This fall, the shortage of flu vaccine made headlines nationwide. Even the most at-risk populations — such as the elderly — faced long lines or were unable to receive the flu shot.
But none of us has to take the threat of illness as a certainty. Keeping our immune systems strong is the single best way to avoid the flu, its potentially serious complications, and a host of other illnesses. Here are some of our favorite herbs, recommended by many of our most trusted contributors. Used preventively or, with plenty of rest and fluids at the first sign of illness, they’ll help you stay well all winter long.
• Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is well-known for its immune-boosting effects. It stimulates the immune system and prevents viruses from replicating. Start taking echinacea at the first sign of symptoms; take up to nine 300- to 400-mg capsules daily or 60 drops of tincture three times daily. Take as needed for cold or flu; for prevention, take echinacea continuously for two weeks, then discontinue the herb for one week.
• Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract is a great-tasting remedy that’s a rich source of anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that help protect the body against disease. For elderberry extract, follow manufacturer’s directions. If you’d prefer capsules, take up to six 500-mg caps daily.
• Garlic (Allium sati-vum) has potent anti- oxidant properties and is a good source of immune-boosting selenium. The best way to get garlic’s benefits is to eat one raw clove a day for prevention; if that’s difficult for you to digest, try lightly sautéing two or more cloves.
• Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) and ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) are adaptogenic herbs, which help the body adapt to stress and balance the body’s systems. Taken long term, these safe herbs gently boost the immune system. Follow manufacturer’s directions for these herbs; it’s also wise to consult a qualified herbalist for help choosing the right herb for your particular situation.
• Medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and maitake (Grifola frondosa), contain various powerful antioxidant, antibacterial and infection-resistant properties. The mushrooms are available in concentrated extracts — follow package directions.
KATHRYN’S QUICKIE IMMUNE SOUP
Eat a couple of steaming bowls of this as soon a cold or flu threatens and you’ll feel better in no time.
– Kathryn Compton
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Several shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 can chicken broth, organic and free-range if available
3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled
Fresh ginger, peeled, in whatever quantity you like
Heat oil and brown onion in oil until translucent; add mushrooms and brown them. Pour in the can of chicken broth. With your garlic press, squeeze garlic and ginger into broth mixture. Stir well, heat thoroughly and serve.
Amy Mayfield is editor of Herbs for Health.