Wellness Practices—Immunity Support During Flu and Cold Season
I’m sure we are all feeling a bit overwhelmed with the news and cautions around the Coronavirus (Covid-19 virus). The news media has done a great job alerting us of the dangers from this virus. They have also talked a lot about social distancing and hand washing as preventative steps. This is great advice for helping to keep you from being exposed to the virus.
However, there is more you can do—like increasing your body’s immunity defense. Our body’s immune defense is designed to detect and protect us from toxins (e.g., bacteria, cold and flu viruses).
The immune system is holistic—encompassing multiple physiological functions: neurological, nutritional, environmental and hormonal. Supporting the immune system is critical to good health.
The best approach to supporting the immune function is to adopt healthy habits. The healthier you are, the better you’ll get through this viral storm.
It’s important to mention that the herbalism or phytotherapy is a form of holistic medicine. It encompasses treating the whole person—physical as well as mental and emotional health. Keep in mind, herbalism is not an exact science—but its effectiveness has been noted in modern science and medical research.
Below are a few wellness tips for bolstering your own body’s immune defenses.
Tip #1: Prevention Is Key!
Hygiene and Avoidance Prevention
First and foremost, heed the city, state, and/or federal guidance. Here are some other important things you can do proactively (CDC, 2020b):
- Simple hygiene is one of the best ways to protect yourself.Wash your hands using soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20-30 seconds as soon as you get home or before eating a meal purchased outside of the home.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content (CDC, 2020b) is a good alternative if you can’t wash (some sources recommend 70% alcohol). However, hand sanitizer is less effective than old-fashioned soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or face, unless you have given your hands a thorough scrub first.
- Stay home if you are sick or avoid contact with those who are ill, especially if you are immune-compromised, have any of the medical conditions that put you at higher risk, or are an elderly individual.
- If you do leave the house, practice social distancingby staying at least 6 feet from other individuals.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, and faucets. Consider wiping down items you are bringing into your home, as recent experiments by van Doremalen et al. (2000) indicate that the possibilityexists for the virus to live up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 72 hours on plastic or stainless steel.2
Tip #2: Nutritional Support
Eat a healthy diet—eating whole foods is ideal for fortifying your body’s immune system. That means avoiding or cutting back on processed foods and instead opting for foods with high nutritional value.
- If you consume meat and dairy products, choose high-quality sources that are humanely raised instead of less expensive options that may come from less healthy animals.
- Cut back or eliminate sugar and alcohol from your diet as both are known to suppress the immune system.
- Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables free of chemicals and pesticides (organic), and incorporate fermented or cultured foods (e.g., yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha) into your diet to support gut and immune health.
All of these suggestions are ways to nourish your body so it is healthy and better able to fend off illness or recover after an illness.
Tip #3: Build and Protect Your Immune System with Herbs
Incorporating immunomodulant, immune stimulant, and antiviral herbs can help to build, protect, and support your immune system in the long-run.
Immunomodulant and Immune Stimulant Herbs: nonspecific stimulation of the immunological defense system3
- Astragalus(Astragalus membranaceus) contains complex polysaccharides that have been shown to improve immune activity, specifically by increasing the activity of white blood cells, stimulating adrenal-cortical activity, and encouraging red blood cell formation in the bone marrow.
Note: if you currently have an illness, it is not advised to use this herb (Hoffmann, 1993).
- Echinacea(Echinacea) root is a great immune booster that is both an “immunomodulant” and “immune stimulant.” It’s a particularly useful herb to add to your daily routine if you need to be around others or if you’re about to travel by plane, train, or bus!
- Garlic(Allium sativum) bulb contains compounds that help the immune system fight germs. Whole garlic contains a compound called alliin. When garlic is crushed or chewed, this compound turns into allicin (with a c).
Allicin quickly converts to a sulphur-containing compound, give garlic its medicinal properties. These compounds enter the body from the digestive tract and travel all over the body boosting the disease-fighting response of some types of white blood cells when they encounter viruses that cause the common cold or flu.
Note: a little goes a long way. Don’t over do it. If eating raw garlic, start with a single clove to avoid upsetting your stomach.
- Elder(Sambucus nigra, S. canadensis, or cerulea) berry is a gentle antiviral herb that has been a longstanding folk remedy during outbreaks of the flu. Some consider it a preventive throughout flu season (Buhner, 2013; Zakay-Rones et al., 2007). It’s believed that for most individuals, elderberry is safe before infection, but it should be avoided if symptoms develop during outbreaks of infections—just to be on the safe side.
Note: elderberry may not be safe for individuals with autoimmune conditions (although some folks with these conditions do just fine using elderberry).
