A guest article on immunity by medical herbalist Pamela Spence, a certified member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists
Understanding how our immune systems work has become the greatest question since the arrival of the pandemic and Covid19. The question I get asked as a medical herbalist is which herbs are best to strengthen immunity. As we are entering the winter period, it’s always a good time to make sure your defences are in tip-top condition, and this year it matters more than ever. After any major challenge, your body needs time to recover and we know that Covid19 can be a bigger challenge than most viruses to bounce back from.
Firstly, let’s think about what actively works against our immune function. Stress and poor diet are highest in terms of their influence because both negatively impact our immunity and stamina. Taking time to recuperate is vital, extra rest, good sleep and a healthy diet will go a long way to ensuring recovery is as seamless as possible.
Lower Your Sugar Intake
The worst culprit in the diet for reducing immunity is sugar. But before you go sugar-free be aware that many of the sugar alternatives are even worse for you. So try to retrain your palette to craving sugar less and opt for healthier alternatives like small amounts of high quality organic and wild-crafted honey or stevia. Herbs that can help include cinnamon that balances blood sugar levels and makes you less likely to crave sugar and make poor food choices.
Make sure you feed your body what it needs including a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables daily. We all need a good source of vitamin C at the moment as it can be very helpful to boost immunity so if you can’t get it from fresh food, consider supplementing. Zinc is also a key mineral that supports immunity so make sure you either supplement or eat plenty of food sources like cashews, almonds, eggs, baked beans and also meat if you eat it.
Once the basics are looked after, then we can turn to some key herbs that can support us.
Surely everyone has heard of this super-herb by now? The secret herbalists know is that it was originally snake bite medicine and originates from North America. This means that it is very good at helping the body at the onset of infection because it raises the white blood cell count and it's your white blood cells that fight infection for you. It's a great herbal ally for the moment you feel that tickle in your throat and can either help you avoid getting a cold or reduce the severity of symptoms and the amount of time you have them. I also use it when symptoms are lingering or when a person is getting one infection after another without much of a break in between. Best taken in tincture form to get a strong enough dose. My favourite over the counter product is A. Vogel's Echinaforce.
Last year, stocks of elderberry syrup ran out so this year people are making sure they get theirs early. Elderberry is packed with vitamin C which supports immunity and it also has an anti-viral action. It has long been used as a traditional remedy for coughs, colds and even flu. It is usually taken as a syrup and there are two available to buy that I recommend - Pukka's Elderberry Syrup which also has warming ingredients like cinnamon in it. Sambucol also makes a syrup for children which is very useful to keep them from coming down with every bug they come across at school. I particularly like elderberry for stopping the onslaught of viral infections at this time of year.
Sometimes the simplest kitchen remedies are just what you need to reach for and the best thing is, you can grow them yourself or have them to hand. Thyme has a high level of antimicrobial essential oil in it, meaning that it is very helpful to take at the onset of a cold or sore throat and taking it regularly may help to stop any invaders from getting past your first-line defences. Simply pick a couple of fresh sprigs from the garden and add to a mug of boiled water, infuse at least 5 minutes and drink 2-3 cups a day. You can add honey for some extra immune support and to help soothe your throat too. If you only have dried to hand, put half a teaspoon in a tea ball per mug and use it in the same way. If there's any left at the bottom of the mug, gargle it when it is cool for some extra, topical assistance.
Simple steps can make sure your body has all that it needs both to recover and to see off any new pathogens coming your way. With good rest, a healthy diet, supplements and herbs where they are needed you’ll be better able to navigate your way through the winter months – and your body will thank you for it.
Pamela Spence Medical Herbalist MNIMH
Pamela discovered herbal medicine seeking answers for the burnout she experienced in the film industry. One Batchelor’s degree in herbal medicine later, she began clinical practice in 2006 and later grew into teaching, writing and product development. She recently launched an online community for busy women and has been the Twinings Expert Herbalist since 2016.
Pamela is a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. www.nimh.org.uk You can contact Pamela on her website www.pamelaspence.co.uk
Pukka Elderberry Syrup for Winter Immunity
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