what exactly is the immune system, how does it work, and how can herbs help build and support the immune system?
The Immune System
The immune system is an intricate system that is everywhere on the body. Immune cells send signals and alerts to the body when invaders/pathogens arrive.
Immune cells can be found on your skin, in the blood, bone marrow, and intestines. Many cells are located within the lymphatic system (lymph nodes, spleen, thymus). The thymus is also where new cells are created.
How The Immune System Works
The immune system is layered: Your skin, nasal passage, and digestive system should have good mucus production, good lubrication, and good stomach acid in order to block or kill invaders before they even enter the body.
If the pathogens make it past this first defense, then two different immune responses happen, innate and acquired.
INNATE: we are born with innate immune systems, this looks like stomach acid, fever response, mucus, beneficial bacteria, and certain types of immune cells. When the innate immune system is triggered, ~you feel this~ it's best to rest and let it do its job.
ACQUIRED: or “developed” immunity is built over time when you are exposed to various infections, its job is to prevent the innate system from having to use all its defense mechanisms when battling germs.
The immune system essentially takes note of new germs, identifies the antigen (a specific compound), and remembers it. If that or a similar antigen enters the body, this part of the immune system will destroy it, sometimes without you even realizing you were sick.
How Herbs Can Help Support The Immune System
There are many things to take into consideration when dealing with the immune system, the general concept of using herbs to help support the immune system and to help it fight off diseases are immune modulating herbs, antimicrobial herbs, antiviral herbs, antifungal herbs, diaphoretic herbs, & lymph moving herbs.
Antifungal/Antimicrobial herbs help kill germs, like viruses, bacteria. and fungi. They generally have disinfectant and antiseptic properties.
Diaphoretic herbs induce sweating which can help expel colds/flu, can help reduce swelling, remove blood stagnation, and help reduce sore muscles, aches, & pains.
Lymph moving herbs promote lymphatic drainage, reduce any swelling and pain, and help boost your immune system.
Antiviral herbs inhibit the development of viruses and have other health benefits, such as cardiovascular, digestive and anti-inflammatory support.
Immune Modulating Herbs
These herbs can help balance and strengthen immune system function. They help create a healthy challenge to the immune system and improve cell signaling.
Immune modulators can be used for a range of immune issues: respiratory ailments, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disease, weak immune function, cold and flu.
Immune modulating herbs/Adapotgenics include medicinal mushrooms like reishi, shitake, chaga, turkey tail, and adaptogenics like astralagus, schizandra, ashwagandha, and holy basil.
If you are allergic to mushrooms, adding adaptogenics to your regime may be helpful in supporting your immune system.
Ways The Immune System Can Be Harmed
Exposure to excessive germs
Poor Diet / Gut Health
Foods The Support The Immune System
Medicinal Mushrooms: (See immune modulating herbs) Mushrooms help support and modulate immune function and oxygen utilization.
Fluids: Staying properly hydrated helps your immune system do its job, its easier to flush out germs from protected moist mucus membranes.
Fermented Foods: The gut and the immune system work together, fermented foods like miso and yogurt provide beneficial bacteria that make the body less hospitable to pathogens. Fermented foods also help with inflammation.
Vitamin C: These are you rose hips, hibiscus, citrus, peppers, etc. Vitamin C is essential to the immune system in general.
Healthy Fats: Foods like salmon, avocado, nuts, and plant oils keep the system lubricated for proper immune functioning.
Orange & Green produce: Betacarotene is what we are looking for in this category, Vitamin A levels help support the immune system inside and out.
Pungent aromatics: Cook with herbs like thyme and oregano. They help blood circulation and improve the flow of mucus to help eliminate pathogens. Also foods like garlic, onion, and ginger.
Herbs For The Immune System
Echinacea, grape root, elecampane, usnea, bee balm, oregano, thyme, sage, garlic, thuja, yarrow, alder, evergreens, propolis
Echinacea, elderberry, umcka, ginger, licorice, thuja
Astralagus, medicinal mushrooms, elderberry, adaptogenics
Calendula, red root, echinacea, red clover, violet leaf, cleavers, budock
Peppermint, yarrow, elderflower, ginger