Flu season defense: Immune boosters
With the onset of fall weather comes the return of seasonal allergies as well as the desire to strengthen our immune systems in preparation for the upcoming flu season. Fortunately, there are myriad herbs that support both. Let’s take a look.
For my money, two of the best immune strengthening herbs are astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceous) and reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum). Astragalus, part of the Fabaceae, or legume, family has shown increased phagocytic activity (destruction of microbials) and increase of various antibodies (IgA, IgG) that ward off and fight infection in animal and human studies (Bone, 1996). This is due largely to the polysaccharides and saponins contained in astragalus root.
Reishi mushroom, also high in polysaccharides, stimulates macrophage, natural killer T-cells, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in the body, all of which attack invaders. Reishi also demonstrates anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, adjunct properties that support immune system action (Stamets, 2002).
Both of these herbs are affordable and can be taken easily in powder form sprinkled over food (applesauce, yogurt, oatmeal, in a smoothie). For a more convenient (but lower dose) option, I like Oregon’s Wild Harvest Astragalus Reishi capsules.
For prophylactic support I recommend 2-3 grams of EACH per day, noting that both of these herbs are indicated for prevention of infection or speedier recovery, NOT for support in the acute stage (see echinacea or elderberry for that). That is, for best results start taking it at the beginning of the flu season (i.e., Now!) to build up in your system – expect that to take a month or two.
Both herbs are safe to take over a long period, though traditional herbal wisdom suggests taking a break after a few months. Also, those who are allergic or sensitive to beans/legumes should use caution with astragalus, which is in the same family as previously mentioned.
Moving on to allergy relief. To select appropriate herbs, first you must determine what your particular allergy symptoms are, for example: watery, itchy eyes; stuffy nose or post-nasal drip; difficulty breathing/chest tightness; sore throat; cough. Learn which herbs are beneficial for each of these cases in the latest post on my Green Haven Living blog.
Bone, K. (1996). Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs: Monographs for the Western Herbal Practitioner. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press.
Stamets, P. (2002). Mycomedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms. Olympia, WA: MycoMedia Productions.
Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master's Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.
Donna currently practices as the professional herbalist at the MUIH Natural Care Center (410-888-9048x6614) in Laurel, Maryland, and can also do remote consultations from anywhere! Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenliving.com, or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-353-8754.