Welcome to cold and flu season! Every year, there seems to be some new germ to worry about – One that defies our traditional preventative remedies. It’s downright scary and we feel helpless. What can we do? Our immune function should always be a health priority. It’s our best and only defense against the common cold, flu and other potentially deadly diseases. We know that our regular habits are important: Sleeping enough, eating a variety of nutrients, exercising and avoiding emotional stressors. But sometimes, we cannot follow all of those good routines. And even when we do, it isn’t always enough.
The information about supplements is daunting. There are so many pros and cons. It can be overwhelming and confusing. Here are some things that I have tried that appear to be on the safe side. Most can be found in the vitamin aisle at your pharmacy and can also be enjoyed as teas.
Elderberry: Some studies show that elderberry offers significant protection against respiratory viral infections. For prevention, a few drops (or about 1/2 teaspoon of liquid extract) once or twice a day is recommended. When you feel something coming on or get sick, take 1 teaspoon of extract 2-4 times a day. Luckily for me, my stepson grows elderberry and makes a nice tincture. It’s taste is somewhat bitter, but it grows on you.
Green tea: Drinking green tea regularly can help strengthen immunity. It contains antioxidant compounds that can prevent damage to the immune system. In addition, green tea stimulates the liver to secrete interferon, an immune compound that helps fight infection. To reap the most benefit, drink 2-3 cups daily.
Echinacea: My friend Connie runs a daycare and preschool program and swears by this one. Some studies question its value, while hundreds of others support echinacea as effective in preventing and treating colds and the flu. Echinacea stimulates infection-fighting cells and increases the production of other helpful things, like interferon. Echinacea works best when taken frequently at the exposure to infection: 1 to 2 capsules (300 to 400 mg each) every few hours for the first 24 to 48 hours, followed by the same dosage 3-4 times daily for three days or until symptoms disappear, if you do catch it.
American Ginseng: Recent research shows that American ginseng root helps prevent upper respiratory infections when taken for several months. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ginseng has been used for memory improvement and to strengthen immunity, but not during actual illness. Because products vary in potency, follow directions on the bottle.
Certain foods have also become popular in boosting the immune system: Garlic, onions and some mushrooms are pretty easily incorporated into our diet. I recently learned of another herb called Astragalus. The root is used to make medicine used for many conditions. At this point, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to definitely determine whether or not it is effective.
Astragalus is used for the common cold, upper respiratory infections, allergies, fibromyalgia, anemia, HIV/AIDS, and to strengthen and regulate the immune system. It is also used for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It is used orally for treating breast cancer, cervical cancer, and lung cancer. Astragalus is sometimes applied to the skin to increase blood flow to the area and to speed wound healing.
There are several different species of astragalus and some have been linked to livestock poisonings. However, these species of astragalus are usually not found in dietary supplements used by humans. Look for supplements that contain Astragalus membranaceus.
While the jury is still out on treating diseases with it, Astragalus does seem to stimulate and increase the immune system. This is what it looks like when the root is sliced up. It can also be found in tea form.
(Makes 6 servings)
- 1 ounce dried astragalus root slices
- 1⁄2-inch piece fresh gingerroot, slivered
- 1⁄4 cup brown basmati rice
- 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1⁄2 cup onion, chopped
- 1 cup winter squash, chopped
- 1 cup shiitake or maitake mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
- 2 tablespoons light miso, or to taste
- 8 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1⁄4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1. Simmer astragalus, ginger, rice and stock in a heavy covered pot for 1 hour.
2. Sauté onion, squash and mushrooms in olive oil for 5 minutes, or until vegetables soften.
3. Add sautéed vegetable mixture to the soup pot, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add corn; simmer an additional 10 minutes. Remove astragalus.
4. Dilute miso in a small amount of hot broth and add to soup. Thin soup with additional broth if desired and add more miso to taste.
5. Add garlic and parsley, let stand for 5 minutes and serve.
Enjoy and stay healthy!