Immune Boosting Herbs
Throughout history people have used immune boosting herbs to protect themselves from infection and heal diseases. Today we live in an era where 84,000+ chemicals are in our food, water, air, and bodies. Now it's more important than ever to integrate immune boosting herbs and foods into our diets.
Herbs can be powerful. We have used, and continue to use, herbs. You can use them medicinally in higher doses for specific issues, and/or you can simply add them to your diet with an awareness that they are assisting in your immune health.
Immune boosting herbs protect and assist healing against viruses, bacteria, and even cancer. They can act as anti-microbials or directly on the immune system. Herbs can stimulate the immune system - immuno-stimulating, modulate or balance the immune system - immuno-modulating, and/or have antibacterial, antimicrobial, or anti parasitic effects. The beauty of herbs, is that for the most part, most have a combination of effects on the immune system.
Immune Boosting Herbs: 15 & Growing
I created this list after scouring the medical literature for herbs that have clinical study behind them to back up any claims that they modulate or boost the immune system and/or have any anti-microbial qualities.
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1. Andrographis is a Powerful Liver Tonic
Native to India and Sri Lanka, andrographis is used in traditional medicinal systems ranging from ayurveda to Chinese Medicine.
In various studies, it has been found to reduce the incidence and severity of the common cold, exhibit anti-inflammatory effects, decrease blood glucose levels, protect the liver and restore liver enzyme function after injury.
Why does the liver matter for immunity? Well the liver produces natural killer cells and manages other key inflammatory mechanisms involved in the immune response to viruses, bacteria, and cancer. (R)
And if that isn't enough, andrographis exhibits antibacterial and anti parasitic effects. (R)
You can buy andrographis here.
2. Ahswangandha is Ayurveda's Secret Immune Booster and Immuno-Modulator.
Ashwagandha, also known as withania somnifera, or Indian Ginseng, has been found, to be a powerful immuno-modulator. A balanced immune system is a strong immune system. In mouse studies, ashwangandha increased production of the Th1 cytokine Interferon Gamma. (R)
Ashwagandha protects against the detrimental effects on the immune system caused by sleep deprivation. (R)
It may also be useful against cancer. An extract was found to be genotoxic to human leukemia cells. (R)
3. Astragalus Stimulates the Immune System
Astragalus, also known as Huáng Qí, is a flowering plant included in the 50 fundamental herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. With over 46 species and 200 constituents, you'd better believe that astragalus has some powerful potential effects.
While astralagus has been found to be anti-inflammatory, it also suppresses Th2 cytokines and may be helpful in improving the skin of those with eczema or atopic dermatitis. Astragalus stimulates the immune system without increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines. (R)
Astragalus has been found to reduce upper respiratory tract infections caused by bacteria or viruses. As part of the TCM recipe bu zhong yi qi tang, which I used to combat a MRSA infection, I can personally vouch for it's powerful effects. (R)
Used in conjunction with chemotherapy, it may contribute anti-tumor activities.
And last, but not least, it has been found to regulate insulin signaling in vitro, and is being further investigated for its anti-diabetic potential.
There are several forms of astragalus available that you can buy.
4. Burdock Root: Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Allergic?
Also known as Arctium Lappa, burdock is used both as a food and as medicinal herb for the immune system and other health effects.
In cancer, burdock has been found to reduce tumor size and increase survival rates. The extract of burdock seeds has the capacity to kill tumor cells with low nutrients, stimulate macrophage activities, and prevent tumor cell propagation. (R)
Something to be aware of is that an extract of burdock root when sampled with primary human T lymphocytes inhibited Interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) production. IFN-gamma is a Th1 cytokine. Allergies are a Th2 immune reaction. One of our goals in using supplements and herbs is to boost the Th1 arm of the immune system, and therefore IFN-gamma.
In my opinion, it would seem to me that while burdock does seem to have anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects, you might want to consider that its in vitro IFN-gamma reducing effects need to be considered. (R)
If burdock is something you want to try, you can find the root at any good grocery store. If burdock supplements or teas are more your style, you can buy them here.
5. Curcumin Modulates and Boosts the Immune System
Curmin acts on multiple fronts as an anti-cancer agent, by modulating and boosting the immune system. It also reduces tumor cell growth and propagation.
