To Try This Weekend: 5 Herbs To Boost Your Immunity
We’ve entered the slog of winter, and with it comes cold season. From a tickle in your throat to the flu that requires bedrest, our immune systems are working overtime to keep us healthy. It might feel like it’s completely out of your control, whether you get sick or not, but we checked in with William Siff, Msc. AoM. and founder of Goldthread, to see what natural remedies we can incorporate into our daily routines to boost immunity.
Keep reading to discover 5 herbs you can use to boost your immunity today.
Understanding Your Immune System
A clinical herbalist, Ayurvedic practitioner and ethnobotanist, William says that our immune system is actually a complex interrelationship between many different organ systems. “Immunity is the outgrowth of vitality in general,” he says. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine look at it that way, which means that almost any herb that supports any of your body’s systems will ultimately help support your immune system too.
William shares this example: “If the body is having a hard time because the digestive system isn’t working well, then supporting the digestive system with herbs such as fennel, coriander, turmeric, ginger and carminative spices can help balance the digestive system, which is then overall making a big impact on improving the immune system.”
Plants as Medicine
You’ve probably heard the phrase “food is medicine” before, but traditions across the world have long been subscribing to that mantra as more than an Instagram hashtag. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s population still use plants as their primary form of medicine. William says, “This means that they’re using them for simple issues that we come across all the time, just being human: cuts, scrapes, bug bites, sore throat, headache, insomnia.”
But it’s not just in the treatment of acute injuries where plants showcase their powers. The next level up, says William, is when it becomes systematized (think the Ayurvedic, Chinese and Tibetan medicine traditions), where people specialize in and take the use of plants in daily life to another level. “It’s about daily saturation with medicinal plants that we can integrate into our lifestyle,” William says, “so that we can be sure we’re getting enough of them over a long period of time, or over a lifetime, to really reap the benefits.”
He uses examples like curry blends in India, Oaxacan chili and cacao, and matcha in Japan. “You couldn’t take the medicinal plants out of their culture without really leaving a hole in their diet,” he says. When these herbs are incorporated at every meal, you’re getting medicine all the time, and each bite can be healing.
William adds that it’s important to taste the herbs as well, and not just take supplements to get your immune boost. He says, “In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it’s important to get as many flavors and tastes as you can. Each flavor represents a different effect, and different kinds of chemistry that we want to get into our bodies. Some herbs are better raw, but most are better when they are cooked into food as we assimilate them better that way.”
5 Herbs to Boost Your Immunity
1&2: Astragalus and Reishi
At this time of year, says William, astragalus and reishi are deep, core, immune-building plants that we want to consume. They’re often cooked into broths and soups and they “keep the fire of the immune system going,” he says. “They’re a way to protect and build a force field that circulates around and throughout the body, also called the Wei chi in Chinese medicine terms. These plants take a while to work, which is why you want to have them on a consistent basis.”
3&4: Ginger and Turmeric
Says William, “Ginger and turmeric reduce the possibility of excess, what we call ‘Ama’ in Ayurveda, or ‘dampness’ in Chinese medicine, which is basically residual toxicity from inefficient digestion that clogs and congests and forms the basis for sapping our energy. The terrain of our body needs to be able to withstand and have the vitality and endurance to adapt to the elements, light changes, all those things we see in the winter months.”
In general, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine try to support the body in its overall and adaptive power. Says William, “Things like inefficient digestion and leftover toxicity is what forms the basis of mucus, which really starts to congest the body. Ginger and turmeric are good at excelling circulation, warming us from the inside out and moving our blood. Circulatory enhancement is really important to radiate immunity thought our whole system.”
Long used in syrups to help fight off colds, elderberry is a delicious herb that’s easy to add into a routine because there are lots of different ways to take it. Says William, “Elderberry is a potent and pervasive immune boosting tonic that hastens the resolution for viral infections and has a huge amount of antioxidants and vitamins.” Try it as a tea or a sweetening syrup instead of honey.
Interested in more herbs to support your system? Try detoxing with these three, especially if you live in an urban environment.