Ah, Winter! It’s that time of year for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, isn’t it? People are getting a serious case of the sniffles, public transport is fraught with the lurgies flying through the air and bouncing off tissues and coworkers are dropping like flies as the cold and wet sets in. Perhaps even you have had that little niggle in the back of your throat the last few days…
When it comes to supporting our immune systems it always helps to maintain a balanced diet, get plenty of rest (where we can) and then if you notice any symptoms creep in, head to your local herbal dispensary or visit a naturopath and ask for a simple herbal tonic. Most naturopaths and health food stores have some great over the counter options and it’s really about experimenting to see which herbs work for you!
For now, we’ve pulled together an easy guide on the top herbs and tonics for winter, naturopath approved of course. Now there’s no excuse not to fire up up your immune system and beat those winter blues.
A quick caveat before we dive in…
Always consult with a GP or naturopath if you are on any medications or if you’re dosing for a child as some herbs may be contraindicated and/or too strong for children. I am not a herbalist, just an avid researcher and I tend to experiment on myself. I’ve consulted with our in-house naturopath, Steph and these are the herbs that we know support immune systems and can help you to feel great again. Thank you Steph for your research to make this post naturopath-approved!
IMMUNE MODULATING HERBS
These herbs that are great immune system all-rounders and good to have on hand for the first signs of sickness.
Herb: Echinacea Root is also known as echinacea Angustifolia/Purpurea
What it’s good for: It’s likely that you’ve come across this incredible herb many times, perhaps you haven’t even realised that it’s been added to your store bought medicines. Echinacea is a powerful herb commonly used during the winter months or during times of immune dysfunction. It’s immune enhancing, immune modulating, a depurative (purifying), a lymphatic (flushes toxins) and has fantastic anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a staple for many and can be taken at any point to support the body’s systems.
Herb: Andrographis is also known as Andrographis Paniculata
What it’s good for: This power herb is GREAT for acute infections (viral, parasitic and bacterial). Naturopaths love to blend it into mixes when a client is suffering from symptoms of acute illness like a nasty cold, cough or fever.
Herb: Astragalus is also known as Astragalus Membranaceus
What it’s good for: This herb is a real winner for those long-term chronic infections that you just can’t shake. It’s often used when someone has suffered from long-term illness or infection and needs to build up their immune system slowly and gently.
These herbs are indicated for a bacterial infection like strep throat, ear infection and urinary tract infections (UTI). They’re also largely beneficial for killing off nasty bacterias that may be lingering and keeping sickness around. For infections, it is always advised that you see a GP to determine their severity before treating them yourself. For those general symptoms like a mild fever, cough, general cold and swollen glands, antibacterial herbs can help.
Herb: Thyme is also known as Thymus Vulgaris
What it’s good for: This beautiful herb is gentle but incredibly beneficial to our health. Yes, it’s a culinary delight, but did you know that it’s antibacterial, antimicrobial, great for acute bronchitis, whooping cough, laryngitis and other respiratory conditions that normally involve trapped mucus? You can gargle thyme and the swallow as it works well to numb a sore throat or you can take it mixed with other immune supportive herbs.
Herb: Myrrh is also known as Commiphora MolMol (so fun to say!)
What it’s good for: Like Andrographis (above) this is a fantastic antimicrobial herb used for the treatment of bronchitis and other respiratory conditions. It’s also incredible for parasites, intestinal worms and those nasty lingering bacteria’s. It’s a good one to seek advice from a professional on, in order to determine its suitability.
Herb: Garlic is also known as Allium Sativum
What it’s good for: Garlic is so potent and so readily available to us! It can be used to treat fungal infections, bacterial infections, parasites, candida, influenza, bronchitis and is also a great general herb to take for immune function. A word of caution, in liquid form it is pretty revolting. I would always recommend you take this in tablet form for a super high and potent dose (without the gag reflex!)
These are those herbs that need to work extra hard to destroy viruses that antibacterial herbs aren’t always able to do.
Herb: Propolis is also known as Apis Mellifera
What it’s good for: Propolis is a compound produced by bees and is believed to fight infections, heal wounds, support the immune system, deplete viruses and treat influenza.
