Boosting our immunity requires time. One cannot expect to ingest high doses of Vitamin C the week before cold and flu season and have great success. However, with a some regular care and attention to immunity over the spring and summer months, we can expect great results come fall. The following four herbs have a direct effect on supercharging the immune system.
Mushrooms: White button mushrooms found in every produce section have a significant amount of Vitamin D, known to have a direct effect on our immunity. Even better are shiitake mushrooms, which you can order online in dried form if they cannot be found fresh in grocery stores. Soak for 20-30 minutes before chopping and using in your favorite stir-fry or soup. Be sure to add the soaking liquid into your sauce or broth, as it contains essential vitamins and nutrients and will add a depth of flavor to your dish. If the texture or taste of mushrooms throws you for a loop, you can still reap their incredible health benefits. Ling Zhi, or Reishi mushrooms, have long been studied for their direct effect on the immune system. Chaga mushrooms have recently been discovered as the most powerful known antioxidant, as well having immune-modulating effects (the only mushroom known to do this), boosting weakened immune systems and calming over-active ones. Capsules can be taken with water, or for young children, they can be broken open into a smoothie.
Turmeric Root: Known as Jiang Huang in Chinese Medicine, it’s health benefits stretch far beyond anti-inflammatory properties. It assists the immune system directly by repairing the membrane around cells, thus improving their resilience to infection and also enhancing cellular productivity. Sometimes you can find fresh turmeric root in the produce section with fresh ginger. Grate it and steep it, covered, for 5-10 minutes like a tea: add a bit of local honey, a squeeze of lemon and you’ve just created a delicious immune booster. If you can’t find fresh turmeric, powdered turmeric found in the spice aisle will work just as well. Use 1/2 tsp dried turmeric powder and steep as above.
Garlic: Da Suan in the Chinese compendium, garlic can be eaten regularly to strengthen the body against potential microbial invasions. Since most of it’s potent power is contained in it’s raw form, begin integrating homemade salsa into your routine as the ingredients become available. The fresh tomatoes add a burst of vitamin C and raw garlic is easily disguised in a salsa. Fresh tomato, minced garlic, finely chopped onion, serrano peppers, sea salt, fresh lime juice and cilantro make a crowd-pleasing blend. Top your morning eggs or evening chicken breast with it, or simply snack on it with chips. If you are sensitive to the lingering taste of garlic, try nibbling a sprig of parsley or a few fennel seeds after ingesting. Or you could eat at a small bowl or plain yogurt or drink a glass of milk: whole milk has been shown to be more effective than skim at reducing unwanted garlic breath.
Astragalus Root: Known as Huang Qi to Chinese Herbalists, it is amongst a few select personal favorites of mine. I have seen this root change people’s lives simply through boosting their immune system and protecting those who frequently get colds and flus. The dried roots can be ordered online and are easy to integrate into everyday cooking. Think of them like bay leaves. Use 4-6 long, dried root slices in broths, sauces and soups. Cook for at least 40 minutes (all day simmers are even better), and remove before serving. Astragalus root can also be found in supplement form if you don’t frequently make broths or soups.
If you or someone in your family usually falls ill with changes in weather, consider incorporating these herbs into your diet this spring and summer. They are safe for children, adults and elderly alike, but it’s always good to consult with your healthcare provider if you have an immune related disorder. If you are taking immunosuppressants because of an organ transplant or for any other reason, avoiding these immune boosters is best. For the rest of us that just seem to catch colds easily, these four gems are a game changer.
In looking for whole herbs or herbal supplements, always look for either the GMP label or organic certification, to ensure the herbs are sourced well and do not contain contaminates.