It seems that as soon as the weather turns from warm to chilly, people start sniffling and hacking with all manner of colds and cases of the flu. That’s when it’s time to bust out the immunity-boosting herbs.
Sure, we’re all being more diligent about staying healthy these days, but some people are more prone to winter maladies than others, especially those who need added immune support.
Fortunately, there are some fabulous herbal supports that can help us through the sickly season. Adaptogenic herbs and warming spices can give our immune systems the extra boost needed to help fend off infection, or help sniffles and sore throats heal more quickly.
1. Fire Cider
This is an absolute staple for the colder months. These immunity-boosting herbs build inner fire, and fortify your immune system so it can help fight off the dreaded lurgy.
- 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh ginger, sliced or grated
- 1 garlic bulb, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup tulsi (holi basil) or your favorite basil, chopped or shredded
- 1/4 cup dried hawthorn berries, whole
- 1 small chile pepper
- 1 tablespoon horseradish, grated
- 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh turmeric, chopped
- 2 tablespoons dry coriander seeds, whole
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 2 tablespoons orange peel, sliced or grated
- 3 or so cups organic apple cider vinegar
Sterilize a clean, 1-quart mason jar along with its lid.
Then, layer the ingredients one at a time, which will look absolutely awesome once they’re all in there.
After everything’s been added in nicely, pour the apple cider vinegar in gently and slowly, so as not to disturb the layers. Grab a chopstick and shift things back and forth slowly to release any air bubbles. Top up the jar with more cider vinegar until it’s almost full, then put the lid on.
Store this in a dark, cool place like a cupboard for 4 to 6 weeks, agitating it gently every few days. Then strain thoroughly into another sterilized mason jar. If you like, add raw honey a bit at a time until it reaches your preferred sweetness level. Store this in the fridge for up to 3 months.
You can add use this fire cider in salad dressings or soups, or even add it to tea and other drinks. I like to take it by the spoonful, but it’s an acquired taste.
Feel free to adjust the ingredients to suit your own palate. Some people like it even more fiery, so they might add a piri piri or Scotch bonnet pepper into theirs. Others prefer it sweeter, so they add more honey, etc.
2. Echinacea Tincture
Just about every natural cold or flu remedy contains echinacea, and with good cause. This handy little plant ally helps to stimulate your immune system so it’s better at defending against bacterial, viral, fungal, and protozoan infection.
When it comes to making any kind of herbal medicine, it’s ideal to use the best quality materials you can afford. I grow Echinacea angustifolia in my garden, so I make my tinctures out of freshly picked plant matter. If you can only get your hands on the dried herb, try to buy organic from a trusted source.
I use the folk method to prepare tinctures, which is mostly eyeballing the plant to menstruum (alcohol, in this case) ratios. For example, with fresh herbs, the ratio is 1:2 fresh herb to alcohol. For dried herbs, the ratio is 1:5, because those herbs are going to suck up the liquid and expand significantly.
So, if you have 1oz (by weight) of dry echinacea leaves and flowers, you’ll use 5oz of alcohol. Aim for a menstruum that’s at least 80-proof, which is 40% alcohol. Everclear grain alcohol is a common choice in the United States, but I use Icelandic or Swedish vodka, or brandy for mine.
For the sake of this tincture, let’s assume we’re working with dry herbs.
Take a glass jar and add enough dried echinacea to fill 1/6 of it.
Then pour alcohol in the jar until it’s about 1/2 an inch from the top.
Put the lid on, seal well, and label the jar with the contents and the date that it was filled. Keep this jar in a cupboard away from direct light for 6 weeks, shaking every few days.
Then, strain the tincture into a clean glass jar, or sterilized amber or cobalt dropper bottles, and store in a cool, dark place. The standard adult dose is approximately 1/2 a teaspoon (or 20 drops) two or three times a day as needed.
*Caution: Consult your healthcare provider before taking echinacea or any other immunity-boosting herbs if you’re pregnant or nursing. Additionally, if you have an autoimmune condition, only take immune-stimulating remedies under a qualified practitioner’s care.
3. Elderberry Syrup
Few herbs help support healthy immunity quite as much as elderberry (Sambucus nigra). In fact, clinical trials have shown that this plant’s antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic actions can help people recover from the flu several days sooner than those who don’t take it.
This is one of my favorite immune boosters for flu season. Not just because it’s so effective, but because it’s super tasty too.
- 1 cup fresh elderberries, or 1/2 a cup dried
- 3 cups of water
- 1 cup raw honey
- 1/4 tsp ascorbic acid powder (vitamin C powder) per 4oz of finished syrup
Add your elderberries and water to a saucepan, bring them to boil, then turn down to a simmer until it reduces by half. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about an hour.
