaspoons honey, maple syrup or agave for vegans
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cinnamon sticks (or ground cinnamon to taste)
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Place all ingredients in saucepan and heat while stirring with a whisk. Be sure to not scorch the milk. Refrigerate leftovers up to 3 days and reheat as needed.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
We cannot talk about boosting the immune system without including our good reliable friend garlic. Garlic has been used medicinally for centuries. Earliest known references show that
garlic was a part of daily life for ancient Egyptians. Garlic contains many compounds that come with so many benefits such has improving cholesterol levels, reducing high blood pressure, hepatitis, whooping cough, lowering the risk of heart disease and has been tested for its effectiveness with Alzheimers and dementia. Garlic is even effective has a household disinfectant.
Garlic has been known to be an immune boosting superstar. The compounds in garlic have been shown to boost the disease-fighting response of some types of white blood cells in the body when they encounter viruses, such as the viruses that cause the common cold or flu. Load up on the garlic! I always triple or quadruple the amount of garlic in any recipe. Make roasted garlic cloves to spread on top of fresh garlic bread. Garlic-infused honey make a great tasty medicine to take by the spoonful or in teas or homemade salad dressing. Garlic-infused oils are easy to make their way in pastas, on bread and can even be used for an ear infection.
The ancient Egyptians believed so strongly in the power of garlic to ward off evil spirits that they would chew it before making a journey at night. In New Mexico, a young girl would use garlic to rid herself of an unwanted boyfriend.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is a delightful perennial herb from the mint family. It is lemon-scented and its leaves have deep veins that are arranged opposite each other, alternating along its square stem. The leaves are attractive bees who are persistent when gathering around its flowers to collect the sweet nectar.
Lemon balm is a digestive aid that calms and uplifts the spirit, calms the overactive thyroid and speeds the healing of herpes lesions and flu symptoms. Combine lemon balm with any herb listed here to for a great tasting immune boosting tea. Use as a tincture for hyperthyrodism and its antispasmodic properties and relief of nausea and gas. This herb is great for lifting the spirit in those suffering from depression and anxiety - great to use for stressful times as we are in now.
Lemon Balm is bound to the Moon and to Water. It is used in rituals associated with healing, health, friendship, love, and success. Historically, it is a symbolic plant used to transmit messages between lovers. What a great herbal ally to have as we distance ourselves from the outside and reconnect with those we dwell with intimately.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Known as a wild weed in some areas, yarrow is potent medicine for many ailments including flus and colds. If you choose to wildcraft this plant, be sure to have an experienced herbalist correctly identify this plant. Poison hemlock can look like yarrow to the untrained eye and with poison hemlock, you will NOT have a chance to try the experience again.
Back to yarrow. The entire plant is medicinal, the flowers, leaves, and the root. Yarrow leaves helps to stop bleeding from the smallest cuts to the deepest wounds. It helps to prevent infection. Chew the roots to alleviate tooth and gum pain or infuse the leaves in oil to promote healing of bruises.
At the first indication of a cold or flu, steep yarrow flowers and leaves in hot water for a tea. You may also opt to take a bath with branches of yarrow leaves and flowers to soak in. After your bath, wrap up in a blanket or sleeping bag to promote sweating.
As mentioned, yarrow can be used in a tea, an oil infusion, or a tincture. Just as yarrow can seal the wounds of the physical body, it can also seal wounds in the spirit. When feeling overwhelmed, take a few drops of yarrow tincture in a tea or water and allow it to work to bring balance within.
These seven herbs are just barely scratching the surface to what the earth provides to keep ourselves and our families healthy. If you have personal questions that are specific to your health, please consult a medical practitioner or a clinical herbalist in your area.
Feel free to post below and share your favorite herbal ally to boost your immune system.