We may be out of the cold and flu season, but immune health is something we should aim for year-round. Our immune system is the most important for preventing sickness and disease, and fortunately there are herbal friends we can turn to, to boost the potential for immune health. We’ll cover some of these herbs here so you can perform at your best this season and in every season.
Native to Russia and parts of Scandinavia, angelica root was used in traditional Chinese medicine to modulate the immune system, alleviate cold symptoms, and treat respiratory ailments.
Our spleen contains white blood cells that fight infection and germs invading our blood, while removing old or damaged red blood cells. One study showed that astragalus appears to help the spleen create more infection-fighting cells. Study subjects that were given angelica saw a proliferation of total spleen cells, T cells—stem cells in our bone marrow—and macrophages, cells involved in the detection and destruction of bacteria and other harmful organisms.
You can take angelica root in tea, capsule, or liquid extract forms. It’s not advised for those with pre-existing heart conditions or high blood pressure.
Astragalus root (Angelica Sinensis) is known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties in traditional Chinese medicine. Research suggests that it could boost resistance to infection and bolster the immune system by activating natural killer (NK) cells and macrophages.
Studies on animals show it could also regulate the body’s immune responses.
A study that took place at the start of the pandemic revealed that the Chinese population took astragalus to prevent infection with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, though it hasn’t yet been proven to combat COVID-19.
Astragalus root is most potent in powder form.
Although more research is needed, chamomile has been used to soothe sore throats and prevent and treat the common cold. Chamomile tea contains chemical compounds that may reduce inflammation, an immune system reaction that fights infection in the body, and studies reveal chamomile could help stimulate our immune system.
You might know some people who swear by taking echinacea right when you feel the tickle in the back of your throat before you get sick. Also known as coneflower, echinacea stimulates the immune system to produce NK cells and other mechanisms that combat sickness.
Echinacea could benefit folks with low immune function—even reducing the risk for a cold up to 35 percent—according to a meta analysis.
Look for Echinacea angustifolia or a whole plant extract, which is the most chemically bioavailable.
Echinacea is not to be used if you have an autoimmune disorder or allergy to ragweed.
Elderberry has become mainstream in recent years, for good reason. Also called sambucus, elderberry is antifungal, antibacterial, and antimicrobial and could be helpful in treating the flu.
You’ll find it sold as a syrup, tinctures, lozenges, and gummies. You may be tempted to take more than you need, so moderate your intake (one teaspoon to a tablespoon of syrup at a time) and do not take it if you have an autoimmune disorder.
Ginger is well-known for its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant effects and is likely the ingredient you already use in soups and beverages when you’re sick. It also soothes upset stomachs. Many animal and in vitro studies suggest that ginger can enhance our immune response.
One study found that fresh ginger had antiviral effects against human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV), and helped boost immune response against HRSV. Gingerol, a compound found in fresh ginger, is known to fight cellular stress that causes aging.
Shots of concentrated ginger root commonly include other ingredients like honey and lemon juice. You could also add ginger powder to a beverage.Other immune-boosting herbs you may already be familiar with include chamomile, garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, and orange peel. Fire cider is also a great beverage for immunity.