- Licorice(Glycyrrhiza glabra) root tea, lozenges, or tincture may also be a good idea in winter months. Licorice is an immunomodulant and antiviral, and it is moistening, supporting the mucosa of the mouth and throat. Additionally, licorice may have some anti-inflammatory activity.
Note: Those with high blood pressure should avoid this herb and choose from among the other immunomodulant (Buhner, 2013).
- Tulsi(Ocimum tenuiflorum) (also called holy basil) is a pleasant-tasting, generally safe herb that makes a wonderful tea. Tulsi tea can be anticatarrhal (helps body remove excess muscus), which is warming, soothing, anti-inflammatory, gently lifting to mood and energy without being stimulating, and some sources even call it an antiviral herb (Wood, 2008).
Demulcent herbs (soothes and protects irritated or inflamed tissue) can be especially soothing to the irritation of a dry or relentless cough or help encourage movement of dry, stuck lung congestion.
- Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaf or root is extremely demulcent in cool-water infusions (let herb sit in room temperature water overnight)
- Linden (Tilia ) bract and flower is one of the gentle demulcent herbs that is also used as a pleasant, soothing tea
Expectorant herbs (soothes bronchial spasm and loosens mucous secretions) can be supportive during any kind of cold or flu.
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus ) leaf or thyme (Thymus spp.) leaf can be used in herbal steams or atomizers
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) leaf or hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) aerial parts are gentler aromatic herbs that can help release excess mucus when used as teas or herbal steams
Astringent herbs (helps reduce mucous secretions) can be supportive for minor gastrointestinal (GI) and bowel symptoms in addition to characteristic respiratory symptoms.
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) helps the body deal with fever as well as stimulates digestion and tones blood vessels
- Black tea (Camellia sinensis stimulates the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems
- Peppermint (Menthax piperita) and ginger (Zingiber officinale) soothes nausea and digestive cramping
- Carminatives such as cinnamon (Cinnamomum) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), heat, relax, and aid intestinal hydration
Alterative herbs (gradually restore proper functioning of body) support natural waste elimination via kidneys, liver, lungs or skin.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a diuretic that stimulates kidney function and a natural source of potassium
- Burdock (Arctium lappa) stimulates bile secretion and helps with digestion and appetite
- barberry (Berberis ) regulates liver function and promotes the flow of bile.
Tip #4: Healthy Lifestyle Activities
Living a healthy lifestyle can stimulate your immune system, increase blood flow to vital organs and elevate your mood. Add the following activities to your daily routine to increase your body’s immunity defenses.
- Manage stress: stress can further weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness.
Try these activities to reduce and manage stress at home:
- spending time pursuing hobbies
- Get enough sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation has a similar effect on the body’s immune system as stress. Lack of sleep disrupts the normal production of white blood cells, a crucial component of the body’s immune system.
Adults should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per day, while infants and children need between 8 and 17 hours of sleep depending on their age.
Regular exercise keeps the body healthy. In addition to strengthening the body, exercise causes the body to release endorphins that reduce stress levels. However, those with weak immune systems should be careful not to push themselves too hard as this can weaken the immune system further.
Exercise doesn’t have to strenuous or require extensive equipment. Take a walk—fresh air is also therapeutic.
Consider taking a daily supplement
Some vitamins and minerals support the immune system. For example, a person who has a vitamin C deficiency can have weakened immunity.
Other vitamins and minerals that can positively affect immune function include:
- vitamin A
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- folic acid
It is best to get these nutrients from dietary sources where possible, but if this proves challenging, supplements may be a likely alternative.
Immune Boosting Recipe
These herbal recipes were provided by The Herbal Academy. They are a great option for adding phytotherapy to your daily regimen.
Herbalist’s Fire Cider
This is a base recipe to get you started, but note that you can be really flexible in how you make your own homemade fire cider. Some other great additions to your fire cider recipe include dried elder (Sambucus nigra or S. canadensis) berries, cinnamon sticks (Cinnamomum spp.), echinacea (Echinacea spp.) root, seed, or aerial parts, astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) root, and even lavender (Lavandula spp.) flower buds.
1 large red onion, chopped
3 heads garlic (Allium sativum), chopped
1 organic lemon with peel, diced
1/2 cup fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome, grated
1/2 cup fresh turmeric (Curcuma longa) rhizome, grated
1/4 cup fresh horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) root, grated
1/4 cup fresh thyme (Thymus vulgaris) aerial parts, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper (Piper nigrum)
Note: A few fresh cayenne or jalapeno peppers (depending on how spicy you want your fire cider, you might use more peppers, or omit them altogether—it’s better to err on the side of caution because you can always make it spicier later!)
Honey to taste
Raw apple cider vinegar
- Place all ingredients except honey in a half-gallon glass jar, and cover with raw apple cider vinegar. Be sure to cover the herbs by at least a few inches.
