It might be a new year, but some old problems still remain. There are approximately four months left in the 2020-2021 flu season, and as COVID-19 simultaneously surges across the country, keeping up with our health is as important as ever before. Luckily, boosting your immune system can be as easy as visiting your spice rack.
Humans have been medicating with herbs and plants for hundreds of years. Herbs and plants boost immune systems naturally, gently, and safely. And in this day and age, when OTC and prescription medications can cost quite a pretty penny, herbal medicine is often cheaper as well.
We’ve rounded up some of the best immune-boosting herbs and plants, some of which you may have in your kitchen cabinet right now.
Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is a native North American plant that has recently gained popularity for its immune-boosting qualities. These powerful purple flowers contain phytochemicals that have the ability to reduce the duration and severity of viral infections.
Fresh Ginger Root
Yep, it turns out our moms were right to “medicate” our sore throats and fevers with a crisp can of Canada Dry. Ginger contains antiviral and antibacterial qualities that inhibit the growth and reproduction of unwelcome, disease-causing microbes.
A study done by the College of Medicine at Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan shows that fresh ginger is more potent than dried, powdered ginger root. Fresh ginger can be steeped into a tea, chewed on in small pieces, or added to our go-to immunity-boosting fire cider.
Turmeric has been used for its anti-inflammatory purposes for centuries, but recent research suggests this orange-yellow herb also works as an immunomodulatory agent. Curcumin, a component of turmeric, can modulate the activation of various immune cells, enhancing the body’s overall antibody response.
Turmeric can be consumed in a number of ways: sprinkled on food (we recommend turmeric scrambled eggs, potatoes, or rice), taken with tea or honey, or in capsules.
Great for flavoring soups, seafood, and sauces, lemon balm is also a noteworthy antiviral agent. Research shows lemon balm essential oil can inhibit various stages of influenza virus replication via direct interaction with the viral particles. You can also use dried lemon balm or grow your own lemon balm plant to reap the same virus-fighting benefits.
And while we’re not saying lemon balm-infused desserts will clear up your cold in a day, we are saying it’d be pretty hard to focus on how lousy you feel while eating this mouthwatering Lemon Balm Bundt Cake.
A divisive flavor profile? Maybe. A$$-kicking antiviral and antibacterial properties? Definitely. Licorice is full of virus-fighting triterpenes and flavonoids, both of which help to weaken viral activities by inhibiting virus gene expression and replication.
Snacking on a pack of Twizzlers probably won’t reap many immune-boosting benefits, so try teas, tinctures, or powders instead. Double down on the immune-boosting power by infusing licorice root and anti-viral/bacterial elderberries into an effective, natural cough suppressant.
Also known as pot marigolds, these fiery blooms of orange and yellow are jam-packed with flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that protect cells from being damaged by unstable molecules. The Calendula plant’s flower has been traditionally used to treat skin tumors, lesions, ulcers, and swelling.
Go ahead and eat Italian twice in one week—as it turns out, it can be good for you. Oregano has been found to be a strong antiviral agent that acts directly on viral capsids and, subsequently, their RNA.
Oregano is a small, easy-to-grow plant that can be added to a wide range of dishes. Its flavor profile works well with garlic, another highly effective antiviral and antibacterial agent. Besides classic Italian cuisine, you can also use oregano in omelets, casseroles, or dry meat rubs.
A hot cup of ginseng tea does a lot more than warm flu-chilled-bones. Research shows that ginseng strengthens the body’s HPA (hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal) axis, responsible for regulating the immune system’s response to physical, emotional, and mental stress. Since prolonged stress can lead to a deficient immune system, ginseng tea keeps your body in tip-top shape by helping you chill TF out.
You can find a wide variety of ginseng teas at your local grocery, pharmacy, or international foods store, or you can steep your own at home.
St. John’s Wort
Traditionally used as an herbal treatment for depression, St. John’s Wort is a small, yellow-flowered plant that contains hypericum, an active component believed to work as an antiviral agent. Hypericum inhibits certain viral and bacterial replication.
While we’re on the subject of confusingly-named herbal medicines, Cat’s Claw is an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral plant native to the Amazon and Central American rainforests. Indigenous people have used this herb for centuries due to its immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
A prominent herb in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is now gaining traction in the Western medicinal world as a potent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent. Like ginseng, this adaptogenic herb regulates the body’s immune response and helps protect against physical, mental, and emotional stressors.
Research conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center found individuals who were previously weakened by radiation or chemotherapy were able to recover faster and live longer by sticking to a daily astragalus regimen.
Another body-cleansing heavy-hitter from Asia, giloy (also known as Tinospora cordifolia, Guduchi, or amrita, Sanskrit for “root of immortality”), is a plant commonly used to make Ayurvedic medicine. This knotty-stemmed plant, visually similar to ivy, has been found to remove toxins from the body, purify the blood, and fight disease-causing bacteria.
Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend
Next time someone gives you grief for liking pumpkin spice everything, hit ‘em with the facts. All the ingredients of a pumpkin pie spice blend—cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves—have been found to contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows that nutraceuticals derived from these spices remarkably prevent and cure various chronic diseases by targeting inflammatory pathways.
Did we mention these spices also make just about everything taste incredible? Try incorporating a pumpkin pie spice blend into apple fritter bread, caramel apple cheesecake, or this easy-to-make, savory pumpkin soup for a tasty and immune-boosting treat.