It has also been found to drive the immune system towards Th1 by increasing production of interferon gamma and suppressing IL10 and IL4. (R)
The greatest challenge with curcumin is its limited bio-availability. Even with all of the nano-technology and liposomal encapsulation, taking curcumin with piperine ( the major component of black pepper) is the most effective combination. While liposomes and nano-particles increased bioavailability in humans up to 10x that of standard curcumin, piperine increased plasma levels 2000%. (R) (R) (R)
That being said the best curcumin supplements, from a bioavailability standpoint, are those that have piperine along with curcumin. You can buy the one we use here.
6. Codonopis Boosts the Immune System Against Cancer
Codonopis is another herb commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It may be effective against cancer by acting as an anti-tumor agent and boosting the immune system.
It also has been found to exhibit anti-aging effects, some of which include boosting the immune system, eliminating free radicals, and anti-lipoperoxidation. Some strains are hepatic protective effect through increasing the scavenging of free radicals. (R)
7. Echinacea Fights the Common Cold
If you troll through the herbal cold remedy aisle, you've seen echinacea in many products. But what exactly has echinacea been found to do in clinical studies?
Well, let me tell you.
In one large study comparing common cold infections of two groups: one control and the other on a daily dose of echinacea, over four months there was a statistically significant difference in number, duration, symptoms, and reinfection in the group taking daily echinicaea, with no reported negative effects.
When you consider that the average person spends an average of two years of their lifetime sick with the common cold, you begin to see how important it is to reduce that. (As I say with all clinical studies, if you are going for the results found in the study try to take exactly the product that was used. This is the exact product.) (R)
Echinacea has also been found to reduce the duration of the flu, as well as speed healing. (R) Anyone who's every lied around on the couch for days, knows that sh*%^ gets old real fast. So any help getting over the flu faster is greatly appreciated. 🙂
Echinacea may be effective against some types of cancer. It's been revealed that it increased natural killer cell numbers in mice. (R)
8. Elderberry Has Healing and Pain Killing Effects
Also, known as Sambucus williamsii, elderberry has been used in Chinese Medicine traditionally to treat bone and joint diseases. The stem ha been used in treating fractures. It's also been found to relieve pain and swelling, have other healing capabilities, as well as exert anti-inflammatory effects.
The root bark has been found to exhibit antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antiaging effects. The fruit extract may be immune boosting, anti-cancer, improve memory, and antiaging. (R)
Black Elderberry Is Effective Against the Cold and Flu
Black elderberry (the fruit) extracts, also known as sambucus nigra, are known to be anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Additionally they have been found to boost the immune system by increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, in particular TNF-alpha levels. (R)
While TNF-alpha is typically thought of as a proinflammatory cytokine, it is also implicated in allergic and asthmatic inflammation. So if you have either of those in the form of allergic rhinitis or asthma, you might want to either research black elderberry before trying it, or tread gingerly. (R)
You can buy the black elderberry extract used in the clinical study here.
9. Flax Seeds May Be Powerful Against Cancer
Flax seeds are are rich source of dietary fiber, omega 3 fat, and lignans.
Ground flax seeds were given to experimental mice induced with cancer. Those given the flax in their diets had reduced tumor loads. This same result was found in mice with experimental induced breast cancer. Flax seeds added to their diets decreased malignancies. (R)
You'll want to buy the whole seeds and grind them yourself. The freshly ground flax can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. The whole seeds can last several months.
This is the flax that we use.
10. Garlic is Immune Boosting, Anti-Cancer, and Immuno-Modulating
One of my absolute go to immune boosting herbs, both for medicine and food, is garlic. In fact garlic made my top 20 Supplements that boost the immune system and reduce allergy and asthma.
Garlic is antiviral, anticancer, immune boosting and modulating. (R)
In a recent study, garlic was shown to actually affect genes associated with protecting against cancer. Healthy volunteers were asked to consume 5 grams (about 3 medium size cloves) of raw crushed garlic with bread and butter, about three hours later genes associated with cancer prevention were upregulated. (R)
If you are using fresh garlic therapeutically, you need to consume it right after crushing in order to capture it's healing potential.
