With immunity being a hot topic and even more so as we move into the winter season, we have put together some information on medicinal herbs that can help give your immune system a boost!
Whether it's for cold and flu symptoms, recurring infections or just generally to help with prevention, there's usually a plant for most ailments! Some of these you may find in your pantry or garden, others you may need to seek a qualified naturopath or medical herbalist for a prescription. These are typically either in a tincture blend, or in capsules as part of practitioner supplements.
In this first blog out of two, we will focus primarily on medicinal herbs for the respiratory system as well as some for general immune support.
Andrographis is a medicinal plant commonly used to treat colds and flus with its anti-viral and anti-bacterial actions. It stimulates the immune system and helps to resolve upper respiratory conditions with its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Andrographis is energetically cooling, making it great for calming inflammation and those with overly 'hot' constitutions.
It has also uses as an anti-platelet, anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, a bitter tonic, choleretic, hepato-protective agent and immuno-stimulant. Traditionally, the plant has been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including digestion, bowel conditions, diabetes, diarrhoea, dysentery, flatulence, gastroenteritis, general debility, loss of appetite, poor liver function, recuperation from fever, respiratory and skin conditions.
Astragalus is commonly used to protect and support the immune system, preventing colds and upper respiratory infections with its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to raise innate immune resistance. It is high in antioxidants to fight oxidative stress in the body and is energetically warming for those with colder constitutions. Astragalus is also a classic energy tonic that improves physical endurance by helping the body adapt to stressful influences.
Other traditional uses also include lowering blood pressure, treating diabetes, protecting the liver, diuretic, hypoglycaemic and cardiotonic. It has also been used on the skin for wound care.
Echinacea is commonly used to shorten the duration of common colds and flus, and reduce symptoms, such as sore throat, cough, and fever. It has been traditionally used to help boost the immune system and help the body fight infections, both acutely but more effectively, preventatively. It is energetically cooling, drying and stimulating, meaning that it is great for inflammatory conditions where there is excessive mucous production.
Echinacea can also be applied in topical creams, balms and slaves to help wound healing and to protect against infection, repair tissue damage and facilitate connective tissue regeneration.
It is however contraindicated in those with existing autoimmune conditions.
Elderberry is commonly used for the treatment of colds and flus, and acute infections associated with fever, upper respiratory tract congestion, headache and nausea. It can also be useful in rhinitis, asthma, croup, hay fever, conjunctivitis, rheumatism, pharyngitis and tonsillitis.
The flowers and berries are known to have useful effects in allergic conditions especially where cough and excessive mucous production are present. Energetically speaking, it dries and cools, clearing inflammation and stagnation of phlegm.
Tastes super yummy made into a natural cough syrup!
Elecampane is commonly used to treat chronic inflammatory lung conditions like asthma and bronchitis. It possesses antimicrobial activity alongside stimulating expectorant actions to help create a productive cough to expel irritants and remove excess mucus.
In this sense, it is wonderfully healing for the lungs and useful for those with chronic respiratory conditions.
Traditionally used for irritating bronchial coughs, it also stimulates the immune system and can also be used as a warming digestive bitter to help tonify the digestive tract. As a trophorestorative herb, elecampane helps to nourish and restore function of tired and compromised systems.
Mullein is commonly used to help treat both dry, hoarse coughs and wet productive coughs. It has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, demulcent and relaxing expectorant actions to soothe spasmodic coughing. Mullein is also indicated in the treatment of asthma.
It is energetically cooling which reflects its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to be very soothing on for the respiratory system. Also highly anti-microbial, it's extracts in water have been sown to demonstrate antibacterial activity against pneumonia, staph infections and E. coli.
Traditional uses for mullein also include being infused into oil for treating earaches and infections and a history for the treatment of tuberculosis.
Thyme is a well-known herb commonly used for its fragrant culinary purposes -- you probably already have this in your pantry or herb garden! It is also used commonly to aid in treating upper respiratory infections.
Taken internally, it can help to soothe coughs and relive chest congestion. Its anti-microbial properties may also help to speed up recovery from bacterial and viral infections. Because of these properties, thyme was also traditionally used in mouth rinses to treat mouth ulcers, infections and sore throats.
Thyme can also help to improve digestive discomforts like stomach pain and excessive gas.
White horehound is another one of those medicinal plants with multiple uses. It is highly anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory.
For immune health, it is used for lung and breathing problems including cough, whooping cough, asthma, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and swollen breathing passages. It is also commonly used for treating general cold symptoms.
It is also traditionally used for digestion problems including diabetes, loss of appetite, indigestion, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, and liver and gallbladder complaints.
How amazing are the properties of plants and nature around us!
While they have been used traditionally over hundreds of years in various different cultures and civilisations, modern research has finally been starting to catch up in terms of research and evidence for the efficacy of medicinal plants.
Remember to use medicinal herbs under guidance. Natural does not always equate to safe! If in doubt, get in touch with a qualified naturopath and medical herbalist for more information and help when it comes to dosing, contraindications and drug and herb interactions.
Stay tuned for the second and final part of this blog series...