Friday, 27 December 2019

Supporting The Immune System Herbally - Part 2

Image: Gaby Stein
Article: Debs Cook
There are a wide variety of herbs and spices that can help the body’s immune system and whilst each herb can be of benefit to different parts of the body, some of them have an effect on more than one area, here I'm looking at the areas that are best targeted by each herb, as well as those that are in need of additional support during the winter months.

Astragalus Root  is an adaptogenic herb that may be a beneficial way of helping the body protect itself from the stress to the body generated by illness, be that physical, mental, or emotional stress. It is also used in Chinese medicine to help boost the immune system, one of its actions is to help to trigger the creation of immune cells in bone marrow and lymphatic tissue.

Echinacea  is one of the most common herbs that is associated with helping the immune system to fight infection and disease where winter colds and flu are concerned. It has anti-inflammatory, and also fungicidal and antibacterial properties which help the body to check the development of viruses. It is also a good herb for using for respiratory illnesses and to help soothe the throat in cases of laryngitis, tonsillitis, and help to ease colds and flu. In 2012 at the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, Wales, the largest clinical trial of echinacea as a means of preventing cold symptoms took place, following similar trials in Germany. The results of the 2012 trial are still being debated, but the results claimed that of the 750 people tested, the echinacea extract treatment cut the number of recurrent colds suffered by those with weak immune systems or a history of catching several bouts each year by 60%. Echinacea can be taken in capsule form, the root can be added to soups, teas and even used to make soothing ice lollies for sore throats.

Elderberries  are another immune boosting herb with antiviral and expectorant properties they are rich in vitamins A and C, and can help to soothe sore throats and help to calm fevers. They can also be used to make a soothing elixir and if the elixir is taken in teaspoonful doses three or four times a day at the first signs of a cold, it may prevent a cold from developing. If it does develop, the cold may be milder and last for a shorter duration if elderberry tincture is taken. You can read more about the benefits of Elderberries in our article Herbal Focus: Elderberries.

Garlic is more commonly associated with culinary recipes, and added to a wide variety of dishes but it is a powerful immune boosting ally as well, one of my favouirite ways of taking garlic is by infusing freshly chopped garlic into honey and then adding that to drinks hot drinks, or just to have a spoonful if I'm feeling run down. Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties, it is also reputed to work in a similar way to antibiotics. In fact garlic is so good at preventing a germs ability to grow that it’s said that just 1 milligram of allicin, a sulphur compound found in garlic, can have the same potency as 15 standard units of penicillin. Garlic contains more vitamin C per 100g than any of the other members of the onion family!

Ginger viewed by many as a spice, ginger deserves a place in your arsenal of immune support, it is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and contains natural antibiotics. It can help boost the immune system by increasing circulation in the blood stream which helps the immune system by increasing the amount of oxygen getting to the tissues of the body which helps it to remove toxins and viruses. Ginger tea is an excellent remedy for colds and flu, you can also add ginger to soups and to bathes to help boost circulation.
Some people are allergic to ginger, avoid this herbs included if you are allergic to it.

Hyssop is yet another useful immune system boosting herb that has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Hyssop has traditionally been used to help the body fight off colds and flu, and is useful for respiratory infections and to help ease coughs, bronchial congestion, and sinus congestion. Add to teas and tisanes, use to flavour chicken soups and to make immune boosting syrups and elixirs.

Peppermint can be added to teas and gargles for sore throats and for stomach upsets, peppermint is antiviral and antimicrobial, and it also contains potassium, calcium and vitamin B, all useful constituents to help the immune system fight off viruses like colds and flu.

Sage is an herb that has antiseptic and antibacterial properties and like peppermint is an ideal herb to make into a tea or gargle for helping to soothe the throat and chest. Sage has expectorant and diaphoretic properties and is a great alley to the immune system in cases of respiratory illness, and infections where the immune response is to create excess mucous to eliminate the foreign body to the system.

Shiitake Mushrooms again like ginger and garlic, many people will categorise these mushrooms as culinary only, but these tasty mushrooms are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and are used in Chinese Herbal Medicine for treating bronchial conditions. Recent studies have identified a phytonutrient compound called lentinan found in shiitake mushrooms, the compound is a polysaccharide that can help boost the immune system’s ability to deal with killer cells like cancer. Try mixing them with dried goji berries, ginger, garlic and echinacea root to make a delicious cold busting chicken soup like this Goji Berry & Chicken Soup (second recipe on page) a recipe from the first series of James Wong’s “Grow Your Own Drugs” programme which contains Shiitake Mushrooms.

Siberian Ginseng is another adaptogenic herb which may help the immune system by reducing levels of stress much like astragalus does. The herb contains constituents called eleutherosides, which are believed to stimulate the immune system. Recent studies have shown that when Siberian ginseng is taken within 72 hours of a cold or flu beginning, the duration of the illness can be significantly reduced. The root is antiviral and antioxidant, it can help the body to resist infection and increases oxygen in the blood which encourages the movement of foreign bodies from the body at a faster rate, and it also helps in cases of respiratory illness. Add to teas and tisanes, take in capsule form and add the root to soups and stews.

Hedgerow Fruits Elixir

This wonderful fruity elixir is full of immune boosting ingredients like elderberries which are antiviral and can help boost the immune system, the bilberries are antioxidant and can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Sloe berries are full of vitamin C and have a depurative action which means they can help remove impurities from the body, they also have a febrifuge actions, which means they can help to reduce a fever.


125g Dried Bilberries
125g Dried Elderberries
125g Dried Sloe Berries
125g Dried Rosehips
Cold Water to cover
100g Golden Castor Sugar (Per 100ml of finished fruit infusion)
15ml Brandy (Per 100ml of finished syrup)

Method: Put all the dried fruits in a pan and cover with enough cold water to cover, bring the water to the boil then turn down the heat and allow the berries to simmer until they are soft. Allow to cool slightly then strain through a nylon sieve or muslin cloth to remove any seeds or pips and tough skins from the fruit.

Measure the juice you have in a jug and calculate the amount of sugar you require, you will need 100g per 100ml of liquid, so 500ml will require 500g sugar. Once you’ve figured out how much sugar you need place the fruity liquid in a clean pan, add your sugar and bring the two to a boil stirring occasionally, once the liquid has come to the boil, turn down the heat and allow to simmer until the liquid is thick and syrupy, this takes between 25-40 minutes.

Once you have a syrupy consistency, allow the syrup to cool slightly then add 15ml of brandy for every 100ml of syrup. Bottle the syrup and store, the syrup with keep for 12 months unopened, but once opened keep it in the fridge and use it within 14 days. Take 1 teaspoon of elixir 3 times a day to help boost the immune system.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the remedies in our articles are effective, when in doubt, consult your GP or a qualified Medicinal Herbalist. Remember also that herbal remedies can be dangerous under certain circumstances therefore you should always seek medical advice before self-treating with a homemade remedy, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from any known illness which could be adversely affected by self-treatment.