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Herbal Immune Tonics

Imani Sankofa


The immune system is one of the most important health topics. Immunity is an issue of daily life, for the immune system protects us from both acute and chronic illness. Hard to define precisely, the immune system is a complex of various organs and body functions. Low immunity represents an overall general weakness in the individual- a lack of vital energy, or life force.

Anything that increases health in a general way, such as things that make you feel physically, emotionally, or mentally good, will boost immunity. An active lifestyle, healthy diet, and positive mental outlook all benefit the immune system. Additionally, many herbs can help the immune system by increasing energy, cleansing out excess mucus and inflammation from the system, and promoting the healthy function of certain body systems or the body as a whole. Specifically, I would like to discuss seven categories of immune system herbs:

1. Mushrooms ~ Shiitake and Turkey Tail are two well-known mushrooms with immune boosting properties.

2. Tonics ~ Many herbs, such as Ginseng and Astragalus, help immunity by generally benefiting vital energy.

3. Heat Clearing Herbs ~ Echinacea and Goldenseal are probably the two best-known “antimicrobial” herbs in modern America.

4. Lymphatics ~ These herbs specifically benefit the lymph system and include herbs like Red Clover and Burdocks

5. Expectorants ~ Coltsfoot and Thyme are two important herbs for clearing mucus out of the lungs.

6. Lung Tonics ~ These herbs, like Licorice and Mullein, generally strengthen and benefit the lungs, in addition to clearing out mucus.

7. Diaphoretics ~ These herbs, including Ginger and Peppermint, promote sweating and are used at the onset of colds and flu.

Understanding these categories (what herbs belong in the category and when it is beneficial to use them) will help the average person a great deal in his or her attempts to be healthy. Dividing herbs into categories, though, is only a tool- a human projection onto a complex and mysterious universe. The categories are not absolute. Many herbs fit into more than one category, and the herbs within the categories all have personalities of their own.

MUSHROOMS

Many mushrooms have immune strengthening and normalizing properties. Reishi and Maitake (Hen-of-the-Woods or Sheep’s Head) are general whole body and immune system tonics. Prized edibles such as Shiitake, Chanterelles, and Morels all benefit immunity. Leathery mushrooms like Turkey Tail, woody conks like Artist’s Conk and Tinder Polypore, and other fungal growths too tough to eat like Chaga can be consumed as immune boosting agents by boiling into a soup broth or beverage. One immune benefit of the medicinal mushrooms is the prevention and treatment of cancer.

TONICS

General tonics and immune system tonics have traditionally been considered some of the most important herbs. Tonics generally work best if used over a period of time and it is generally safe to do so. Some tonics will not be much use in acute cases. Ginseng, Astragalus, Licorice, Elecampane, Burdock, and Calamus are all immune system tonics.

HEAT CLEARING HERBS

These herbs reduce infections and are generally considered antimicrobial. One of the best and safest is Echinacea. Goldenseal, Coptis, Barberry, and other berberine containing herbs are very strong heat clearing herbs. Others include Spilanthes, Self-Heal, and Honeysuckle. When fighting an infection is it important to stay away from foods that can weaken immunity, such as foods with lots of white sugar.

LYMPHATICS

Lymphatics are often heat clearing herbs. Red Clover, Burdock, Self-Heal, Echinacea, Cleavers, Violet, and Calendula are all effective herbal lymphatics. Poke is a very powerful herbal lymphatic. The lymph system also benefits from bodywork and exercise.

EXPECTORANTS

Expectorants are of two major types: warming and cooling. Warming expectorants include Thyme, Ginger, Elecampane, Licorice, Pine, and the very strong Lobelia. Cooling expectorants include Mullein, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Marshmallow, andViolet. Cooling expectorants often help to protect and replenish the healthy fluids of the lungs, throat, and sinuses. Certain foods, like refined foods and dairy products, promote the buildup of mucus in the lungs. It is important to avoid such foods when treating lung illness.

LUNG TONICS

Many expectorants and general tonics have a particular benefit on the respiratory system. Those in this category include Tinder Polypore, Astragalus, Licorice, Elecampane, Mullein, and Comfrey. Breathing exercises and physical activity that increases respiration both benefit the lungs.

DIAPHORETICS

Diaphoretics are herbs that boost immunity, increase peripheral circulation, and promote sweating. They are very helpful at the onset of a cold, flu, or infection. This category is generally the first to turn to when you feel that you might be getting sick. Sweat lodges and saunas also benefit immunity by affecting the body in a similar way as these herbs do. Ginger, Peppermint, Burdock, Cinnamon, Yarrow, Boneset, Pine, and Bee Balm are all diaphoretics. Diaphoretics are best taken as hot beverages, followed by hot baths and resting in warm blankets.

When these categories of herbs are understood, along with the specific details regarding use of each herb (specific indications for use, cautions, dosage, preparation, et cetera), then a person will be quite able to deal with the majority of colds, fevers, and infections that show up in their family. And even better than that, the person that understands how to use these immune boosting herbs will be able to prevent such illnesses from occurring in the first place.

The foundation of prevention and treatment is not in herbs, however, as much as it is in our daily food and our lifestyles. Herbs are supplements that provide nutrition and vitality and can effect certain body processes in certain ways. The benefits of herbs, though, especially when considering chronic conditions such as weak immunity, low energy, and cancer, cannot replace good food, exercise and a positive mental outlook. Poor food choices, laziness, a bad attitude, exposure to electromagnetic radiation (such as from television, computers, and florescent lighting), and stress can all lower immunity.

Focus on foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables, sea vegetables, and fruits to support the immune system. Using wholesome spices, along with miso (for soup broth), and kudzu (a thickener) in cooking can be helpful. Soup broths can be made with the above listed mushrooms and herbs. High nutrition foods like blueberries and hemp seeds can also help to support your vital energy.

Nobody can take care of your immune system for you. No doctor can fix it for you. You must, through your diet, lifestyle, and way of seeing the world, create your own strong immune system. Your compass can be the way you feel. If you feel stagnant, weak, or unhappy, it will be accompanied at least eventually by an undermined immune system. If you feel healthy, you probably are. Sometimes people claim that disease sneaks up on those who are healthy in appearance or feeling. But I think that if this is the case it reflects a failure to observe the subtleties. Pay attention to the subtleties. Trust yourself. Believe in your immune system and take care of it.


Author's Bio
Nathaniel Whitmore is an herbalist from Damascus, PA. He practices as a clinical herbalist and teaches regularly about herbal medicine.

Imani Sankofa / Author & Editor

As a result of working with Imani, women learn to reduce stress, release weight, and reconnect to life. Imani is looking to work with women who are interested in peace of mind, improved health, and creating a life they love.

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