Herbal Medicine Cabinet
Fend off the “nasties” with natural, immunity-boostingh erbs
Fend off the “nasties” with natural, immunity-boosting herbs
“Used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is considered by western herbalists to be one of the leading immunity-boosting herbs available.”
The following herbs are some of the most highly researched, as individuals and modern medicine alike search for answers on how to best assist the immune system in warding off illness and disease. The good news is that each of these herbs readily grows around the country. If you’re not into growing your own herbs, plenty of reputable suppliers exist to help fill your herbal medicine cabinet.
Scientific Name: A. membranaceus Common Name: Astragalus
If only one herb could be selected, astragalus would be the winner. Used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is considered by western herbalists to be one of the leading immunity-boosting herbs available. Current clinical studies not only confirm the herb’s ability to fend off minor illnesses, such as the common cold and influenza, they also suggest astragalus is beneficial in rebuilding a weakened immune system following chemotherapy and radiation. Studies even indicate this potent herb may be useful in treating diabetes, a disease that further reduces the body’s immune function.
A perennial that grows 2 to 4 feet high, this herb is highly adaptable. Plant seeds outdoors after the last frost date in a sunny spot with well-draining, loose, sandy soil and thinned to about 1 foot apart. It does take about four years before the roots—the medicinal part of the plant—can be harvested, so patience will be a virtue. Alternatively, you can purchase high-quality dried roots from reputable herb suppliers, or capsules, tinctures and extracts at many health-food stores. The sweet-tasting root is best ingested in tea form or powdered and added to smoothies, yogurt and even ice cream.
Scientific Name: Echinacea purpurea or E. angustifolia Common Name: Echinacea
Employed by Native Americans to fend off colds and other illnesses common in winter, echinacea is better known by many as the purple coneflower. Research conducted at the UK’S Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University found this native herb reduces both the number of colds contracted and the duration of existing colds by an average of 26% when compared to a placebo.
Unlike astragalus, all parts of echinacea contain medicinal properties. However, some herbalists prefer the roots over the leaves, stems and flowers, believing the root’s medicinal constituents are more potent. Others opt to utilize only the aboveground parts to avoid damaging the plant’s overall health. All parts may be purchased as tinctures, capsules or in dried form, or you can harvest your own.
Regardless of which parts you prefer, echinacea is a hardy perennial that grows easily in most of the U.S., enjoying both dry, poor soils and fertile garden soils. The main requirement is a well-draining, sunny location. Seeds readily sprout outdoors when sown in either spring or fall or as indoor starts. Be aware that flowers will not appear until the second growing season, so you may wish to avoid harvesting the first year. If harvesting roots, it’s best to plan for a large planting and disturb the plants as little as possible.
NOTE: Those with allergies to other members of the Asteraceae family should exercise caution with echinacea due to the presence of echinacea pollen.
Scientific Name: R. canina or R. rugosa Common Name: Rose Hips
If ever you needed an excuse to plant a rose bush, now you have one. Used by the British government during World War II to prevent scurvy in its military, rose hips contain approximately 20-60% more vitamin C, pound for pound, than oranges. However, not just any old rose bush will do. While hybrid teas are delightful and often quite fragrant, medicinal rose hips are found on R. canina (dog rose) and R. rugosa (hedgehog rose), both of which grow wild throughout the country.
Growing these wild roses is easier than growing hybrid teas, with the rugosa rose being the least finicky. The farther north you live, the more you might want to look into the dog rose, and those living farther south should consider the rugosa rose, yet many regions successfully harbor both species. However, each species requires somewhat different cultivation, so determine their preferences for your specific location. The fact that they’re a bit more particular than the other herbs mentioned here is proof that, while hardier and a little wilder than a prim and proper tea rose, they’re still roses.
There are many ways to consume rose hips. Cut them open and scoop out the irritating, hairy seeds, then pop the shell into your mouth for a sweet treat. Or, find a tasty jam, jelly or syrup recipe to try. You can even make a sweet, floral-tasting tea to enjoy. You can readily purchase the hips dried, sometimes powdered, and rarely in capsule or extract form.
Scientific Name: Allium sativum Common Name: Garlic
Garlic wards off not only vampires, but colds, flu and the plague (really). Fed to ancient Egyptian slaves to increase stamina and reduce illnesses, this commonly used herb is likely sitting in your pantry. Best consumed raw when used as a preventative, garlic’s antimicrobial properties work by increasing white blood cells and blocking enzymes that lead to viral infections. Incorporate one to two whole cloves into your diet daily by adding
to salsa, buttered toast, salad dressing or spaghetti sauce. Or, press the cloves and mix with a tablespoon of honey in the morning and evening. Since raw garlic can cause stomach upset, be sure to consume a bit of food, too.
Note: If taking blood thinners, do not consume non-dietary amounts of garlic without first consulting your physician.
While you may wish to purchase raw garlic at the local farmer’s market, growing it is easy, with fall plantings generally producing larger bulbs than spring ones. When selecting bulbs for the garden, order certified diseasefree stock. Begin with loose, friable soil and amend with compost. Place the largest cloves 2-3 inches deep and cover. Keep soil moist, but not wet, as soggy ground causes cloves to rot. In the spring, wait until the green tops begin to break cover, then harvest carefully to avoid damaging the bulbs. Save the largest and healthiest-looking bulbs for the next planting, and use the rest to build your immune system.
Scientific Name: Sambucus nigra
Common Name: Black Elderberry
Another Native American medicinal, elderberry grows wild along forest edges, and is one of the most effective—and tasty— antiviral herbals available. Most commonly taken as a syrup, elderberry is clinically proven to prevent colds, flu and other upperrespiratory-tract infections. As a bonus, elderberry syrup is so delicious that even children will happily enjoy it smeared on pancakes, drizzled over ice cream or even straight from the spoon.
To grow, elderberry only requires moist, moderate soil in partial to full sun. Once established, little care is needed. While waiting a few years to obtain the medicinal berries, purchase dried berries from a reputable source to make your own syrup or purchase quality manufactured syrups or tinctures.
Bolster That Immune System
Creating an immunity-boosting herbal arsenal as winter approaches is a good way to help your family fend off the “nasties” that come along with cooler weather. And, the good news is that you don’t have to wait until spring to start building your immune system with quality, dried herbs, tinctures, capsules and more, all available at your local health food store and online. Start planning your future herb garden now while sipping a rose-hip tea or enjoying elderberry pancakes.
“… elderberry grows wild along forest edges, and is one of the most effective— and tasty—antiviral herbals available.”
(top) Astragalus is a powerful immune-system-boosting herb. Studies have indicated that it might be useful in treating diabetes and in boosting immune system function following chemotherapy.
(opposite, top) Purple coneflower, aka echinacea, is at home tucked in tiny corners and under larger shrubs such as this rosemary, or in open fields with room to spread its roots.
(below) Dried rose hips are readily available in most health-food stores, or you can forage for wild hips or grow your own. (opposite) Any variety of garlic is suitable for boosting one’s immune system. Select one you find palatable and that grows well in your region if establishing an herb garden.