Herbs that Boost Immunity and Best Herbs for Colds
Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep our immune systems strong. One of the best and easiest ways to stay healthy is through what we eat, whether its food or herbs. While we think of herbs as just adding flavor to your recipes, but herbs can do a lot more than that! Besides helping make your recipes taste good, several herbs have been shown to help keep your immune system strong, protect against disease and can even help in treating symptoms of colds and other respiratory illness. Here, we’ve gathered our list of top herbs for boosting immunity including the best herbs for colds. Many of them are in your pantry or fridge already, so all you need to do is add them to your daily recipes or drinks. These herbs will help you stay nourished and healthy all year long and be helpful in treating cold symptoms. You can use these herbs for boosting immunity preventively to keep your immune system strong year round. You can also use some of these herbs when you start to feel sick to help fight illness and to help with cold symptoms. We’ve also included instructions for how to take these superfood immunity herbs so you can reap their optimal benefits.
7 Essential Immune Boosting Herbs
By Clair Moore
As a clinical herbalist, I often get requests from my clients on the best herbs for boosting immunity. Luckily, there are so many superfood immunity boosting herbs! And incorporating them into your daily routine can be quite easy, whether it is by making a tea, tincture or simply adding to your recipes. Below are some of my favorite herbs to help boost immunity and the best herbs to help with colds. I’ve also included tips on when to take the herbs and how to prepare them.
Whatever season it is, it’s important to keep our immune systems strong. Keeping our immune systems strong can help us fight off illness and feel our best. Some key ways to keep our immune systems strong are to get regular sunshine (vitamin D), plenty of rest, exercise regularly and eat nutritious and wholesome food, including lots of fruits and vegetables! In addition, through incorporating some super immunity herbs into your regular routine, you can also give yourselves an immunity boost. This can be useful when we feel like our defenses are down-or better yet, prevent those defenses from becoming weak in the first place!
While there are so many super herbs that can play an important role in helping to strengthen and boost our immunity, here are the top 7 superfood immunity herbs that I recommend to help keep your immune system strong and ward off colds, flu or other illnesses. You can use these herbs regularly to help stay healthy and/or you can use these herbs to help treat and soothe cold and flu symptoms. Read on to learn about why these herbs help improve your health and how they can keep your immune system strong. You’ll also get advice on when and how to incorporate them to maximize their health benefits.
Why: Thyme is a fantastic respiratory antimicrobial herb and one of the best herbs for colds. The respiratory system is a key player in the immune system, and we want to make sure to keep it healthy so that pathogens can’t easily take hold and make us sick. Incorporating thyme into your routine is a great way to keep your immune system strong.
When to take it: Thyme is safe to take on a regular basis and one of the best herbs for colds! Thyme is a drying plant so you want to make sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. I’d suggest adding thyme into your routine anytime you start to feel a little under the weather, or if you have had a particularly busy day interacting with the public. Thyme is excellent for teachers and public transportation commuters who are exposed to daily germs.
Preparation: Thyme is wonderful added into everyday cooking, teas and bone broths. You can easily find fresh thyme at most supermarkets or grocery stores. To use in cooking, simply pull the leaves off the sprigs and add to soups, meats, beans or stews. If you can’t find fresh thyme, dried thyme works well too! In addition to cooking with it, I love to use thyme in a steam. To do this, lean over a prepared bowl of steaming water. Drape a towel over yourself and the bowl, creating a tent. Toss in about ¼ cup of dried or fresh thyme. The hot water will aerosolize the antimicrobial constituents in thyme, allowing you to simply breathe the medicine right into your body.
Recommended Dose: For prevention, you can make a thyme steam daily during cold and flu season, and use 2-3 times daily for acute infections.
Why: Sage gives overall support and stimulation to both the immune and respiratory systems, but it’s also one of my very favorite nervines as well as one of the best herbs for colds. This means it’s a support to the nervous system, helping take us from “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest.”
When to take sage: Start incorporating sage right at the onset of cold symptoms. You can also take sage on a regular basis during times of stress or exhaustion to help build your body up, and aid it in getting the appropriate rest it needs to fight off infections, and recover after them.
Preparation: Sage is a great addition to teas, soups, or in a steam as mentioned above. You can use fresh or dried sage, whichever is easiest. In teas, sage will be a bit bitter, so feel free to add honey. Honey also has lovely antimicrobial properties and will work in tandem with sage to help your body ward off bacteria. I also really love burning fresh sage- this cleans the air around you, and gives you another way to inhale sage’s amazing medicine directly into your body.
Recommended Dose: For tea making and for a superfood immunity boost, combine 2 tablespoons of sage with hot water and steep for 10-15 minutes.
Why: Yet another strong antimicrobial herb, garlic is also effective against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The components in garlic also stimulate liver function, aiding the body in the breakdown and clearance of waste products. It’s also one of the best herbs for colds.
When to take garlic: It’s great to use garlic in cooking on a regular basis to give your body a general amount of immune support. In acute cold or flu situations, it’s best to eat the garlic frequently, and to consume it raw.
Preparation: The best way to take garlic for your health is to just eat it frequently! Add it to stir-fries, soups, and omelets. Remember, if you’re fighting off cold symptoms, it will be strongest if you eat it raw! You can slice it up and add it right on top of what you’re already eating, or mix it with a little honey to make it more palatable.
Recommended Dose: Add a clove or two to each meal.
4. Staghorn Sumac
Why: You may not have heard of sumac so you might be surprised to learn that sumac is one of these lovely plants you always see growing on the side of the highway- it looks like a big tall tree with lots of red berry cones on it. You should also be able to find it in dried form at your local health food grocer. Sumac is a great herb to help with colds.
