The days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are dropping, so I anticipate the return of cold and flu season.
In my last blog, I wrote about your lifestyle choices, which can support your immune system during cold and flu season. Remember that what matters is not what you take but what you do.
When you consider using herbs to support the immune system, you need to remember that most herbs have a long history of use for the immune system, but most were not researched on humans, mainly because of financial reasons. (you can not put a patent on a plant, so there is no money to earn from such research)
The claim that a herb is antiviral, antibacterial, or any other “anti” does not provide information about how the plants work and in what conditions it would be most beneficial.
To make my point clearer let’s look at three herbs that have an affinity to the immune system that are considered to be antiviral but, on a closer look, are very different from each other.
Herbal Immune Stimulants
Herbal immune stimulants are herbs used for a short time during an acute condition. They stimulate white blood cell activity and, by doing so, help the body fight infections.
Herbal immune stimulants have an immediate but short-lived effect on the immune system. Therefore they need to be administered frequently during the initial stages of an acute disease.
Because herbal stimulants encourage the immune system to create inflammation, they are usually warming in nature. For people with a warm constitution, namely, people who heat up easily, are hot-tempered, or are passionate, immune stimulant herbs might be aggravating.
Echinacea has a PR as an antiviral and an immune support herb, But the primary action of Echinacea is as a nervine that stimulates the immune system because it allows the body to di – stress.
When you are under stress, your body channels all its resources to survive the immediate attack. That means that resources are allocated to the muscles and the senses so you can anticipate the threat and fight or flight. Resources are moved away from the body’s digestion, elimination, productive, and immune functions. After all, who cares if you have the flu if a saber-toothed tiger is after you.
Echinacea will work best in people that get sick because they are depleted, stressed, struggle with insomnia or feel rundown. It is for when you are so burned out that you feel that you can “catch” anything at any moment.
Take Echinacea when you are traveling or when you are depleted.
Herbal immunomodulators take longer to affect the immune system, but they affect it for a prolonged time. Generally, their energetics are more neutral, so they are not overly warming or too cooling. That makes them appropriate for use in a long stretch of time.
Immunomodulating herbs have what, at first glance, might look like an opposing effect, which just proves how complex herbs are.
For a person with a weakened immune system that is experiencing a recurring infectious disease or that is healing from a long illness that might have depleted the immune system, immunomodulating herbs will help restore immune system function.
For a person with a hyperactive immune system, such as in allergies and autoimmune diseases, these herbs might calm down the immune system.
Many immunomodulating herbs are adaptogens. Adaptogens help the body harmonize the endocrine and nervous system response. Doing so reduces body, mental, and emotional stress and increases immunity.
Herbal immunomodulators can be taken daily during the fall and winter months to bolster immunity and lessen the chance of succumbing to common viral infections.
Astragalus was found to increase the number of T helper 1 cells. Th1 is part of the adaptive immune system that acts against pathogens within the cells, like in the case of viruses.
Astragalus was traditionally used after a long disease when the immune system is depleted, for people that “catch” the cold repeatedly, or for people after a medical treatment that compromises their immune system, as in chemotherapy.
Astragalus was not used during the acute stages of the disease when symptoms like fever and congestion were prevalent.
To take astragalus root, slice 3-4 grams and simmer with your chai.
Herbal Immune Tonic
Herbal immune tonics work in the same way as herbal immunomodulating herbs do. They are used for a prolonged time.
Although the berries got most of the PR as an antiviral herbal remedy, the dried flowers are a much more reliable remedy. Elder flowers are relaxed diaphoretic. They will help circulate heat from the body’s center to the skin’s pores and induce sweating.
Elder flowers will also act as an expectorant. They will help the body expectorate phlegm from the lungs, and so are indicated in fevers accompanied by stuffy sinus or lung congestion.
As a relaxant, elder flowers are mildly calming; they will help an irritated child or adult with fever rest so the body can heal.
“Elderberry preparations mildly stimulate immune activity and also directly inhibit the influenza virus by inhibiting the virus’s ability to invade healthy cells and multiply there. Because of this, elderberry is revered as an “antiviral,” though we should remember that elderflower also acts to support the body’s immune responses to viral infections, and remember that “antiviral” doesn’t mean “kills all viruses”… the berries inhibit viral reproduction, which is awesome but doesn’t make them an infallible cure for any and all viruses.”
By doing so, elderberries reduce symptoms and duration of the flu.
You go beyond the symptoms if you practice herbalism as a holistic modality. The three herbs that I shared with you are known as antiviral. But an experienced herbalist treats not the symptoms but the person who has the symptoms.