by Kristin Henningsen
Keeping our immune system strong is important now more than ever, no matter where you are in the world. While there are many strategies out there to keep our immune system humming, more and more folks are turning to herbs to support their immunity and overall well-being. But with so much information flying around and so many herbs to choose from, where do we even start? And how can we know what herbs are right for our individual picture?
Here are a few of our favorite herbs for an immunity boost and how to incorporate them into your daily routine.
Even if you’re new to using herbs to support your health, you’ve likely heard of Echinacea or seen the beautiful pinkish/purple coneflowers gracing a garden. Echinacea purpurea is a classic remedy for immune health. A powerhouse for our acute or immediate immune response, Echinacea has been shown by research to be good for all sorts of infections (bacterial, viral, protozoal). It works by ramping up our white blood cells (a.k.a. immune cells) and stimulating the process of phagocytosis, where those immune cells essentially engulf and then break down the pathogen — think Pac-Man chomping up those little pellets. Fairly bitter in flavor, Echinacea is best used as an extract or supplement.
Another darling in the cold and flu season, the dark purple berries of Elderberry, or Sambucus canadensis, are key in preventing your immune system from being overwhelmed by a wide variety of bacteria or viruses. High in antioxidants, this herb has long been used during the first signs of viral infections to clear the infection and bring down high fevers. A favorite with kids (which is why the flavor is commonly used in herbal syrups), Elderberries have become a fixture in many households. Elderberry syrup is a delicious way to incorporate this into a daily immune-boosting routine, but supplements are just as effective.
If you’re looking for an herbal superhero, Andrographis doesn’t disappoint. A hard-hitting immune stimulant, Andrographis paniculata is a specific balm for respiratory infections and has been used for centuries to support the immune response. In addition, it is well known for its role in protecting the liver and reducing inflammation and muscle aches. And when you’re really sick, that’s going to translate into feeling less achy and fatigued. Called the “king of bitters” in Ayurvedic medicine, this herb is one you’ll want to take in supplement form.
Irish Sea Moss
While you might not immediately think of seaweed as a go-to immune herb, think again. Irish Sea Moss, or Chondrus crispus, is extraordinarily high in carrageenan, a slimy compound that’s well known for its soothing anti-inflammatory effects. When consumed, it has a reflex effect, which directs more fluid to be released into the lungs. This can thin mucus and support the tissue of dry inflamed lungs. An added benefit: consuming Irish Sea Moss over the long run has a beneficial effect on your gut microflora, boosting your underlying immune response. While convenient to take in supplement form, it also can be added to soups, stews and beans for added nutritional value.
Green Tea Extract
We’ve long known the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of Green Tea. However, more recently Camellia sinensis has come under study for its immune supportive actions as well. A recent 2018 study showed that Green Tea catechins (molecules that help give the tea it’s signature light flavor) were effective in their use to prevent and treat infectious disease. While more research is certainly needed, this and the immunomodulatory (a.k.a. immune regulating) effects of Green Tea show real promise for autoimmune support as well. And who doesn’t love a good cup of green tea? A high-quality Green Tea extract supplement is also a great way to incorporate this powerhouse into a daily routine.
If you’re looking to keep your immune system healthy and strong, consider adding these herbs to food or drinks, or incorporating them into an already established supplement routine. Not only can they help during those acute bouts of illness but they also will strengthen your immune game overall.
Kristin Henningsen MS, RH (AHG), RYT, is a clinical herbalist and educator who first fell in love with plants in the Desert Southwest. She’s passionate about bringing plant medicine back to the people, integrating Western Herbalism, TCM, and Ayurvedic practices to empower folks in their health care. She maintains a private clinical practice and serves as faculty for several university programs.