During the Winter season, stress, colds, and other health related challenges can be lurking just around the corner. We have looked at some of the top herbs for Winter wellness that can be especially useful at this time of year. Read what the experts have to say about the amazing benefits of Elderberry for cold, flu, and fever. Discover why Echinacea is a potent tonic for the immune system, which can promote higher white blood cell count and lower risk of infection. Reishi is well known for it’s immune enhancing actions, nervine benefits, and it’s reputation as a hormone balancer. Astragalus has long been known to promote healing and reduce fatigue.These herbs are jam packed with wholesomeness and they are our favorite picks when an immuno boost is needed or a cold or flu has set in.
Some of the best immune tonics include potent and proven herbs such as Astragalus root, which has been used for centuries in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Astragalus comes from the pea family and is thought to boost overall vitality. In TCM, it has been historically used to promote healing, reduce fatigue, and was first mentioned in written form over two thousand years ago. Astragalus has received a great deal of scientific attention, and as of late when put to the test, it has clearly been getting some remarkable results. Average white blood cell counts increased significantly in two groups of 115 patients with leukopenia (low white blood cell levels) after treatment with concentrated Astragalus preparations for 8 weeks. (Weng XS. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi IChieh Ho Tsa Chih 1995; 15(8): 462-464
Herbs for winter wellness including Astragalus, was shown to help prevent the common cold as well as decrease the duration of infection. Laboratory studies with Astragalus show that it stimulates natural killer cell activity, protects against immune suppression and appears to enhance interferon activity as it improves the body’s resistance and response to viral illness. (Wang Y, Qian XJ, Hadley HR et al. Mol Biother 1992; 4(3):143-146)
Combined treatment of Astragalus and Panax Ginseng significantly increased survival rates (some patients gaining 3-17 years) in patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for small cell lung cancer. (Cha RJ, Zeng DW, Chang QS et al. Chung Hua Nei Ko Tsa Chih 1994; 33(7):462-466)
According to PubMed; The major components of Astragalus membranaceus are polysaccharides, flavonoids, and saponins. Contemporary use of Astragalus membranaceus mainly focuses on its immunomodulating, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory, as well as anticancer effects.
You can buy powdered astragalus and encapsulate them yourself or add some to your smoothies. You can also make a tincture using a cut and sifted form or simply make a tea. Alternatively, you can purchase Astragalus root extract and skip the wait time of tincturing. You can find Astragalus root and extracts here.
The many names referring to reishi as a kind of spiritual mushroom, would have been in no small part due to the practice of Taoist priests who would search for and use the herb as part of their meditation practice to still their minds. But reishi is about as far away from magic or psychedelic mushrooms as you can get, and in direct contrast to such substances that can agitate visions or hallucinations, reishi is famous for its ability to quiet and still the mind. This herb is also a powerful immune enhancer and research has shown that it has a group of active constituents called polysaccharides which have demonstrated to have immune enhancing properties.
A placebo-controlled study of 48 patients with advanced cancer showed that reishi extract had pronounced immune benefits including an increase in T lymphocytes and a reduction in CD8 counts. Patients who received reishi reported reduced side affects from chemotherapy or radiation as well as a faster post-operative recovery (Shiao MS et al. Am Chem Soc 547, 1994;342-354) (Kupin VA, 4th International Symposium on Ganoderma lucidum; Seoul Cancer Res Ctr, June 10, 1992,pp49-50)
Another group of compounds in Reishi are called triterpenes and these substances have been shown to have anti-allergy, stress relieving, and blood pressure lowering properties (Tomada M et al. Phytochemistry 25:28, 1988:17-20)
For further education on reishi, the authors, titles and the ‘where-and-when’ of over 120 further studies and articles on Reishi are listed in a PDF and can be found here.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also recently discovered that “Reishi” has it’s own website (reishi.com) and here’s what they have to say about this amazing tonic herb; Red Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), commonly known as Ling Zhi in Chinese, is a herbal mushroom known to have miraculous health benefits which include:
1) It is non-toxic and can be taken daily without producing any side effects.
2) When it is taken regularly, it can restore the body to its natural state, enabling all organs to function normally.
3) Immune modulator – regulates and fine tunes the immune system.
Now you can see why we have included Reishi as an herb for Winter wellness.
You can purchase reishi in powder form and encapulate, add to smooties and/or soups, or use whole reishi mushroom to make a tea, or a tincture.
Elder tea is an ancient remedy for colds, flues and fevers, and for promoting the flow of urine. Elder helps heal grazed skin (when the skin has rubbed against a rough surface) and can soothe sore or inflamed eyes. Elderberries contain ingredients that boost immunity and help the body fight the flu virus. In a news release, Russell Greenfield, MD, a leading practitioner of integrative medicine and medical director of Carolinas Integrative Health, advocates treating flu with black elderberry, and says “It can be given to children and adults, and with no known side effects or negative interactions.”
