Let’s get beyond echinacea and elderberry for a moment. Most herbalists know about these two plants, but there are a whole host of other plants that can be used to support the health of the immune system. Most of these herbs can be divided as either providing good short term support or long term immune support.
Short Term Immune Support
Herbs for short term immune system support are the ones we turn to when our bodies are showing signs of an acute imbalance and we want to support immunity for a few days or weeks. Herbs that have a traditional reputation for clearing heat- like echinacea, andrographis, sida, and bidens all fall into this category.
Long Term Immune Support
There are also many herbs that can be used long term for chronic imbalances or just to provide tonifying support for the immune system for several months at a time. Eleuthero, astragalus, rhodiola and other adaptogens are excellent examples of this category. Elderberry is another very popular example. Some of these herbs in this category, like astragalus, are discontinued if acute signs of imbalance develop (like coming down with a cold or the flu) and are not considered appropriate for use if an acute imbalance is present.
When is Herbal Immune Support Helpful?
Here are a few examples of when herbal immune system support might be helpful:
- Supporting the immune system when it is easily triggered by seasonal or environmental challenges
- Supporting everyday healthy immune function
- Many herbalists believe that herbs can also be valuable when used in a supportive role for someone undergoing treatment for cancer. Herbal Medicine, Healing, and Cancer by Arlene Valentine and Donald Yance is one of the best resources I know of for anyone interested in learning more about this topic.
When Shouldn’t Herbs for Immune Support Be Used?
Here are some examples of when herbal support for the immune system is not a good idea:
- Instead of an epi-pen and emergency medical treatment for anaphylaxis
- After having an organ transplant or when there is a need for anti-rejection medications
- If an autoimmune disease has been diagnosed, herbs that stimulate the immune system may be contraindicated
- It is probably best not to combine herbs that stimulate the immune system with medications that suppress it.
For today’s mission, take some time to explore lymphatic support herbs! Our lymphatic system plays a big role in immunity, and I wish more people would turn to herbs like cleavers, calendula, and redroot to help support their immune system instead of automatically reaching for oregon grape or goldenseal out of a misunderstanding about the “antibacterial” nature of these two herbs.
You see, the berberine in both of these herbs is poorly absorbed by the blood stream, so although berberine may have an antibacterial action in a petri dish, it doesn’t work that way in the body! Echinacea (another very popular immune supportive plant) is actually a lymphatic herb, although I think having a few other lymphatic herbs at your disposal is also a great idea!
Lymphatic herbs explained by the Naturopathic Herbalist
Red root, an article by Medicine Woman’s Roots
A wonderful article on calendula by Whispering Earth
All the best,