3 herbs to boost im­mu­nity

Jane Wrig­glesworth de­tails how to use these plants to in­crease well-be­ing.

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

How to grow and pre­pare them

Ahealthy im­mune sys­tem serves as a means for pro­tect­ing our bod­ies from in­vad­ing pathogens. It is es­sen­tial for good health, stop­ping germs in their tracks and re­pair­ing cuts and scrapes.

Un­for­tu­nately, mod­ern life is full of things that dampen our im­mune sys­tem. These in­clude chem­i­cals (the likes of plas­tics, sol­vents, de­ter­gents, pes­ti­cides, preser­va­tives, food ad­di­tives, tex­tiles and cos­met­ics), stress, lack of sleep, poor food choices and overuse of an­tibi­otics.

Reg­u­lar and re­cur­rent in­fec­tions are signs that your im­mune sys­tem is weak­ened.

Sup­port and en­hance­ment of the im­mune sys­tem is key for build­ing re­sis­tance to in­fec­tions.

Once the above stres­sors have been ad­dressed, these three herbs are par­tic­u­larly use­ful to boost our im­mune sys­tem and cre­ate over­all health. Look­ing for other home­grown reme­dies? Eat more gar­lic, which is well-known for aid­ing im­mu­nity. In one study, par­tic­i­pants who re­ceived a gar­lic ex­tract dur­ing a 12-week trial were al­most two-thirds less likely to catch cold than those re­ceiv­ing a placebo.

1Echi­nacea ( Echinacea pur­purea, Echinacea an­gus­ti­fo­lia and Echinacea pal­l­ida)

Echinacea is the herb most of us think to take when we get a cold or flu. Cer­tainly, it’s had the most press – some good and some bad.

Sev­eral stud­ies have shown that this im­muno-mod­u­lat­ing herb can in­deed “turn on” the im­mune sys­tem func­tion (or mod­u­late it), ac­ti­vat­ing im­mune cells for a quicker re­sponse to in­fec­tion, in­hibit­ing the spread of viruses and killing bac­te­ria.

It’s im­por­tant to note that it may not pre­vent colds or in­fec­tions, but re­search sug­gests it can help colds that have al­ready be­gun, at least in adults, by re­duc­ing the symp­toms and du­ra­tion – and even stop­ping a cold that is just start­ing.

Tra­di­tion­ally, a tinc­ture made from the roots is used to treat colds, while a de­coc­tion ( boil­ing the root in wa­ter for 20 min­utes) is used as a gar­gle for sore throats. Echinacea can be taken as a tea, but a tinc­ture is stronger and more ef­fec­tive. Make sure you take it at the very first sign of a sore throat or in­fec­tion.

You can make your own tinc­ture by soak­ing the chopped roots in three times its vol­ume in vodka (the high­est per­cent­age you can find). Place the roots and al­co­hol in a jar, screw the lid on tightly and place in a dark room. Shake daily for 4-6 weeks, then strain (the longer you leave it, the bet­ter).

Or add sage, which has an­tibac­te­rial prop­er­ties, to the mix. An echinacea-sage mix is an ex­cel­lent treat­ment for acute sore throats, in­clud­ing strep throat.

To grow your own echinacea, plant in full sun in av­er­age, free-drain­ing soil. Echinacea is rea­son­ably drought-tol­er­ant, but will per­form bet­ter with a lit­tle mol­ly­cod­dling. Young plants, espe­cially, need reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing un­til es­tab­lished. They don’t like ex­tremely low pH (acidic) soil con­di­tions ei­ther, so top up with lime if your soil is acidic.

The roots are har­vested in au­tumn from four-year-old plants. Dig them up and cut them into 5-10cm long pieces. Wash and let them dry or make tinc­tures from the fresh roots.

2As­tra­galus As­tra­galus mem­branaceus)

As­tra­galus is one of the most pop­u­lar herbs in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine. It’s used for a va­ri­ety of pur­poses, in­clud­ing strength­en­ing the im­mune sys­tem and pre­vent­ing up­per res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions. It’s con­sid­ered an ex­cel­lent herb for peo­ple re­cov­er­ing from ill­ness, as well as for gen­eral de­bil­ity, in­clud­ing chronic fa­tigue syn­drome, and for the el­derly.

As­tra­galus ap­pears to ac­ti­vate Band T-cells (es­sen­tial for im­mu­nity) and stim­u­late macrophage ac­tiv­ity (macrophages are white blood cells that lo­cate for­eign bod­ies and “eat” them). Its im­mune-boost­ing prop­er­ties mean that it’s com­monly used as a pre­ven­ta­tive treat­ment against colds and flu, rather than for an acute in­fec­tion.

You can make a tinc­ture of the dried roots on its own, or com­bine it with with­a­nia (an ex­cel­lent adap­to­genic herb, which means it helps the body cope with stress.). You can also use the root in teas. In China, the dried roots are added to soups for their medic­i­nal ben­e­fits.

Use as­tra­galus after an ill­ness to boost your im­mu­nity. It’s not rec­om­mended to take dur­ing ill­ness as it can ag­gra­vate acute in­fec­tion.

These three herbs are par­tic­u­larly use­ful to boost our im­mune sys­tem and cre­ate over­all health.

It’s hard to find this plant in New Zealand al­though it is pos­si­ble to order seed from over­seas web­sites un­der what MPI of­fi­cially call ‘Ba­sic’ re­quire­ments (which are out­lined on MPI’s web­site, and it’s es­sen­tial you fully ac­quaint your­self with what is re­quired be­fore mak­ing any pur­chase). Or buy the dried root here from herbal dis­pen­saries.

3Holy basil ( Oci­mum tenui­flo­rum)

Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is revered in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s a herb to take on a daily ba­sis for gen­eral health and well-be­ing. It’s espe­cially use­ful where stress is present (stress low­ers the im­mune sys­tem) as it helps to lower cor­ti­sol lev­els. It also reg­u­lates blood sugar.

If you are un­der a lot of stress or go­ing through some­thing par­tic­u­larly emo­tional – per­haps con­sis­tently wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night – holy basil may be for you.

Sip on holy basil tea dur­ing the day, or use as a calm­ing tea be­fore bed­time.

Holy basil, a ten­der peren­nial, is avail­able in the herb sec­tion at gar­den re­tail­ers in sum­mer. Holy basil seeds are also avail­able from Kings Seeds.

Stud­ies have shown that echinacea can in­deed “turn on” the im­mune sys­tem func­tion (or mod­u­late it).

Echinacea.

Holy basil.

As­tra­galus mem­branaceus.

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