A complex network of organs, cells, and tissues, the immune system is your body’s first line of defense against illness. Because it works within and between the body’s other systems, we can foster optimal immunity by bringing all of these systems into balance — a process that can be supported with herbs. Each of the following herbs brings a different superpower to the mix, from supplying high concentrations of an essential micronutrient to helping the body recover from stress to ushering you into a solid night’s sleep. These are our five go-to herbs to boost immunity!
Keep in mind that lifestyle choices, such as diet and stress, may outweigh the influence of any herb. We plan on diving into those elements in future posts, so stay tuned!
Herbs to Boost Immunity
Rosehips for Vitamin C
The fruit of wild roses (Rosa spp.) are called “rosehips” and they contain high concentrations of vitamin C — as much as 426 mg in a quarter cup! Vitamin C is known for its immune-boosting powers. Most animals can make their own vitamin C; however, humans cannot, so we have to get it entirely from outside sources. Taking at least 200 mg of vitamin C daily has been shown to decrease the length and potentially the severity of cold symptoms. In rosehips, compounds ranging from flavonoids and tannins to phenolic compounds and organic acids add to the natural benefits.
Studies suggest that rosehips have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-inhibiting actions, that they protect the liver, kidneys, and heart, and help to slow aging, making this herb a go-to among herbs to boost immunity.
We love rosehips so much, that they’re one of the main ingredients in our Sailin the C’s: Vitamin C Honey.
Schisandra for Resilience to Stress
If chronic stress is the culprit for your depleted immunity, turn to schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) from a genus of twining and climbing shrubs. As an adaptogen, this little red berry helps our bodies handle and recover from stress by supporting the adrenal system. Although research on adaptogens is still emerging in Western medicine, a 2019 review of medical literature confirmed that the lignans in this genus have adaptogenic effects, and schisandra has a longstanding history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for improving vitality.
Find Schisandra chinensis combined with other adaptogens in our Bee Energee honey. Or learn more about adaptogenic herbs from our founder, Catie Winters, in this blog post: The Grace of Adaptogens through Transition and COVID 19.
Passionflower for Better Sleep
You’ve heard that “rest is best” when it comes to recovering from an illness — but do you know why? While you are sleeping, your body is actively fighting disease, increasing the number of “naive” T cells to respond to pathogens the immune system has not yet encountered. Your body also increases the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, messenger molecules that let the immune system know when a problem is at hand. There is even evidence that your immune system creates its “memory” of a pathogen during night-time slumber.
In an era of smartphones and packed schedules, however, it can be difficult to transition from a busy day to a restful night’s slumber. Cue passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), a traditional herbal sedative that supports the body’s natural sleep cycles.
When it comes to relaxation, passionflower is a powerhouse. In our Sleepezzz: Deep Sleep Support honey it leads a formula of herbs designed to nourish and nurture the nervous system, ultimately promoting immune-supportive sleep.
Elderberry and Elderflower — Both Herbs to Boost Immunity
Elder (Sambucus nigra) has been considered the “medicine chest of the country folk” for centuries and is often turned to in cases from stomach aches and sinus congestion to the common cold and rheumatism.
While the berry of this shrub has received a great deal of attention as an immune-supporting and virus-inhibiting herb, the flower also has a rightful place among herbs to boost immunity. Elderflower has been shown to stimulate the immune system’s macrophage (“big eater”) cells and help antibodies bind to pathogens.
Combined with anise and other herbs in our Elder & Anise: Children’s Respiratory Immune Support honey, elderflower supports the immune system in a formula gentle enough for children. Note that elder is most beneficial taken at the first onset of symptoms, or even upon suspected exposure.
Licorice for Antimicrobial Action and Adrenal Support
The rhizomes of licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) have been shown to weaken virus activity, stimulate the immune system, and inhibit the activities of bacteria. All of this would likely be enough to secure its position as one of the top herbs to boost immunity, but licorice also helps us recover from stress by supporting balanced adrenal function. Many consider it an adaptogen, while others have pointed out that it does not strictly meet the criteria. Its actions are specific rather than nonspecific, and high doses taken regularly over time can affect health negatively.
Regardless of the label, researchers agree that licorice supports the adrenals — and it has a long history of use assisting the body during periods of fatigue and stress.
Licorice’s immune-boosting qualities make it an ideal addition to Harvesting Vitality’s Cold and Flu Away: Respiratory Immune Support honey.
The plant world offers us delicious options for immune support with these five herbs to boost immunity. Consider stocking up on these honeys now so you have them on-hand when you need them most.
If you feel under the weather and need one-on-one support, contact our founder, Catie, a certified clinical herbalist and clinical nutrition consultant, for an herbal consultation.