When to take sumac: Take sumac throughout cold and flu season to keep your immune system on active alert. Keep in mind that sumac is a drying herb, so you want to keep your dose low, so as not to dry your body out.
Preparation: Add it to tea with other herbs, or use it in a tincture form. A tincture is just an alcohol or vinegar extract of a plant, and can be found in most health stores.
Recommended Dose: In tincture form, use 1-2 full droppers of sumac daily for prevention and acute symptoms. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. For a tea, add a pinch of sumac with other herbs you enjoy, like chamomile or tulsi to hot water. Sumac should be around 1/3 of your blend.
Why: Ashwagandha is mostly an adaptogen– this means it helps the body with overall adrenal and endocrine support, helping us deal with stressors. Stress comes in many forms, including rush hour traffic, a scary movie, sugar, lack of sleep, or a cough and runny nose! Ashwagandha helps us deal with all of this, while relaxing tension and agitation at the same time. It’s also nutritive, providing the body with many minerals we are commonly deficient in. Ashwagandha is also an immune modulator – it helps spur on the immune system when we need to fight off pathogens, but cools down any auto-immune issues that one may face.
When to take ashwagandha for colds or overall immunity: Ashwagandha is best used over time; it really helps give the body the building blocks to be strong and healthy. Start incorporating ashwagandha into your daily routine. If you want to use ashwagandha for colds, you can increase the amount of this super herb to help boost your body’s ability to fight symptoms and help you if you recover from a cold or even the flu.
Preparation: To use ashwagandha for colds or to keep immune system strong, we use the root of the ashwagandha plant here, which means it’s harder to extract the medicinal properties in a simple tea. Rather, add ashwagandha to your soups or prepare a decoction: place 3 tablespoons of herbs into a small pot, add 1 quart of water, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. I really like to add a little decaf coffee, coconut milk, and collagen to create a super nourishing morning beverage. Ashwagandha is also effective in powder form, so add it to any of your recipes or bake it into a dessert and enjoy as a healthy snack!
Recommended Dose: When using an ashwagandha tincture, take one dropperful of the ashwagandha in the morning and one dropperful in the evening. If drinking tea and using ashwagandha for colds, prepare as noted above, and drink this nourishing tea as often as you enjoy it.
Why: Another herb for boosting immunity is reishi mushrooms. Reishi mushrooms are really helpful in rebuilding chronically sick or exhausted bodies. Reishi mushrooms can help stimulate immune responses, and reishi are also a tonifying herb for our nervous systems. Additionally, reishi helps soothe and build up weakened nerve function, and can even help to restore adrenal function.
When to take reishi: Reishi is another one of our herbs for boosting immunity that is a building herb-it’s best to take reishi over time, rather than at the onset of symptoms. So the best way to take reishi is to start taking this superfood immunity herb at the beginning of cold and flu season, or leading up to a stressful event, so that it has time to build up in your system.
Preparation: Medicinal mushrooms take some time to break down and release their medicine, so my very favorite way to consume reishi mushrooms is in a bone broth that I try to drink daily. You can also make a decoction with reishi mushrooms the same way you would with ashwagandha. Tincturing is also a common preparation, but because reishi mushrooms have so many medicinal properties, some of which are extractable in water only, you want to make sure to make a double extraction. This is a special preparation where the plant has been extracted in both water and alcohol. To do so, you start by preparing a tincture in alcohol. Once this mixture has been extracting for about 6 weeks, strain the tincture, and save the plant matter! With the saved plant matter, you can then prepare a decoction. Then, mix the tincture and the decoction together, making sure that you have either more alcohol, or at least a 50/50 ratio of water to alcohol, so that the tincture doesn’t mold. If this sounds too complicated or overwhelming, you may want to consider making an appointment with an herbalist like myself who can help with this preparation and also advise you on the best herbs for boosting immunity or best herbs for colds for you.
Recommended Dose: To build up your immune system, take one dropperful of the reishi mushroom tincture 2-3 times daily, or consume reishi mushroom in broth or a tea blend as often as you’d like.
Schisandra has been a popular herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. In fact, it’s been called Superior Herb, because it has can benefit so many systems in the body. Schisandra is also an adaptogen, one of the many herbs known to support the body during times of stress. Adaptogens like Schisandra help to lower systemic inflammation, and indeed, adaptogens like schisandra were consumed daily by some cultures as an anti-aging herb and to encourage longevity.
Schisandra is also a great herb for boosting immunity. It is known for its impact on modulating endocrine and immune functions, via its adrenal tonifying action. Schisandra is also a direct stimulant, and immune modulator, helpful for mitigating both conditions of low immunity and autoimmune reactions.
Schisandra is also one of the best herbs for colds. It is known in TCM as a respiratory expectorant, and antitussive. It works to calm the coughing reflex, soothing dry hacking coughs, and preparing your lungs to expel pathogens when you do need to cough.
How to take Schisandra:
Schisandra is a delicious herb that can be steeped in a traditional tea or tincture. Many practitioners also recommend incorporating Schisandra into your diet by simply eating 5-10 berries daily for sustained support and to keep the immune system strong. Schisandra is also wonderful in a powder, and can be added to smoothies, oats, or yogurt.
Herbs can be a great addition to your daily routine, helping to boost immunity and keep you healthy year round. As you’ve learned, some herbs are best taken regularly, while others can be taken to treat symptoms of cold or other respiratory illness. These herbs can be taken separately or together, and they come in all different forms, from powders to capsules. Many herbs can be found in your local grocery store, either fresh or dried.
You can also consider taking these herbs in a supplement. Further Food has several immunity products which use powerful antioxidants and herbs that are clinically proven to strengthen the immune system. These supplements, include Ultimate Immune Support, which contains 27 potent immune boosting ingredients, including some of the herbs discussed in this article. You can learn more about Further Food Immunity products here.
Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.