The real genius behind this herb is the way it’s used by bees! Bees use propolis to close the gaps in their hives as a precautionary measure to keep out dangerous microbes and fungi. It really is nature’s antiviral!
Herb: St John’s Wort also known as Hypericum Perforatum
What it’s good for: This herb is famous for its antidepressant and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties, but many people don’t realise that it’s an incredible antiviral! It’s used to treat the herpes simplex virus, hepatitis, shingles and other viral infections. It’s best to get this prescribed by a naturopath or herbalist who can safely supply dosages. A caution: St John’s Wort is contraindicated with the oral contraceptive pill – taking both in tandem will result in loss of efficacy of the pill.
HOW TO GET YOUR IMMUNE BOOSTING HERBS IN
The beauty of many of these herbs is that you can incorporate them through food, teas and tonics quite easily and support your immune system day-to-day.
Try a Tea
Many of these herbs come in tea form and can be found in a good health food store. Three cups is generally a therapeutic dose and regularly sipping on herbal teas will not only keep you hydrated but also ensure that you’re getting those health benefits. A little tip, cover your teas when you’re steeping them – this ensures the therapeutic oils released from the leaves stay in the cup and don’t evaporate!
A zingy immune boosting pot of tea –
- 1 tsp dried or fresh ginger root
- 1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 tsp olive leaf tea
- 1 tsp of lemongrass tea
- Squeeze of fresh lemon (optional)
- 2 cups of boiling water.
Steep the ingredients in the boiling water (in a tea strainer) for a minimum of 5 minutes, covered, and then sip gently throughout the day.
Focus on Food
So often we jump straight to the medicine cabinet when food really has everything we need! Try adding fresh and dried thyme, garlic, ginger, lemon, orange and turmeric to meals as they are packed with nutrients and immune modulating properties.
Here are some of my favourite nourishing recipes packed with herbs and spices to fire up my immune system!
- Simple Thai Chicken Soup
- Coconut Seafood Soup
- Organic Chicken Dumpling Soup
- Warm spiced Almond Milk
- Seafood in Coconut Tomato Broth
- Roasted Broccoli Onion and Mint
- Buy Nothing New Veggie Curry
Take a Tonic and maybe add a little medicinal mushroom!
When you’ve tried everything and you still feel run down or like you need that extra boost then a tonic is the most potent yet natural way to get those important herbs in! You can’t do this yourself, as these herbs have very specific actions and dosages. Head to your local naturopath or health food store and they will be able to mix up something suitable for you.
I’m a huge fan of Armaforce and Andro NK by Bioceuticals/Metagenics respectively, and Mediherb immune mixes tailored to what’s going on, that the local health shop naturopath mixes for us when the occasion hits. We also have Inner Defense capsules from Young Living as well as the awesome Echinacea Thuja complex from Weleda. All herbal power products to keep us strong and minimise symptoms.
Before I sign off though, something not quite in the ‘herb’ kingdom but absolutely worth popping into a post on immune boosting, is a mushroom extract. Not just any extract, this is Lion’s Mane mushroom extract. I was shocked to learn recently when doing a little digging, that almost all medicinal mushrooms sold in Australia are coming from China. Whilst they claim to be heavy metal tested and safe for consumption – one thing Justin, a guy who has experience sourcing and selling super foods for over 8 years, is that you can’t trust what comes out of China. With stories from food technologists I’ve interviewed over the years sharing that fine metal particles were in powdered soups and dangerous arsenic levels in seaweeds, salts and rices, I tend to agree. There have even been studies that have shown mushroom extracts from China containing dangerously high levels of lead and other toxins and often we don’t even realise we have high quality options grown right here – when it comes to Lion’s Mane, we have some in rural Victoria. A caveat is you’ll often pay a little more, but I’d rather use a smaller amount of a high quality product than any amount of something contaminated with lead, right? I got to know Lion’s Mane going through CIRS, given the evidence of brain support, but it turns out it’s also excellent support for the immune system. So, if you’re a medicinal mushroom fan, the Lions Mane from Forest Super Foods is 100% Australian and grown in the Yarra Valley, Victoria and you can order it HERE.
So there we have it, nature once again has provided the goods for us to thrive, not just survive in the colder months. Have you got any winning concoctions that get you through a nasty cold? I’d love to hear them!
Low Tox. Happy us. Happy planet