Every year, once fall sets in, folks flood the shop looking for immune support. In the last several years, the importance of a healthy immune system has been amplified. People started leaning on herbal support like never before, and the awareness of using herbs to lessen the likelihood of catching a viral illness increased.
With the increased popularity, came confusion & overwhelm, as the sheer amount of herbal formulas for immune support engulfed the marketplace. In our apothecary alone, we have over 15 different herbal formulas that are supportive to the immune system.
This is because working with herbs to support the immune response requires a lot of nuance. The herbs you use to prevent an illness are not the same as the ones you take once you get sick.
But, how are you supposed to differentiate all of these herbs and herbal products? When would you choose to use Elderberry over Echinacea? Medicinal mushrooms or powerful antimicrobials like Goldenseal?
I am beginning a series of blog posts designed to demystify the sea of medicinal herbs for immune support. Once compiled together, these writings will be your complete guide on what herbs to use for prevention, during & after an acute viral illness. This entry, part one, will cover herbs that help us keep the bugs away in the first place!
Preventative Herbal Remedies
Prevention is always the best place to start when taking care of your immune system. Building a healthy immune response requires more than taking herbal formulas. A healthy lifestyle, with adequate sleep, appropriate movement, and reduction of stress, while simple, will render the best foundation for your body to prevent viruses from invading your cells in the first place.
In addition to the lifestyle factors, it would be a major oversight on my part if I didn’t mention the importance of protein for immune health. Most people are severely under eating protein. Most modern protein researchers claim that the RDA is a gross underestimate of the protein we actually need to function in a healthy body. The amount of protein I seek to help client’s reach is 1g per lb of ideal body weight. This daily intake of protein takes a conscious effort for most people to reach, but it has changed the lives of my clients and myself in ways you may not expect. In addition to balanced hormones, replenished nervous system, healthier insulin resistance markers like weight, eating enough protein has a deep immunomodulating effect. It helps to not only prevent viral illness, but will help you recover from an illness quicker.
Okay, back to herbs! There are 4 categories of herbs which can best help prevent viral illness- immunomodulating, antioxidant, daily antimicrobials and gentle immune stimulants.
I mentioned this term earlier, but what does it really mean?
Immunomodulating herbs and substances help to restore balance to an immune system which may be under or overactive.
An under active immune response may present as the person who gets every bug that goes around, it takes forever to recover, and they have lingering symptoms after most of the illness resolves. An overactive immune response may present as autoimmunity, excessive inflammation, or allergies.
Immunomodulating herbs are generally considered immune tonics. They build the strength of the immune system over time. These are my favorite category of herbs to take on a daily basis for immune health because they help to train and make your immune system stronger without being too over stimulating. They tend to be neutral in their energetics and are deeply nourishing.
These herbs are best used on a daily basis to build the strength of your immune system, but are not recommended once you start to feel an illness coming on or during the active stages of an illness.
Because of their deep action on the immune system, when you take these herbs during an infection they could push the illness deeper into your body. Meaning, it may make your symptoms worse or take longer for you to recover.
Examples of Immunomodulating Herbs:
- All Medicinal Mushrooms- Reishi, Turkey Tail, Lion’s Mane, Chaga, Cordyceps
- Adaptogens- Ashwagandha, Shatavari, Eleuthero
Immunomodulating Herbal Formulas:
Reishi Vitality- This is our go-to formula for people who want to develop and build the strength of their immune system over a long period of time. Dosage: 2-3 full droppers, 2-3x daily. Discontinue if symptoms arise.
Antioxidant herbs are high in bioflavonoids, anthocyanidins, and vitamin C to help protect the cells from being invaded by viruses.
These substances nourish the immune system by providing it with necessary co-factors that it needs in order to function properly.
These are great to take on a daily basis because they tend to be food-like and neutral in their energetics. They aren’t distinctly stimulating but building & nourishing. Unlike immunomodulators, these are supportive even when you get a bug. You can increase your dosage at the onset of symptoms and during an illness.
Examples of Antioxidant Herbs:
Antioxidant Herbal Formulas:
Elderberry Syrup- A delicious daily addition for the entire family! 1 tsp daily for prevention. 3-6 tsp daily at onset of symptoms and throughout illness.
High C Tea- One of our most popular herbal teas. Its tangy flavor makes it great both iced and warm.
Berry Good for You Tea- Another high antioxidant tea, this one is less tangy and a little more sweet with the touch of licorice. It contains nutritive herbs like Nettle in addition to vitamin C rich Elderberry.
The category of daily antimicrobials consists of herbs that many of you can find in your kitchen cabinet. These herbs have antimicrobial constituents, but are generally more safe for daily use than more powerful antimicrobials like Goldenseal. The best application for these herbs would be simply included in your cooking. Season your dishes with fresh or dried herbs for their antimicrobial benefit.
Examples of Daily Antimicrobials:
Daily Antimicrobial Formula:
Fire Cider- this herbal staple is an infusion of daily antimicrobials in apple cider vinegar. The mixture is spicy with a hint of sweetness at the end. It is a pungent, medicinal addition to recipes like salad dressing. Taken before meals it will increase digestion & absorption of food. Dosage: 1 tsp, 1-3x daily. Can be taken at onset & throughout an illness.
For special situations- Gentle Immune Stimulants:
It is not advised for people to take strong immune stimulants on a daily basis because of the potential for exhausting the system over long periods of time. This can lead to eventual immune depression, or an activation of autoimmune symptoms. However, sometimes it is indicated to take a gentle immune stimulant for prevention if you are going to be exposed to pathogens.
For example, if you are traveling, someone in your family is sick, or work in a school you may benefit from a stronger prevention regimen if you don’t already have an overstimulated immune system (see above in immunomodulators) or autoimmunity.
It is probably best to take these for a short term, and in combination with immunomodulators and other herbs that are going to work on deepening the strength of your immune system over the long term.
Examples of Immune Stimulants:
Gentle & Balanced Immune Stimulant Formula:
Deep Support- this is what we recommend for daily immune support in those who need a little extra boost for prevention, like teachers, parents or travelers. It contains Echinacea in a balanced recipe that also includes immunomodulators like Astragalus & Siberian Ginseng, antimicrobials like Licorice & St. John’s Wort, and Nettle for deeper nourishment.
Hopefully these herbs help you feel more empowered moving into cold & flu season!
Keep an eye out for Part 2 and 3 where we will discuss what to do if you do come down with a bug, as well as how to support your body after a viral illness to avoid lingering symptoms.