Garlic is also available as fermented black garlic and as a supplement. Aged black garlic has been found to be much more powerful as an anti-inflammatory than raw standard garlic extracts. Its extract has higher inhibiion of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and prostaglandins than its raw counterpart. (R)
It's also been found to be cytotoxic to muti-drug resistant human cancer cells. (R)
Garlic may be useful in preventing metabolic diseases (R), has been found to lower cholesterol, and the list seriously goes on and on and on....
Garlic is number one in an herbs for immune system arsenal. I used garlic in my battle with MRSA. And having tried several of the garlic supplements, including Allimax (which DID NOT work and costs over $120/bottle), I recommend this one.
11. Ginger Fights Inflammation and Cancer
Ginger is another of my favorite herbs for the immune system. It's got a world of benefits inside its tasty roots.
Ginger's two main and most studied components are gingerol and shagoal. Gingerol is present in fresh ginger primarily. Shagoal is primarily present in processed and dried ginger.
Ginger has been found to be anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. It acts on several mechanisms to protect the liver, pancreas, stomach, and colon from cancers, as well as reduce tumor loads. (R) It's also got antibacterial effects. (R)
I've used raw ginger in my diet to reduce chronic pelvic pain associated with ovarian cysts (and potentially endometriosis).
If you are looking to use ginger therapeutically as a supplement, I recommend this one because it lists its components.
12. Holy Basil: Ayurveda's Foundational Immune Boosting Herb
Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi is a foundational herb in Ayurveda. It's used for its raw leaves, oil, and dried plant parts in teas and extracts.
It has many systemic benefits ranging from being anti-diabetic to reducing blood lipids. Holy Basil oil has been found to be a powerful anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral against many of the toughest viruses and bacteria out there. It's also been found to boost natural killer cells. Additionally, it has been used for asthma, apparently reducing symptoms within days. (R) (R)
13. Japanese Honeysuckle Reduces Inflammation
The Japanese Honeysuckle, called Jinyinhua in Chinese, has been found to be anti-inflammatory, and may be useful for inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid. (R) It also acts as an anti-histamine.
Additionally, the japanese honeysuckle is found to be anti-viral against a host of viruses including those that cause the flu, common cold, and even herpes, anti-bacterial even against drug resistant bacteria, like my personal favorite MRSA, and powerfully anti-inflammatory, inhibiting histamine and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) production. As an added bonus, Japanese honeysuckle has also been found to protect the liver. (R)
14. Medicinal Mushrooms Have Powerful Immune Boosting and Anti-Aging Capabilities
Medicinal mushrooms are as diverse as their health effects. They are sources of many beneficial constituents, triterpenes, phenolic compounds, sterols, and beta glucans. They have been found to be anti-diabetic, anti-cancerous, anti-obesity, immunomodulatory, hypocholesteremia, hepatoprotective and anti-aging.
What more could you ask for from an immune boosting herb?
Mycotherapy is the therapeutic application of medicinal mushrooms. There are several powerhouses known for their immuno-modulating and immune boosting effects: maitake, reishi, shitake, lions mane, turkey tail, cordyceps... to name just a few.
Other beneficial uses of medicinal mushrooms are protection against neurodegenerative diseases associated with aging. (R) As well as skincare benefits such as reducing anticollagenase activity along with photoprotective effects from sun damage equal to 25 SPF. (R)
If you are truly interested in using mushrooms medicinally, this is a great book It does a deep dive into mycotherapy and lesser known fungi.
Also, this is our favorite mushroom supplement, it has a blend of different medicinal mushroom fruiting bodies (not mycellium) for a synergistic effect. We've noticed a difference when taking it.
15. Licorice May Be Effective Against Inflammatory & Auto-Immune Diseases
Licorice is the root of Glycyrrhiza species. It ranks in one of the oldest herbs for the immune system used in traditional medicines throughout Asia and Europe. Licorice extracts have been found to be effective against inflammatory and auto-immune diseases through their promotion of T-reg cells. (R)
Licorice is also a potent detoxifier and liver protector. It's often combined with other immune boosting herbs and tonics in traditional medicines to offset any toxic side effects of the accompanying herbs. (R)
You can buy licorice root extract here.
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