The passing of the autumn equinox is the passing of a threshold. We are officially moving into the dark half of the year, where the nights are long and the days are short. The energy of this time moves inward, and we find ourselves longing for all that is slow and cozy. The time in which we enter into a period of deep rest. However, it is with this time we also find ourselves passing a different sort of threshold - the ever-so-lovely cold and flu season. As the air gets cooler, we find ourselves spending more time indoors where germs can more easily spread from person to person, and we find ourselves dreading and trying to avoid contracting the inevitable seasonal sickness that circulates the office or our kiddo’s school. Fortunately, this is one area where herbs really shine, they are excellent at providing support in bolstering and reinforcing our natural immunity. This month's blog post is all about ways to use herbs to support your immune system.
Starting at the FoundationIn herbalism, before all things, we stress the nourishment of your body from a foundational level (take a look at this blog post and this blog post for more on this concept). If we do not ensure a strong foundation for our wellness, we become prone to dis-ease occurring in the body. Our immune systems are no different, and only functions well when we have proper foundational nourishment. This includes ensuring that our body is receiving the vitamins and minerals it needs for vitality. To support this, we call upon the nutritive herbs; the herbs that ground us and connect us to the earth. This includes allies such as nettle or oatstraw. This might also be a special time to align with the energetics of the autumn, where plants are turning their energy to their root, and to work with nutritive roots such as dandelion or burdock root in your herbal workings. Additionally, our immune system works best when we are adequately rested, and when we do our best to reduce the amount of stress in our lives. We can call upon herbs that help us to regulate our nervous system, known as nervines. These plants help us to overcome feelings of stress, bring us back into presence, and bring our mind, body, and spirit into a sense of calm. Nervine herbs that we can call upon include lavender, damiana, chamomile, lemon balm, and even rose. Often these are plants that also have a sweet aroma that when inhaled, help to quell anxious feelings. It is also helpful to think of nourishing our root as a preventative measure, which can help keep the body strong in its ability to ward off illnesses we may be exposed to.
Herbs for the Autumn Environment
It is no surprise that as we enter the autumn season, we find ourselves intuitively craving things that are warming. This is because our environment is growing cooler and chillier, and there is more dampness. To help balance this, we might opt for warming herbs to bring about heat in the body, herbs such as those we often associate with feelings of coziness such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, or even spicier herbs such as cayenne and black peppercorn. And while we experience dampness in the early mornings or evenings, here in Colorado at least, we continue to combat dryness in our environment during the day well into the thick of autumn. Because of this, our mucous membranes may call upon us to bring moisture into the body. It is important to tend to these membranes because they are often one of the first lines of defense our body has against invading pathogens, trapping them before they can enter our systems more fully. We can support these by using practices like placing Nasya oil into our nostrils first thing in the morning, and by increasing our intake of mucilaginous herbs such as marshmallow or licorice roots (try a cold infusion of marshmallow root to bring out even more of the mucilaginous properties!).
A Time of Preparation
In our ancestral bones, this time of year finds us wanting to turn inward, but knowing that it’s not quite time to do so fully. Particularly in the transition from September to October, we find that we still have plenty of days of warm sunshine, and our gardens may still be gifting us with a bounty of vegetables. The reason we may feel that it is not quite yet time is because this is also a time of preparation and preservation. We store away all that which we have tended to throughout the spring and summer season. Support for our immune system also involves some preparation on our part. This means that we must ensure our apothecary shelves are stocked and that we have the medicine we need at our disposal for when we do experience illness. This may look like preparing tinctures to help combat pathogens in our body, drying herbs we may call upon from our garden and storing them away or mixing them into tea blends, or making syrups and cough drops!
Here are some things we recommend keeping on hand to help support your immune system in the coming months:
Elderberry Elderberry is a fantastic herb to help not only prevent colds from coming on but also to help stifle them early if they do occur. Elderberry is a very versatile herb and can be made into many different delicious remedies. A favorite of this time of year is elderberry syrup, which is often made with honey, warming herbs like cinnamon, ginger, or cardamom, and even green tea! Elderberry can also be used as a tea or as a tincture to help give our immune system a boost. It is rich in vitamin C and anthocyanins that help support our immune system and its processes. Echinacea Echinacea is incredibly supportive when we come down with any type of infection. It works by supporting the production of white blood cells in our body, which are the cells in the immune system that help us fight off infections. It's best if taken early on (the first sign of symptoms) in large doses, and consistently. Garlic Also helpful for warding off vampires as we step into October, garlic is an incredible ally for our immune system, and can be used in such versatile ways! Garlic can be infused in oils and vinegar that we then use in our meals or in salad dressings, and can of course be made into a plethora of different dishes! A favorite way to also use garlic is (trust us, don’t knock it until you try it!) infusing it in honey! This is a treat for those who like the combination of sweet and savory! Sage A go-to for a sore throat, garden sage is an incredible ally for this time of year. Infuse sage in honey to combine with your favorite herbal tea, or brew it as a nice hot tea itself to help soothe irritated, itchy, or painful symptoms. Mullein Keep this herb on hand for when chest congestion rears its ugly head. Mullein is an expectorant herb, meaning it helps the body to dispel pent-up mucus in our respiratory system or nose. Mullein can be used as a tincture or tea to help with relief or combined in a steam pot with clearing aromatic herbs such as mint or eucalyptus that can be breathed in to help alleviate congestion. Mullein can also be infused in a carrier oil and used in the ears if your ears feel clogged due to pressure of the sinuses, or to reduce pain associated with an ear infection. Ginger Ginger is a sweet ally to help when we experience symptoms of nausea. It can be incorporated into meals or tea, or if you have kiddos, try making ginger chews as a gentle remedy for an upset stomach!
Photo by Sunshine Lady Photography[/caption]
Some of our favorite products for this time of year are:
- Chest Rub
- Cold & Flu Tea
- Cold & Sinus Blaster
- Cough Calming Honey
- Cough Calming Tea
- Daily Immune Defense
- Fire Up Your System: Fire Cider
- Immune Boost Tea & Tincture
- Immune Chai
- Immune Support Elixir
- Immune Intensive Liquid Vitamin
- Kids Daily Immunity
- Viral Load Tincture