The human immune system is a complex and beautiful set of relationships among the nerves, lymph, blood, and organs. Our bodies’ ability to fight off pathogens, grow new tissue, and resist environmental toxins is nothing short of extraordinary. And yet it is the most ordinary thing in the world.
In the Autumn, with Winter approaching, it is a perfect time to give our immune systems a little extra nourishment and support. Taking good care of ourselves now can help protect us from colds and flus as the weather changes.
The herbs that help the most in preventing illness are the immune tonics and the adaptogens. These herbs support immune function and help our bodies deal with stress, respectively. Herbs to stimulate immune function, such as Echinacea and Oregano, are best saved for later, when we are actually ill. So for prevention, we are going to look at the medicinal Mushrooms Reishi and Cordyceps, two of my all-time favorites for overall health.
I’m a big believer in dealing with stress to help prevent disease, which is why I tend to choose immune tonics that are also adaptogens. Adaptogens are a group of herbs that help our bodies deal with stress in a healthy way. Since Autumn is often a time of change—the beginning of the school year and new projects, as well as changes in the weather—it is an especially good time for us to add an adaptogen to our daily herbs.
Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum
• Mild adaptogen
• Heart tonic
• Liver protectant
Reishi, perhaps the most famous of the medicinal mushrooms here in the U.S., has a long history of use in China. In the West today, the Red Reishi is widely cultivated and generally available. It is an excellent general tonic herb, traditionally used to promote mental as well as physical well-being and long life. Contemporary studies show that it is an immunomodulator, meaning that it can stimulate an under-active immune system, or quiet an over-active one (such as in auto-immune disorders). It is useful for allergies, as an anti-inflammatory, and as heart tonic. It is most effective when used long-term, and is often taken with ginger to enhance its effects.
Cordyceps, Cordyceps sinensis
• Liver protectant
• Kidney protectant
• Immune stimulant
• Lowers cholesterol
• Cardiac tonic
This strange little mushroom actually grows in the bodies of insects and is native to the grasslands at the foot of the Himalayan mountains. Due to over-harvesting in the wild, it is important to only purchase cultivated Cordyceps. Fortunately this is easily available in the West. Cordyceps is an extraordinary tonic herb, particularly effective in fatigue and debility. It has been studied for its ability to improve kidney function, to reduce cholesterol, to improve oxygen absorption, increase stamina, and is especially helpful in treating bronchial complaints. This is definitely an herb to add to your herbs during flu season!
I hope that you have found this helpful as you are preparing yourself and your family for the coming season. It’s never too early to start protecting your immune system from the cold and flu season. Whether you try one of these herbs or both may it bring strength and wellness to your Autumn days.