immune boosting herbs
medicinal herbs

Helpful Herbs for Immunity and When the Bug’s Got You Down

Each season has its share of colds and flus, with an apparent concentration of this in winter months. Indoor climates—such as schools, office buildings, and other public spaces—expose us to a greater concentrations of germs. The combination of less fresh air, and dramatic temperature and weather fluctuations can stress our bodies and leave us vulnerable from weakened immune systems, as indicated in a 2015 study on colds in winter. 1)http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20150106/researchers-probe-why-colds-are-more-likely-in-winter

Although Mother Nature brings us freezing temperatures and viruses that can make us so miserable, she also provides herbal tools to help us fight back. 

Many people turn to the doctor or a bottle. Many gardeners turn to plants for age old cold and flu remedies. For those who prefer to seek out natural remedies for prevention and alleviation of colds and flu, here are some of the best herbs to help.

Herbs for Colds and Flu

Elderberry

Immune boosting herbs, elderberries

Rich, dark purple elderberries (Sambucus nigra) shine as one of the best herbal remedies for immune boosting and helping to fight off certain viruses, especially types A and B influenza.  They are also classed as safe for children.  Elderberries have long been used by herbalists to assist with upper respiratory infections, sore throats, and influenza, possibly by interfering with the virus’ ability to replicate itself. 

Immunity boosting herbs and berries

Benefits of Elderberry:

  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Sore throats
  • Influenza

Studies show that taking elderberry at the onset of feeling symptoms of cold or flu may prevent the infection from taking hold entirely or at least lessen the time that symptoms are felt.2)http://imr.sagepub.com/content/32/2/132.long  

immune boosting herbs, elderberry, herbs for cold and flu

Syrups or tinctures of elderberry are both effective, with syrups being far more popular and easier to get a child to take.  Buy your syrup from your herbalist, a reputable seller, or consider making your own. It’s very easy, and we’ll provide a recipe link at the end of this article.

If you choose to make your own, use dried, ripe berries, or very ripe fresh berries only. Both the flowers and berries in the Elder plant can be used when properly prepared, but all leaves, sticks, and roots should be avoided, so no unripe berries, leaves, or woody parts).

Why you’ll want this next one in your natural herbal remedy chest. Hint: it’s a root. 

Astragalus Root

Did you guess?

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Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a perennial plant that grows readily in China and other parts of Asia.  It has been used medicinally there for many years as a warming and tonic herb.  This sweet tasting root has become popular in the west. Astragalus is an adaptogenic, immune boosting, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory herb. It is considered safe for children. 

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Benefits of Astragalus:

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Astragalus is an immunomodulator, and preventive when taken long term rather than at the onset of sickness.  You can do this by making a tea 4)http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/chai-tea-health-benefits.html , adding to syrups, or even dropping the tongue depressor shaped root slices into soups and stews. Astragalus can also be found in tincture, pill, and powder forms.

The next herb of choice is easy to grow, super so beneficial, useful and readily available!

Garlic

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This ubiquitous bulb has been in use medicinally for over 5,000 years, and that’s no surprise.  Garlic (Allium sativum) has well established benefits both scientifically and folklorically.  Though simple to prepare, garlic is quite complex in its actions on the body, functioning as an antibacterial, anti-fungal, immune enhancer, expectorant, hepatoprotectant (liver), and more. 5)http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/3/955S.long  It can help to improve cholesterol and cardiovascular function.  That’s pretty cool for just one plant. 

Benefits of Garlic:

  • Antibacterial
  • anti-fungal
  • immune enhancer
  • expectorant
  • hepatoprotectant (liver)
  • cardiovascular functioning
  • cholesterol

shutterstock_253961290The easiest way to ingest garlic is to just eat it, and it doesn’t take much!  As little as one to two cloves a day can show benefits.  Try adding raw garlic to juices, homemade pesto, or salad dressings, and for cooking. Infused oils 6)http://vintageremediesmag.com/simple-garlic-oil/ are useful to rub on the bottom of your feet while suffering from a cold or flu.  The oil also has other uses, such as with ear infections or as a minor first aid balm.  Pills, tinctures, and vinegars are also popular ways to consume garlic.

This next herb gets a bad rap and is often misunderstood.

Stinging Nettle

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Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) would be considered a superfood if not for having to deal with the stinging hairs all over the stems.  They make stinging nettle an impossible plant to market as a fresh green.  However, this prolific, wild growing stinging nettle plant is a nourishing powerhouse.  Stinging nettle is packed with calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamins A, C, K, and zinc, just to name a few!  It may even have inhibitory ability over type A influenza. 7)http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0166354292900387  Don’t worry about the hairs.  Drying or cooking this herb removes its sting ability.  Dried stinging nettle is readily available online and in health stores. 

Stinging nettle is a nourishing powerhouse.

