Immune Boosters: Elderberry, Echinacea, Garlic and Oregano

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Whether by good genes or a childhood of eating food off the floor, I have a fairly strong immune system. I get truly sick only once a year–and it’s usually this time of year. The worst of the cold and flu season might be behind us, but I’m still keeping an eye on my health and doing what I can to boost my immune system in hopes of bypassing–or at least lessening–my yearly cold or flu.

Here’s what’s in my arsenal of immune-boosting herbs and supplements:

Elderberry (Sambucusnigra): Elderberry is the staple of my immune support regime. Rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants, elderberry has been used for generations to fight off the cold and flu. Native Americans used elderberry to treat colds, fever and even skin and joint problems. I always take it in capsule form, but elderberry also comes in liquid varities.

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.): Research on Echinacea has yielded different results, and it’s still under debate whether or not this plant effectively prevents and treats colds and other infections. However, several clinical trials have shown that people who take Echinacea as soon as they feel sick experience milder symptoms than those who don’t. Studies show that this plant stimulates the immune system to produce infection-fighting cells. Echinacea is available in many forms, including capsules and tea.

Greentea: Regularly drinking green tea can help keep your immune system strong. Green tea isn’t my favorite, but when I’m feeling a little under the weather I’ll usually reach for a cup of it over some of my favorite varieties. The antioxidants in green tea prevent damage to the immune system. Green tea also stimulates the liver, which is important in helping fight off infections.

Oregano: I was doubtful that oregano would have any effect when I first heard of its healing properties, but I took it anyway–and was very pleased with the results. I use oregano to treat colds rather than as a preventive measure, but I’ve noticed that it cuts back on the severity and duration of my symptoms when I take it.

Oregano’s healing power lies in oil derived from wild oregano plants, so don’t try to use the same dried leaves you use in cooking to treat any ailments. Oil of oregano has been shown to treat infections and kill parasites, viruses, bacteria and even some fungi. If you don’t mind burping what tastes like leftover Italian food all day, give it a try!

Feeling ill? Try boosting your immune system with garlic. Photo By Fotoos Van Robin/Courtesy Flickr

Garlic: Forget vampires–garlic has been shown to ward off sickness. Used for centuries to treat colds and the antibiotic of choice before penicillin, a 2001 study found that garlic really does have medicinal benefits. Patients in the study who were given garlic supplements came down with fewer colds and were sick for fewer days than patients who did not receive the supplement.

Scientists believe that the same compound that gives garlic its unique odor and flavor is responsible for its medicinal properties. Garlic can be taken in powdered capsule, oil capsule, liquid extract or fresh cloves. It’s unclear which is the best form to take, so experiment with different varieties and see what works for you.

Many natural remedies exist for immune support. What do you do to protect yourself from illness? Share a comment!

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