Most of us only notice our immune system when it is working hard. Normally it exists under the radar, removing unwanted guests with every breath. But when germs have penetrated its initial defenses, the immune system kicks into high gear. The battle to restore health leaves us with unwanted side effects that are meant to protect, but often irritate—fevers, coughs, runny noses, sore throats, stuffy heads, aches, and pains.
It is time to nourish our immune system.
To build our initial defense so germs can’t penetrate, the best defense is a good offense. Ancient wisdom tells us that health comes when we live in harmony with the cycles of nature. So as temperatures cool, the sun moves north, and we start spending more time in close quarters, it is time to nourish our immune system.
Lifestyle and diet are important factors. Get sufficient rest, exercise, and sun each day; increase digestive power with warm, simple, and spiced foods; and support vital energy with proper vitamins and minerals. A daily neti wash and frequent hand-washing will also remove unwanted germs.
Another source of immune power comes from our herbal allies—plants that offer their healing powers to support our lives. Three well-known immune tonics include:
Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra)
This cluster of tiny berries has been used for centuries by cultures around the world to keep people healthy throughout the year. Modern science shows that the proteins and bioflavonoids destroy the ability of a cold or flu virus to infect our cells. Taken daily, it does wonders for keeping viruses at bay. Yet it can also be used at the onset of cold and flu symptoms. A tonic dose is ½–1 Tbs. for adults, ½–1 tsp. for kids per day, but for acute situations just up the serving dose to every 2 to 3 hours. While it is easy to find Elderberry syrup (or Sabuca) at most stores, it is just as easy to make at home with honey, water, and berries.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceua)
Native to China, the root of this shrub has great healing, as well as anti-aging, powers. It works by increasing the immune cells that ingest foreign antigens while also enhancing natural killer cells. This powerful medicine is also sweet, warming, and delicious, making it a favorite for young and old alike. Simmer the root slices in water (or any soup stock) for 30 minutes and drink 2 to 3 eight-ounce cups a day. Tincture is also available. Both can be used daily.
Used as longevity tonics by the Chinese for thousands of years, medicinal mushrooms also have strong immune-building properties. Favorites include shiitake (Lentinula edodes), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris). Mushrooms work differently than other immune tonics—instead of energizing the immune system, they help organize and activate specific immune cells to function better. In one sense, it is like they “teach” the cells how to work better. Mushrooms, when dried, are extraordinarily hard to digest and assimilate, so are better taken as a strong broth or tea. You can even add some kombu seaweed for additional immune fighting power. Eat or drink daily.
One Chinese proverb says, “curing a disease when you are already ill is like digging a well when you are already thirsty.” With these immune-boosting herbs and tips, your well will be miles deep before it is ever needed.
To your health!