Benefits of Stinging Nettle:

Excerpted from DrAxe.com8)https://draxe.com/stinging-nettle/

  • Urinary issues
  • Osteoarthritis and joint pain
  • Hay fever
  • Reduces bleeding
  • Eczema
  • Promote lactation
  • Stimulate hair growth
  • Help control blood sugar in patients with diabetes
  • Reduce bleeding connected to gingivitis
  • Treat disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract
  • Provide relief from water retention
  • Prevent or treat diarrhea
  • Decrease menstrual flow
  • Provide asthma relief
  • Heal wounds
  • Treat hemorrhoids
  • Stimulate contractions in pregnant women
  • Treat insect bites
  • Treat tendonitis
  • Treat anemia

For more information on uses and benefits of stinging nettle, you may also enjoy visiting DrAxe.com.9)https://draxe.com/stinging-nettle/

Nutrients! Stinging Nettle is high in:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Vitamins A, C, K, and zinc
  • Inhibiting type A influenza
Stinging Nettle Tea
Stinging Nettle Tea

Whether you’re looking to prevent getting sick or dealing with a cold, nourishment is a big factor.  Your immune system needs to be fed and bolstered with lots of nutrients to be able to do its job effectively.  Here’s where stinging nettle can really shine.  Using dried herb taken as a full strength infusion, you can take in a lot of the vitamins and minerals that stinging nettle offers. 10)http://www.susunweed.com/How_to_make_Infusions.htm Dried capsules and liquid extracts are also available.  For nourishment purposes, I do recommend infusions over other forms.  Nettle infusions are considered safe for children, though their mild ability to lower blood sugar should be monitored in children with juvenile diabetes.

And then there’s Peppermint and Ginger…

Other Useful Herbs

Peppermint

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There are many herbs that while perhaps not known specifically for fighting flu or cold viruses, can still be very helpful.  Good old peppermint (Mentha x piperita), has decongestant and soothing properties that can help with sore throats and stuffy noses and is well known as a flavorant and herbal tea. Peppermint is an antioxidant that nourishes the body, and is classed as safe for children.


Ginger

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Famous for its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger (Zingiber officinale) can also assist with sore throats, nausea, and upset stomach.  Capsules and teas are available.  You can also steep fresh ginger in raw honey, and add to teas or take straight. 

We’ve also written about this extensively elsewhere and through remedies such as Fire Cider11)https://gardensall.com/fire-cider-an-immune-boosting-tonic/, and this on growing your own ginger12)https://gardensall.com/ginger-whats-its-good-for-and-how-to-grow-it/.

Concluding with the beautiful but powerful Yarrow and….


Yarrow

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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is widely known as a fever reducer.  These effects are actually quite mild unless used as part of a protocol to bring a fever down; however, yarrow is still very handy for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, and diaphoretic benefits.  It’ll help you sweat it out! 

German Chamomile

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Lastly, German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is soothing as a tea and can help unblock a stuffy nose as a facial steam. 13)http://learningherbs.com/remedies-recipes/stuffy-nose-remedy/ Chamomile is another herb that is classed as safe for children.

Lastly, more tips to help you weather the cold and flu season… or any season or time when you need to strengthen and boost your immunity.

More Tips

These may seems obvious, but are still often overlooked. So remember to make these top tips a habit to help you weather all seasons, and especially the cold and flu season:

  1. Wash your hands!  Germ transfer via hand to mucus membrane contact is the number one way that we pass germs to each other.  Make a point to wash your hands whenever you come in from being in a public space.  Swipe the counters down in your home and work space regularly with a disinfectant.
  2. Rest up.  If you get struck with a cold or flu, your body needs rest. Don’t pop a symptom masking pill, and then run around as if you weren’t sick.  Not only would you still be shedding the virus that can infect others, but you would be ignoring your body’s need to sleep and recover.
  3. Eat clean, whole foods with lots of fresh vegetables. Soups, salads and green juices are excellent for adding a lot of nutrient dense foods into your diet. Take advantage of them.

shutterstock_248186887A well nourished, healthy immune system is far and away the best preventive. 

Fill your diet with nutrient packed foods, take regular exercise, get some sun, develop good sleep habits, and learn how to use a few herbs to boost the beneficial effects of what you eat and drink. Your body will thank you.

Editor’s Note: Oh! And most important: don’t forget sun therapy. Known as heliotherapy,14)http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/heliotherapy-benefits-of-the-sun-beyond-vitamin-d/ a daily dose of sun and fresh air is essential for optimal health and is a powerful centuries old healing method, providing vital vitamins D and K, in ways that only nature can deliver.

If you’re interested in more on Elderberry, you may enjoy this article How to Grow Elderberry on GardensAll.15)https://gardensall.com/how-to-grow-elderberry/16)https://gardensall.com/which-medicinal-herbs-should-you-grow/

For more on herbs for immunity, you may enjoy this article on Healing Herbal Teas for Cold and Flu,17)https://gardensall.com/healing-herbal-teas-colds-flu/ and this one on DIY Decongestant and Cough Remedies.18)https://gardensall.com/diy-homemade-decongestant-and-cough-remedy/

For an elderberry syrup recipe, you may enjoy visiting Mountain Rose Herbs.19)http://mountainroseblog.com/elderberry-syrup-recipe/


Editor’s Note: The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat illness. Always do your research or consult with your healthcare practitioner before using an herbal remedy to ensure there are no allergy risks or cross-indications with any prescription medications that you are taking.
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Jennifer is a clinical herbalist and health coach, specializing in autoimmune diseases like rheumatiod arthritis. Her interest in plant medicine led Jennifer to spend years studying herbology, physiology, and nutrition. She works one-on-one with her clients via her herbalist and health coaching business, Prairie Hawk Botanica. Jennifer lives on a homestead in rural Texas with her husband, 2 children, and various animals. In her spare time she loves to be in her large herb and vegetable garden. Sharing herb knowledge and her love of natural healing with others is her calling.