12 Herbs To Strengthen Your Immune System Now (Before Flu Season Strikes!)

Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com

Despite what you might have heard from mainstream medical news, it is your immune system, not flu shots, that can really help you fight off cold and flu germs, not to mention a host of other diseases. Your immune system is your first line of defense when it comes to any type of foreign invader including H1N1 virus, SARS, MRSA, even cancer.

Your immune system is a complicated and advanced system that works 24/7 to keep you healthy and alive. Although drug intervention, such as antibiotics, is sometimes necessary, it should only be a final resort. Antibiotics are a double edged sword — they will kill the bacteria causing your disease, but they kill everything good in your body in the process, ruining your immune system.

If you really want to avoid colds and the flu this coming winter, the time to start strengthening your immune system is now, not after you are sick. There is no magic pill or herb that you can take at the height of the flu season that will work overnight. Like growing vegetables, your immune system takes time to build itself up and strengthen its defense system. If you start now, by the time most people are getting their flu shots in October and November, you will have already fortified your natural defense system.

Herbs are some of the best ways to support and strengthen your immune system. Keep reading for 12 of the best bets around and avoid the flu this fall, winter, and spring!


1. Ganoderma

This is a type of very bitter mushroom that is sometimes called a reishi mushroom. Used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, ganoderma has been associated with good health and longevity. Studies back up traditional beliefs about this mushroom, showing that it fights cancer as well as improves the immune system. Ganoderma has powerful antioxidant compounds as well as being anti-bacterial. You can consume this in a supplement, but be careful about the company you buy from, as some of the cheap imports contain little or no actual ganoderma.


2. Echinacea

This is one of the most popular immune-boosting flowering herbs known to man. Although some studies have argued its effectiveness, most research continues to find evidence that this herb is a great option for both the prevention and treatment of colds, flu, and other types of upper respiratory conditions. Related to the daisy family, this herb has been used by the Native Americans for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to fight infection and improve the immune system. Studies show that Echinacea can increase white blood cells, spleen cells, and even increases core body temperature. This is due to the phenolic compounds in this plant. Most people consume Echinacea as a supplement, but it also makes a fine cup of tea. Be sure to breathe in the healing steam!


3. Gingko Biloba

This very popular supplement is well-known for improving energy levels, but not nearly as well-known for its ability to strengthen the immune system. The leaves of this plant contain potent antioxidants called bilobalides and ginkgolides, which protect your body from the damage caused by free radicals. This herb has even been shown in studies to protect the body from radiation. Studies show that this ancient herb neutralizes the oxidizing agents, as well as free radicals, due to radiation. Gingko biloba can even reduce brain damage and stop premature aging. This is another supplement that is often imported and sold rather cheaply, but tests have shown cheaper supplements have very little, if any, gingko biloba. Be sure you buy from a reputable supplier.

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Fresh ginseng root

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4. Astragalus

This herb isn’t well known in the U.S., but it should be. There are studies showing that astragalus assists the immune system by stimulating the production of immune cells in the bone marrow and lymph glands. This herb has also been discovered in studies to increase the number and stimulate the activity of killer cells in the body that target cancer cells. Astragalus also produces immune compounds such as immunoglobulin. One study conducted in China in 1997 found that when they gave astragalus to elderly mice, it restored their immune systems to resemble the ones found in mice that were only 10 weeks old!


5. Cloves

These tiny flower buds not only smell great and have analgesic compounds, but they are also full of important nutrients such as fiber, calcium manganese, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids! Cloves are also highly antiseptic and germicidal, which can help your body naturally fight infection. Clove oil is well-known for purifying the blood and fighting viruses. Chew cloves whole, add them to your foods, or consume clove oil supplements as directed.


6. Ginseng

Panax ginseng, hailed by scientists as a rejuvenating and vitality restoring tonic, has been found to prevent upper respiratory tract infections. A review in 2012 of more than 65 studies concluded that among many other things, ginseng improves glucose metabolism as well as moderating the immune response. The active components in Panax ginseng, ginsenosides, have been shown in numerous studies to also have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory compounds.

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Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com

7. Bell Peppers

Almost everyone knows that bell peppers make a for tasty food dishes, but very few know that bell peppers are excellent at supporting the immune system as well! Loaded with vitamins A and C, bell peppers are known to increase energy levels and help to fight disease, including cancer and macular degeneration. Bell peppers also contain vitamins B6 and E, both of which are important for strengthening the immune system. B6 plays an important role in the body’s production of cytokines and antibodies. All colors are good for the immunes system, so add plenty of yellow, red, and green bell peppers to your diet or consume an extract if the flavor does not appeal to you.


8. Garlic

Undoubtedly the world’s most popular herb, garlic has been shown in numerous clinical trials to both prevent and treat the common cold. This is due to its sulfur compound, allicin, which has antimicrobial, antineoplastic, and anti-viral compounds. Garlic must be crushed or cut to release its active ingredients. Slightly crush or cut up one or two cloves of organic garlic and swallow them whole each day, or add more raw garlic to your salads and food dishes.


9. Turmeric

This powerfully medicinal herb is known for not only making food taste great, but for keeping viruses at bay. The active ingredient in turmeric, known as curcumin, stimulates an increase in the size of an anti-microbial peptide, which improves the immune system. It also improves health on a cellular level by improving the behavior of cell membranes to make them more resistant to bacteria and viruses. Curcumin also has potent antioxidants, which protect your DNA from damage caused by free radicals. Mix one tablespoon of turmeric powder in a glass of warm milk and drink daily.

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Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com

10. Cat’s Claw

This plant, native to South and Central America, is known to have strong effects when it comes to improving the immune system. Both the bark and roots of this plant are known to contain oxindole alkaloids, which trigger the immune-boosting compounds in the body. The alkaloids in cat’s claw are believed to be capable of improving the ability of white blood cells in the body to engulf and then destroy pathogens. It’s most commonly consumed as a supplement, so take as directed. Meow!


SEE ALSO: 12 Top Foods That Boost the Immune System (#4 is Wicked Cool!)


11. Oregano

Mama Mia! Time to eat more Italian food!  Combined with sage and thyme, oregano is one of the most powerful herbs when it comes to improving the immune system. One study, using pigs, gave half of the subjects an oregano supplement, while the control group received none. Results showed the pigs who received oregano had increased levels of white blood cells when compared to the control group. Add oregano to all your favorite dishes or use oregano oil in your cooking. You can also consume it as a supplement.


12. Ginger

Ginger works like ginseng to provide multiple health benefits to the body and immune system. One study found that when lab animals were given ginger extracts, they had lower blood clotting abilities as well as lower cholesterol levels, Ginger, when consumed with turmeric, was found in one 2012 study to contain immune-stimulant compounds that modulated the  functions of mice with immunosuppressed macrophages. This means that consuming ginger, especially when taken in combination with turmeric, can go a long way toward defending the body against infection and even viruses.

All things considered, it only makes sense to consume more foods that strengthen and improve the immune system. This is a cost effective way to maintain good health and avoid unnecessary sick days. So here’s to your health this flu season!