- Cut a square of waxed paper and cover the mouth of the jar before tightly capping it with a lid.
- Store in a dark cupboard for a few weeks, shaking the jar daily.
- After 3 weeks, your fire cider will pack a punch, but you can keep infusing for much longer if you like—some herbalists let their fire cider sit for months before straining it!
- At this point, you can strain out the herbs from the liquid, but another option is to blend the whole batch in a blender or Vitamix and let it sit for an additional week (without shaking for the last few days to let the ingredients settle) before pouring off the liquid.
- Either way, once you’ve finished infusing herbs and strained the fire cider, add warmed raw honey to taste (start with about ⅓ cup), mix thoroughly, and bottle. Because this recipe is made using fresh herbs, we recommend refrigerating the final preparation and using it within 6 months. Don’t forget to label!
- To use, take 1 tablespoon once a day as a tonic or up to 3 tablespoons daily during an active infection.
Freshly Squeezed Ginger Juice Tea +/or Fresh Ginger Infusion
Adapted from Stephen Buhner’s Herbal Antivirals (2013)
Fresh ginger juice is a potent antiviral and is often one of the first herbs we turn to when a viral
infection seems imminent. The chopped or grated rhizome can also be used if juicing isn’t possible.
1 large ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome
- cups water
1-3 tsp raw honey
⅛ tsp cayenne (Capsicum annuum) pepper
Squeeze of lime (optional)
- Select four thumb-sized pieces of ginger rhizome.
- Using a juicer, process the ginger and capture the juice—the goal is to get 1/4 cup of juice.
- Save the fibrous ginger material.
- Bring water to a boil.
- To make the ginger tea, combine 1/4 ginger juice with just-off-the boil water, then add the honey, lime, and cayenne. Stir thoroughly.
- Drink 4-6 cups per day during acute infection. Store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before making a fresh batch.
- If you don’t have a juicer, you can chop or grate the ginger finely and infuse in just-off-the-boil water for 2-4 hours, covered, and then proceed to add the rest of the ingredients.
Garlic is an antimicrobial used for thousands of years in many cultures to fight infection. In this
simple recipe, we will combine garlic with honey, another antimicrobial superfood. Garlic honey
and the honey-steeped garlic cloves can be taken on a regular basis as a heart tonic or to stave off
infection. They can also be taken at the first sign of illness or to soothe a sore throat, cough, cold, the
flu, or sinus infection. Try garlic honey stirred into a hot cup of tea or eaten by the spoonful!
Note: Honey and garlic can both harbor spores of Clostridium botulinum (the pathogen that causes botulism). The growth of C. botulinum spores is more likely to occur in a neutral pH, a moist environment, or an environment without oxygen. C. botulinum spores are less likely to reproduce and the risk of botulism is lower in preparations with high acid (pH of below 4.6), high sugar, or high salt content (United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, 2010). Honey is approximately 80% sugar, making it high in sugar.
Honey is also acidic, with a pH of 3.9 (National Honey Board, n.d.). Though many use this recipe as-is, some individuals choose to use a pH meter and add a splash of apple cider vinegar to keep the pH levels below 4.6.
3 garlic (Allium sativum) bulbs
- Peel and separate the cloves and chop or grate.
- Fill a sterilized, dry jar about half full with chopped garlic cloves, then cover with honey.
- Poke through the honey with a sterilized, dry spoon to make sure that all of the garlic is covered.
- Cap and label the jar, and store for up to 3 months.
- To use, take 1 teaspoon once a day as a tonic or 4-6 times a day during an active infection.
More Herbal Resources for Viral Support
Many in the herbal community are sharing their knowledge and engaging in discussion around herbal approaches for COVID-19. These articles should be considered parallel support in conjunction with open communication with your doctor.
