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Winter Wellness in Four Easy Steps
Winter Wellness in Four Easy Steps

Part 3
Nourish Immunity with Herbs

Elder berries: A sip of elder berry anything — infusion, tincture, oxymel, syrup — is a delightful way to ward off the flu, especially the bad ones. Don't have it on hand? Don't buy already made elder berry preparations. High demand has caused problems for manufacturers and some are selling adulterated products, sometimes unknowingly. You can buy dried elder berries. Frontier has great ones at a great price. Weigh one ounce of dried berries into a quart jar. Fill with boiling water. Steep at least 4 hours. Keeps for several weeks refrigerated. Or add honey and decoct (boil down) to create elderberry syrup, which lasts for months if kept cold.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), previously known as Siberian ginseng, is widely considered the single most effective immune tonic and adaptogen in the herbal realm. Safe and not as expensive as other adaptogens, this root can be used as an infusion or tincture to nourish the immune system so it can respond quickly to infection. Superior ally for those who get bronchitis. Safe to consume daily. 

Astragalus (A. membranaceus) root is also an excellent ally for building powerful immunity. It has a mild, sweetish, rooty taste that most like a lot. I throw several pieces in every pot of soup I cook. And add the powder to nut butters, humus, and dips. All types of immune cells active in disease prevention are nourished. Safe even if used daily for extended periods.

Medicinal mushrooms are not only immune system tonics, they possess antibacterial properties which make them ideal for preventing infection, according to expert Paul Stametes. A tincture or strong infusion of any shelf fungus with pores can be used, he says. If you prefer to buy your mushrooms, rather than hunt for them, look for reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) or shiitake (Lentinus edodes). Both are adaptogenic, revitalizing, regenerative, and able to directly suppress infection. Side effects, even from large doses, are rare.

Ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius or Panax ginseng) is another exceptional ally for the immune system, especially when there is physical or emotional stress. In any form (tincture, tea, extract) it nourishes production of interferon, phagocytes, antibodies, and killer T-cells. So long as you need ginseng, there’s no overdose; if you take it when you don’t need it however, it may produce an unpleasant, jittery, speedy sensation.

Nourish Immunity and Resist Infection with these Herbs

Echinacea root is the all-American immune system strengthener. It triggers production of white blood cells, interferon, leukocytes, T-cells, and B-lymphocytes, as well as directly inhibiting the growth of most bacteria and viruses. Peter Holmes, author of Energetics of Western Herbs, cites it as being effective against anthrax. Echinacea tincture is my first choice for countering infection. (Capsules and pills of Echinacea, if used for lengthy periods, may be counter-productive.) A dose of the tincture is one drop for every pound of body weight. I take this several times a week as a preventative; several times daily when there is active infection.

Usnea, a common lichen, is especially rich in a powerful antibacterial bitter called usnic acid (also usinic acid). I use the tincture of Usnea barbata (a dose is 1-2 dropperfuls), but other lichens show similar immune-enhancing and tonifying properties. There are no side effects reported from use of even large amounts of usnea tincture.

 Poke root tincture (Phytolacca americana) kicks the immune system into gear incredibly fast. I’ve seen chronic infection of many years’ standing resolve after only one dose, and acute infection subside in a matter of hours. Poke’s effect seems to be focused on the lymphatic and glandular tissues of the throat and chest, making it the perfect counter to inhaled anthrax, which attacks the lymph nodes around the lungs. Poke is specific against pneumonia and a protector of the lungs. It contains an antibacterial alkaloid and a special antiviral protein. It magnifies the effects of Echinacea and they work wonderfully well together.

Poke root is powerful medicine - in fact, a potential poison - and the dose is very small. One drop of poke tincture may be taken daily for no more than three months as a counter to possible infection. Alkaloids in poke root tincture can accumulate in the kidneys, making extended use risky. Caution: You can feel spacey and out of your body when taking poke, especially at higher doses. The first few times, take it after dinner and stay home so you can judge your reaction.

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