Preparing our Immune Systems for Winter-Beyond Echinacea

Posted by Virginia Ahearn on Jul 6th, 2011

It is harder to judge exactly when winter is going to arrive with all the planetary changes; so let me say that I hope with all sincerity that this information will continue to be relevant for generations to come.

There is much we can do to prepare our immune systems for the change in season; herbs are part of a much larger regimen to consider.

The air is dryer in winter, robbing our body of moisture. It is just as important to stay hydrated in winter than as in summer. You may be drinking more hot drinks in winter, but be sure that is not only coffee that you are drinking. Coffee is dehydrating and depletes your body of many vitamins and minerals, calcium among them. If you are a coffee fiend, consider drinking two glasses of water before each cup of coffee you drink. This handy trick will refresh you and may help reduce your coffee consumption, even if unintended!

There are also plenty of warming and nutritive herb teas to drink in winter. I will focus on a few herbs that build and nourish the immune system. Let me first say a few words about our friend Echinacea. I love Echinacea. With it’s fame has come some misunderstanding about how to best use it. This lovely purple flower and root is generally not meant for long term use. It is a stimulant to the immune system, not a long term fortifier. Echincea is a quick pick-me-up to the immune system, you could even say it is like a cup of coffee for it. (But it does not have ANY negative effects like coffee does). Echinacea is best taken when you are getting sick, while you are sick and for a few days to a week after you are sick. It is great to have on hand during the autumn and winter and can be taken as a tea or as a tincture for best results. Echincea is effective as a glycerine extract, if you have small children and are concerned about the alcohol content of tinctures.

Echincea does not lend itself to long term repair of the immune system. If you get several colds, viruses or flu during the winter, you need to look to herbs that work deeper than echincea.

My favorite in the winter is astragalus. Astragalus is a Chinese root that is warming and nourishing to the respiratory system and the immune system. It has a ‘moistening’ quality to it, to it will counteract the dryness of the season that leaves us vulnerable to coughs, bronchitis and pneumonia. You can simmer the roots in water for 30-40 minutes and let it keep steeping for an hour or overnight after that. It will taste like the mildest broth. You can drink it freely, you can also mix it into children’s favorite juice and it won’t change the flavor. You can add the roots to soups (lentil soup is a great medium), and then take the herb pieces out when the soup is done and cooled off.

Codonopsis is another great Chinese herb for building the immune system. It’s qualities are warming and moistening, it is good for chronic illness, asthmatics and those who suffer from emphazema, it helps lower blood sugar and help those with ‘deficient qi’, which is another article altogether. It is also good for nourishing the nervous system. The root can be added to the astragalus you are brewing or the soup you are making.

Licorice is also at the top of my list for building immunity, and it has the added loveliness of being anti-viral. It is also moistening to lungs, and tastes sweet which can be handy with children. You can add the root to the same pot as the astragalus and codonopsis, but not to soup! If you have high blood pressure, be advised to skip licorice. It will not cause high blood pressure, however.

Next month I will talk about herbal steams for the wintertime, including eucalyptus and rosemary. Thank you for reading!


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