- Aviva Romm’s COVID-19 article series: COVID-19: An Integrative MDs Commonsense Approach, which includes multiple post on topics such as COVID-19 Symptoms, COVID-19 If You have Autoimmune Disease, Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and COVID-19, What You Can Do to Protect Your Immunity Practically and Naturally, and What Natural Approaches Do – and Don’t Work
- American Herbalist’s Guild COVID-19 Resourcespage: https://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/covid-19-resources?fbclid=IwAR2I0EgtaZpjEs8iuTECikznwW4tikGjhxNPggA8WYezEYaUmRc1reetCNI
- Guido Masé’s COVID-19 Coronavirus slide show: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1T7Bn0w8w0en7c7opf1oqo9SYHBz0iEHm/view?fbclid=IwAR3QisejRr8uzQOcVNeqORwx1q7rkLpHEuyBcTbjoBtJT-Nd8MlBJ8fqPd0
- Paul Bergner’s COVID-19 Coronavirusresource page: https://www.naimh.com/coronavirus?fbclid=IwAR2g92RzTabY2RQRDNee1hnWT64ImyqbRoKqkD_rysRwKpaWq3xAApgHkSo
- Rosalee de la Foret’s Herbs to Consider for Coronavirus blog post: https://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/herbs-for-immunity.html?fbclid=IwAR37oClxyLjA_PxpdVKg-tOGkd2ZiwZ3_-iaSp6DTksDlUB_l04DnwE6qH8
- Sevensong’s An Herbalist’s Notes on the COVID-19 Virus article: http://7song.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/An-Herbalist%E2%80%99s-Notes-the-on-COVID-19-Virus.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1ac3lw5tMwGbzVry5nCc2U7sIk_3-V5hwdBU7onM2jkvaWtouOV_37b3c
- Stephen Buhner Herbal Treatment for Coronavirus Infectionsarticle: https://www.stephenharrodbuhner.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/coronavirus.txt.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0r6NX7e0P-KGimxc5yhMlxJmDKJ5U2cvtvkY6OEalu4ER_rx9DQUwL1oI and addendum: https://www.stephenharrodbuhner.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/coronaupdate.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3x0_CND6cQsptisxdytSs9-1rWMdu4ggtQ65RzIS2fcvVimqSzMhCixaY
- Sophia Rose’s What to Do Right Nowblog post: https://gardenparty.love/what-to-do-right-now/?fbclid=IwAR0Av_q0mvEiH6lS7QqtTv93-CPeeIPR_wf_zSzGTGsT9BVuqrlN-WTDo8o
- Todd Caldecott’s Herbal Medicine and COVID-19 blog post: https://dogwoodbotanical.com/herbal-medicine-covid-19/
Chinese Medicine sources:
- John Chen & Lori Hsu’s How COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) is Currently Treated in China with TCM article: https://www.elotus.org/sites/default/files/novel_corona_virus_-_tcm_treatment_from_the_pprc.pdf
- Lesley Tierra’s Coronavirusblog post: https://planetherbs.com/blogs/lesleys-blog/coronavirus-herbal-prevention-and-treatment/
- Liu Lihong’s Report from the front line at Wuhan article: https://classicalchinesemedicine.org/report-from-front-line-wuhan/
- Michael Tierra’s More Herbal Treatments for COVID-19blog post: https://planetherbs.com/blogs/michaels-blogs/more-herbal-treatments-for-covid-19-by-michael-tierra/
Some scientific/research sources:
- Elsevier’s Novel Coronavirus Information Center (health & medical research on COVID-19): https://www.elsevier.com/connect/coronavirus-information-center?dgcid=_SD_banner#research
- SpringerNature’s SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research articles: https://www.springernature.com/gp/researchers/campaigns/coronavirus
- Hoffman, D (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Bergner, P. (1996). The Healing Power of Garlic. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing.
Birdsall, T.C., & Kelly G. (1997). Berberine: Therapeutic potential of an alkaloid found in several medicinal plants. Alternative Medicine Review, 2(2), 94-103.
Buhner, S. (2013). Herbal antivirals. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
Centers for Disease Control. (2019). 2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
Centers for Disease Control. (2020a). 2019-2020 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary Burden Estimates. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm
Centers for Disease Control. (2020b). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Hoffmann, D. (1993). An elders’ herbal. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. (2020). Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins. Retrieved from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
Katz, N. (2013). Echinacea. Natural Herbal Living Magazine. Retrieved on 01/29/20 from https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/2015/08/natural-herbal-living-echinacea/
Kintzios, S.E. (Ed.). (2002). Oregano: The genera Origanum and Lippia. London and New York: Taylor and Francis.
Stamets, P. (2002). Mycomedicinals. Olympia, WA: Mycomedia Productions
Stermitz, F.R., Lorenz, P., Tawara, J.N., Zenewicz, L.A., & Lewis, K. (2000). Synergy in a medicinal plant: Antimicrobial action of berberine potentiated by 5′-methoxyhydnocarpin, a multidrug pump inhibitor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(4), 1433-1437. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.030540597
United Plant Savers. (2018). Species at-risk. Retrieved from https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/species-at-risk
van Doremalen, N., Morris, D.H., Holbrook, M., Gamble, A., Williamson, B.N., Tamin, A., …, & de Wit, E. (2000). Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 compared to SARS-CoV-1 [Correspondence]. The New England Journal of Medicine. http://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Zakay-Rones, Z., Varsano, N., Zlotnik, M., Manor, O., Regev, L., Schlesinger, M., & Mumcuoglu, M. (2007). Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of Influenza B Panama. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 1(4). https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.1995.1.361
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