Strain this liquid through cheesecloth into another saucepan, and then squeeze until the pulp inside is quite dry. Warm this on low heat, add the honey, and stir well until it’s incorporated.
Remove from heat again, allow to cool about 15 minutes, then stir in the ascorbic acid. Transfer this into a clean glass jar, and store in the fridge for up to three months.
4. Herbal Chest Salve
While this is more of a soothing salve than an immunity booster per se, it does contain herbs and other ingredients that help your body fight off infections.
For example, eucalyptus and pine are powerful antivirals. Camphor has analgesic properties (so it alleviates pain), and as a circulatory stimulant, it helps you breathe more easily when congested.
“EO” stands for “essential oil”.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon beeswax pellets (or carnauba wax for a vegan salve)
- 5-7 drops peppermint EO
- 8-10 drops camphor EO (use fewer drops if making this for children)
- 12-15 drops eucalyptus EO
- 5 drops rosemary EO
- 10-12 drops pine EO
- 2 drops wintergreen EO (unless you’re using this on children under the age of 12, at which point eliminate the wintergreen and increase peppermint)
- A small, sterilized glass jar (I like small cobalt or amber jars, but mini jam or baby food jars are perfect too)
Warm the olive oil on low heat in a non-metal saucepan, such as ceramic, enamel, or glass. You’ll want to warm it just enough that the wax pellets melt easily when added, but not so hot as to burn you if you stick your finger into it.
Remove from the heat once the wax is almost completely melted, and allow to cool for about three minutes. Add in the essential oils and stir gently until combined evenly.
Then pour the mixture into the jar, using a spatula to get the last bits out of the pot. I have a saucepan that I only use for herbal preparations, but if you’ll use this for food in the near future, be sure to clean it thoroughly.
Seal up the jar and pop it in the fridge until you need it. Spread on the chest, back, and throat to alleviate coughs and congestion.
5. Cough-Easing Herbal Honey
Most people know garlic as a delicious culinary ingredient, but did you know it’s also an effective broad-spectrum antibiotic? It also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and inhibits infection while protecting one’s body from various pathogens.
I bet you’re looking at that half-used garlic bulb in your fridge a little differently now, hm?
Technically not an herb, it’s pretty hard to beat when you’re looking for an immunity-boosting ingredient.
To make a soothing throat syrup that fights infection while alleviating pain, you only need two ingredients: raw garlic, and raw honey.
Peel enough garlic cloves to measure about 1 cup, and crush them gently. I usually just put mine between layers of waxed paper and whack them with a rolling pin a few times.
Transfer the garlic cloves into a clean, sterilized 1-pint jar, and cover them with raw honey.
Let this infuse at room temperature for a couple of days, and then store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Take a spoonful of this honey at the first sign of a sore throat, or add it to tea with some lemon and a dash of cayenne pepper (if desired).
6. Ginger-Marshmallow Throat Lozenges
Sore throats are awful and can make any illness feel much worse than it is. Fortunately, between ginger’s immune-stimulating and antiviral properties, and marshmallow’s soothing demulcent goodness, these lozenges will have you singing again in no time.
Marshmallow is one of those herbs that doesn’t get the kind of love it deserves, particularly when you’re looking for immunity support or soothing an ailment.
- 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
- 1.5 tablespoons dried marshmallow root
- 1 cup of filtered water
- 1.5 cups of raw honey
- Powdered sugar and corn starch or rice flour in equal measure
Add the ginger to a small saucepan, cover with water, and warm on medium heat for about 15 minutes. You can simmer it lightly, but don’t let it boil.
Toss that dried marshmallow into a bowl, then strain the ginger-infused water over the dried herbs. Allow this to infuse for half an hour and strain well through a double cheesecloth back into that saucepan.
Add the honey, bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and boil it down until it reaches 300°F (as indicated by a candy thermometer), or the ice water test. To do this, pour a few drops into ice water. Do the drops harden up? Then they’re ready. Are they still sticky and squishy? Boil it down more.
When the herb and honey concoction hardens beautifully in the ice water bath, pour the flour/sugar mixture onto a baking sheet, and use your finger to press divots all over it. Then pour the mixture into each divot with a spoon.
Put the baking sheet in the freezer, and once the lozenges have all hardened, wrap each in waxed paper and keep them in a container in the fridge for up to 6 months.
*Note: It’s important that you research these herbs and oils to determine whether they’re safe for you and your family. Remember that different people react to herbal preparations in different ways. For example, chamomile tea is considered safe and soothing for most, but this herb may cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to ragweed.
Regardless of what you’re battling, from the coronavirus to the common cold, if you’re unwell, it’s recommended that you consult with a healthcare professional before self-diagnosing and/or self-medicating.
While immunity-boosting herbs are generally considered safe, it’s always better to be careful.