Don't let the drama of winter ills and chills take over when you have a huge choice of herbal immune stars ready to take the stage.
Without further ‘a do’, let’s hand the show over to the winter herbal crew that deserves an immune-boosting applause.
Centre Stage – The Immune Super Stars
Echinacea: This superstar comes from the long tradition of Native American medicine3, where it was used to fight infection and blood poisoning, including snake bite6. While we don’t have much use for snake bite remedy in New Zealand, we should rank Echinacea top shelf in the medicine cabinet for helping prevent and fight ills and chills.
Echinacea can be used daily to help prevent infection during times of increased need4(eg winter) or use just use acute dosing at the earliest sign of symptoms to help fight off infection. Echinacea is also considered an immune modulator4… she performs the great balancing act of supporting immune function when it is low and dampening down overactive or confused immunity.
Astragalus: In traditional Chinese medicine, Astragalus is believed to tonify Qi and blood, particularly ‘splenic energy’3. The spleen is our greatest lymphatic organ involved in filtering blood and making white blood cells. Astragalus is, therefore, one of the key herbs to consider for helping boost depleted immunity or lowered white blood cell count. Traditionally Astragalus is not recommended during acute feverish infections but is highly valued for both prevention and immune recovery.
Bring on the ‘Anti-villains’
When it’s time for action we bring on the antimicrobials, the herbal crew that battle our bacterial, viral and fungal enemies. There are many antimicrobials, most in use since biblical times and beyond, and now some getting their justified ‘scientific validation’ - a bit like an Oscar Award for a herb. This year’s ‘Oscar’ goes to:
Elderberry– the perfect pick to help fight the flu. Researchers have found that Elderberry extract decreases viral attachment and entry into host cells, while also inhibiting viral propagation in later stages of its cycle. But that’s not all that this hero has ‘up her leaves’, she also stimulates the body’s chemical messengers to alert and coordinate an immune response to viral infection.1
And we can’t forget to mention other equally worthy antimicrobials; Andrographis, Olive leaf, St John’s Wort, Pelargonium, Manuka, Garlic, Holy Basil, Cat’s Claw, Sage and once again, Echinacea2. Sorry to those that have been left out!
The Respiratory ‘Support Crew’
There’s a lot of work to be done when the drama of infection takes over, so let’s give a hand to the support crew doing the essential jobs behind the scenes:
Eyebright, acting out an all-important anti-catarrhal role6.
Thyme, a trusty expectorant, that helps to soothe coughs6.
Kumarahou, a native star that helps loosen deeper bronchial mucus8.
Marshmallow, the gentle one that helps calm down inflamed mucus membranes6.
Liquorice, sweetens the crowd but also backs up Marshmallow and the antivirals6.
Wild Cherry, occasionally called on to help quieten an irritated, night-awakening cough6.
Ginger, a warming pleaser, that just helps all the remedies work a little better6.
A final hand – Adaptogens (the stage managers)
Adaptogens, just like a stage manager, have the knack of ‘keeping it all together’. Adaptogens have an amazing ability of helping our body adapt to stress, be it stress from overwork, emotional distress, fatigue or illness. While we don’t always use adaptogens during acute infection, we do use them to help build up overall resilience and therefore have a justified role in preventing infection. Adaptogens are also great to assist recovery, including post viral fatigue7. Adaptogens are best selected to match your constitution, such as the nurturing Withania, stamina supporting Rhodiola or energy enhancing ginseng species.
Huckleberry practitioners are here to help
Finally, the writers of your production (herbal brew) are the friendly team of qualified Medical Herbalists and Naturopaths at your local Huckleberry herbal dispensary*. They will blend your own star production of herbs, specific to your own body’s drama, be it a wet chesty cough, a body aching viral or a head throbbing sinus job. But be in quick before the drama takes over!
*Always discuss the safety of herbal medicines with your medications, if pregnant or breastfeeding, with your practitioner.
- Angela Frieswyk is a registered Medical Herbalist and Holistic Nutritionist practicing at Huckleberry’s Wild Herbs Natural Health Shop and Dispensary in Tauranga.
- Anti-influenza activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra). Journal of Functional Foods, 2019; 54: 353 DOI: 10.1016/j.jff.2019.01.031
- Evidence Based Antibacterial Potentials of Medicinal Plants and Herbs Countering Bacterial Pathogens Especially in the Era of Emerging Drug Resistance: An Integrated Update. International Journal of Pharmacology, 10: 1-43.
- Principles and Practice of Phototherapy, by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone. Echinacea –native am, snake bite
- The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety, by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
- Materia Medica of Western Herbs for the Southern Hemisphere, by Carole Fisher and Gillian Painter
- Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep;4(3):198-219. Epub 2009 Sep 1. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity. Panossian A1, Wikman G.
- Maori Healing and Herbal, by Murdoch Riley