Specific flavonoid compounds are major contributors to the immune-stimulating action of Elderberry. The flavonoids bind to specific proteins present on the surface of envelope viruses that are required for attachment and entry into host cells. By blocking the virus from attaching to the host cells, the Elderberry inhibits the virus’s ability to reproduce and flourish within the body. One specific affect of Elderberry is that it activates the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine (IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, IL-6, IL-8) production and anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10.This beneficial effect activates the immune system in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases. (1)
Elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and herpes simplex. We investigated the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry syrup for treating influenza A and B infections. Sixty patients (aged 18-54 years) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 h or less were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study during the influenza season of 1999-2000 in Norway. Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza. These findings need to be confirmed in a larger study. (2)
Making Elderberry a part of a daily wellness plan during cold and flu season for immune support, makes sense for supporting a healthy immune system. Herbs such as elderberry, ginger, and cinnamon, when combined together, can often stop a cold dead in it’s tracks or at least shorten it’s duration. It is importand to begin your elderberry supplementation at the onset of signs of colds or influenza. There are many recipes that you can quickly find on the the internet that will guide you in preparing your own homemade Elderberry syrup. Alternatively, you can purchase an Elderberry extract here.
Last, but certainly not least on our list…,
From Dr Richard Whelan’s living book; “Echinacea truly is a potent tonic for the immune system and when healthy individuals are given Echinacea and have their blood tested before and during it’s use, there are several typical changes that happen;
1) ‘Their neutrophils rapidly increase in the first 24 hours. Neutrophils are white blood cells that are short lived (just a few days) but can be made in great numbers if needed. They are the main arm of the immune system that initially deals with general poisons, bacteria, and waste products.
2) After approximately 48 hours, other kinds of white blood cells known as lymphocytes also increase to a much larger number than they were before (almost double). The lymphocytes are the arm of the immune system that deals with more complex tasks, such as dealing with viruses or making antibodies (kind of like internal antibiotics)
3) A process known as phagocytosis steadily increases over the first 5 days of use, and then remains at an increased level for as long as the herb is taken. Phagocytosis is the name given to how white blood cells literally swallow up foreign material like debris, toxins and bacteria. The strength of this is what we can see when we look at that ‘streaming’ affect inside the white blood cells under the microscope.’
Medical Herbalist Dr Richard Whelan goes on to say; “It is widely believed that taking Echinacea over long periods causes it to lose its effectiveness. Consequently, people are often recommended to take Echinacea for no longer than 10 days before taking a break. This belief came about from a widely quoted German study that was published in 1989 which showed that the increase in phagocytosis from taking Echinacea started to decline after taking the herb for 5 or 6 days and then slowly dropped back to a plateau by about day 10. However, simply through an inadequate translation from the German, what was not made clear in the reporting of this study is that the volunteers stopped taking their Echinacea on day 5! In fact, what the study showed was that the benefits of Echinacea took a few days to wear off but it was completely misunderstood and misinterpreted. From this small mistake, an enduring myth has been born. Echinacea can certainly be used long term without losing its overall immune enhancing effects. The increase in white blood cell counts does go back to normal levels in healthy subjects (it remains high in sick people) but it has been proven in subsequent studies that the phagocytosis (the level of activity of the white blood cells) does not diminish with continued use.”
Dr Whelan reminds us that “You should disregard all media reports that show Echinacea doesn’t work when they have used the above-ground parts of the herb….they got the right plant but they used the wrong part!” (3)
The late legendary Dr Finley Ellingwood described Echinacea’s action this way “It promotes the flow of saliva in an active manner. The warmth and tingling extend down the esophagus to the stomach, but no further unpleasant influence is observed. In a short time diaphoresis is observed, and the continuation of the remedy stimulates the kidneys to increased action. All of the glandular organs seem to feel the stimulating influence, and their functional activity is increased. The stomach is improved in its function, the bowels operate better, and absorption, assimilation, and general nutrition are materially improved. It encourages secretion and excretion, preventing further intoxication, and quickly correcting the influence in the system of any that has occurred. It stimulates the metabolism of tissue waste, more markedly than any other single remedy known.”(4)
From King’s Dispensatory: “Strictly speaking, it is practically impossible to classify an agent like Echinacea by applying to it one or two words to indicate its virtues. If any single statement were to be made concerning the virtues of Echinacea, it would read something like this: “A corrector of the depravation of the body fluids,” and even this does not sufficiently cover the ground. Its extraordinary powers are well shown in its power over changes produced in the fluids of the body, whether from internal causes or from external introductions. The changes may be manifested in a disturbed balance of the fluids resulting in such tissue alterations as are exhibited in boils, carbuncles, abscesses, or cellular glandular inflammations. They may be from the introduction of serpent or insect venom, or they may be due to such fearful poisons as give rise to malignant diphtheria, cerebro-spinal meningitis, or puerperal and other forms of septicaemia.”
For further reading, you can find the King’s American Dispensary, 1898, written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D. and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., PHD., here.
You can purchase Echinacea in an extract form here or a dry herb form here.
We hope you have found this article informative and useful, especially during the Winter months when cold and flu season is at it’s peak.
Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking herbs, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any prescription medications.