by Jessica Godino
Most of us rarely think about our immune systems until we get sick. We come down with the latest round of the flu and begin rummaging through our medicine shelf for something, anything, to help us feel better. Luckily there are many herbs that work wonders in acute conditions, and with their help we can soon be back on our feet. Here's a few of my tried and true favorites.
Everyone knows that Echinacea is an immune stimulant. It increases the production of white blood cells and other disease scavenging immune cells. Echinacea can be helpful with all kinds of infections, both viral and bacterial. It is best to begin taking Echinacea at the very first sign of an infection and to continue for at least a week until it is completely cleared up. This herb can also be used preventively; if all of your co-workers are getting sick, for instance, or if you are just feeling extra susceptible.
There is a widespread myth that Echinacea should only be taken for 7-10 days at a time because the body builds up a resistance to it. In fact there is no evidence for this. This information is based on an erroneous interpretation of the original study. Nineteenth century doctors actually found that Echinacea's effects improved with time! The advice I give people is to continue taking Echinacea until you are completely well unless compelled by your inner guidance to stop sooner. I also find that most people don't take a high enough dosage of Echinacea for it to be fully effective. The dosage for acute illness is half your body weight in drops, every two hours. For most adults that comes to about 75 drops every two hours. As the condition improves, slowly begin to cut back on both the dosage and the frequency.
Usnea is another immune-stimulating herb, one which is often overlooked despite the potent medicine it yields. Usnea is a stringy greenish-gray lichen that commonly grows on trees in our area. It is almost as powerful as Echinacea in its anti-microbial action, with a special affinity for the urinary and respiratory systems. It is often used specifically for infections caused by staph or strep organisms. I find it combines beautifully with Echinacea and often use them side by side. The dosage is the same as for Echinacea.
Red Clover is a well known herbal tonic, but it is not often thought of as an immune supporting herb. In fact, Red Clover has anti-viral properties as well as an affinity for the lungs, making it a perfect remedy for viral respiratory infections. It is wonderfully soothing to irritated bronchials, as well as being a mild anti-tussive (cough suppressant), especially good for those dry hacking coughs. This is a tasty and gentle remedy, perfect for children. Red Clover can be used as a tincture or very strong tea (one ounce of dried herb to a quart of water, steeped for 2-4 hours).
One last herb I wouldn't want to be without is Poke root. Poke is a powerful, and potentially toxic, herbal antibiotic. I use it as a last step before antibiotics in very small dosages. I have used Poke to treat a broad range of bacterial and viral infections, including mastitis, pnemonia, bronchitis, lyme's disease, herpes, sinusitis, and more. The dosage of Poke is very small, three to five drops per day, and I strongly recommend you speak with an experienced herbalist before you use this powerful remedy.
Using these herbs when you are ill will help to speed recovery as well as ease discomfort. Even better, they build up your immune system for the long term, helping you create resistance to the next round of germs that come through town. Next time a cold or flu bug decides your body looks like a good place to set up shop, be prepared with a supply of your favorite immune-stimulating herbs. But remember, it's easy to succumb to the temptation to use herbs like drugs, to cover symptoms so you can go on with a hectic schedule. So don't forget to eat nourishing food, get plenty of rest, and allow your body the time and space it needs to heal itself.
Jessica Godino, L.Ac., brings us over two decades of experience as an herbalist. The owner of Four Flames Healing and senior instructor at The Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism, she co-founded Red Moon Herbs after apprenticing with Susun Weed. In her work as an acupuncturist and functional medicine practitioner, Jessica specializes in metabolic and endocrine issues.