Our immune systems are fascinating. Many times we see people allude to “building immunity”, or “stimulating immunity” with herbs but I prefer to look at it as support. Lets look at what a healthy immune system should respond like, and what happens when its derailed.
Our immune system is made up of organs, tissues, cells, and proteins that defend and protect us from that which is not “self”. A healthy immune system should should respond quickly to pathogens or other irritants and remove or neutralize them in the body. Sometimes, our bodies aren’t able to respond optimally, it becomes overwhelmed by a pathogen, or in some cases, the immune system becomes confused and can attack itself (autoimmune conditions). Signs that an immune system is struggling can be seen in the body if there is irritation, inflammation, or even ulcerations. Swelling is a sign that the body is working hard to defend itself. Another sign of a struggling immune system is overproduction of mucus, or even colored mucus like we see when we get a cold or hayfever. Mucus is a way of our bodies trying to protect our mucosa from the irritants.
If you have a healthy immune system then exposure to pathogens does not always lead to infection. When an infection does occur, optimum immunity would be seen when the body quickly responds, through fever or other means and rids the body of the “other”. You may experience some lethargy and inflammation but generally many of the issues people end up with are from secondary infections. The body is struggling, and ends up becoming overwhelmed, and this can lead to other infections taking hold.
Holistic, Vitalist, traditional Western herbalism uses many of the lessons from Greek medicine regarding hygiene and health. Hygiene in holistic Greek medicine refers to the Greek goddess Hygieia who was the daughter of Asclepias the god of medicine. The idea of hygiene referred not just to cleanliness but living in balance. You can see this concept in Ayurveda as well. Ayurveda is the “science of living” coming from India. In many cultures a balanced life means a balanced body. To keep immunity supported its not enough to wash our hands and cover our noses if we sneeze.
Healthy Living Guidelines to support immunity include:
- Sleep longer
- Avoid alcohol and sugar
- Avoid dairy and refined grains
- Eat warm broths like Organic and Pasture Raised Animal bone broth or Miso
- Do less, and support your nervous system with calming herbs like Oatgrass, Skullcap, and Lemon Balm
- Take Vit C, Zinc, and E in the recommended dosages
- Cover up your neck with a scarf(taken from Traditional Chinese Medicine)
- Rinse your nasal cavities if your respiratory system is triggered
- Use nasal oil to soothe the insides of your nose.
- Drink more water. No really, a lot more. Hydration is key
- Eat a spoonful of fermented food
- Make sure to include the bitter flavor in your food(dark leafy greens)
You will find a protocol sheet you can download to help guide you to better balance to support your bodies immune system. For those dealing with Autoimmune conditions, please see a clinician to get the best recommendations. Most illness should resolve themselves in a couple of weeks. If you are not recovering, seeing a trusted health practitioner is recommended.
So where to herbs fit in? Herbs can support immunity in different ways, helping to enhance the immune system, or help it to work more efficiently, and in the case of autoimmune conditions, herbs have even been known to be able to help reprogram the way the body responds to triggers.
Herbs that enhance immunity include Calendula, Astragalus, Reishi, Eleuthero, Holy Basil
Herbs that help the immune system to work more efficiently include
-Alteratives that flush the lymph like Cleavers and Red Root
-Immune stimulants like Echincaea, Myrhh, and Usnea
Herbs that help kill pathogens or create an inhospitable environment for them to stay include Agarita(Oregon Grape), Calendula, Yarrow, Elder, Myrhh, Mint, and Bee Balm.
So where do you start?
Think movement, not suppression. In holistic, Vitalist theory, we want to keep the vital force moving and assist it, not suppress it and risk driving things deeper.
- Internal remedies like the vinegar tonic fire cider are great for stimulating and opening the sinuses. Externally, a steam with aromatic plants(NOT ESSENTIAL OILS) can help open sinuses and move things out of the body.
- Cordials and Teas that include immune enhancers and alteratives are great to prevent and restore the body back to health.