Strategies for Supporting the Immune System


Ingrid Petres

  We encounter harmful germs and bacteria on a daily basis.

It’s important, as the cold and flu season is upon us, to understand

how we can boost our immune systems in order to prevent becoming sick.

 General lifestyle changes to help maintain a healthy immune system:

  1. Wash your hands frequently
  2. Buy a vaporizer or humidifier (cold, dry air promotes respiratory disease)
  3. Get plenty of sleep
  4. Drink plenty of water
  5. Eat 5-6 servings of vegetables daily
  6. Practice meditation or spend time relaxing
  7. Exercise
  8. Receive massage therapy
  9. Utilize saunas or take sea salt baths to increase detoxification

All of the following can increase mucus and therefore should be avoided in excess:

  1. Refined sugar
  2. Alcohol
  3. Dairy
  4. Processed foods

Remember: germs and bacteria are present around us at all times, it is when our immune system becomes weakened that the invading bugs take over.


Components of the Immune System

Thymus, spleen, lymph system, lymph nodes, tonsils, liver, appendix (basically a large lymph node), and bone marrow

If we think of our immune system as soldiers we see the importance of feeding these soldiers the nutrients they need for virility. The intake of certain nutrients greatly influences how well these soldiers protect us from germs and disease.

Some of the vitamins and nutrients that are important to the function of the immune system include:

Vitamin C

Vitamin C provides a protective function against free radicals. Increases white blood cells, antibodies, and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats the cell preventing viruses from entering.

Herbal sources: Red Clover, Burdock, Nettles, Mullein, Comfrey, Plantain, Alfalfa, Cayenne, Catnip, Burdock, Black Cohosh, Chickweed, Garlic, Ginger, Dandelion, Echinacea, Peppermint, Yarrow, Rose Hips, Yellow Dock, Oregon Grape Root, Lobelia.

Food sources: Broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, kiwi, lemons, oranges, papaya, peaches, red bell peppers, strawberries, tomoatoes

Vitamin E

Vitamin E stimulates production of natural killer cells, those that seek and destroy germs and cancer cells. It also enhances the production of B-cells, the immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria.

Herbal sources: Dandelion Root, watercress, alfalfa, rose hips, red raspberry leaf, comfrey, burdock root, Echinacea, slippery elm, and yarrow.

Food sources: Almonds, broccoli, dandelion greens, and spinach.

Carotenoids / Beta carotene

Beta carotene is the most familiar carotenoid. The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A which itself has immune boosting properties. Too much vitamin A can be toxic so rather than taking supplements it is better to get extra beta carotene from foods which provide healthy, absorbable levels of vitamin A.

Herbal sources: Alfalfa, nettles, mullein, dandelion root, comfrey, cayenne, yellow dock, watercress, red raspberry leaves, lobelia, black cohosh, burdock root, chickweed, echinacea, garlic, ginger, red clover, peppermint, rose hips, yarrow.

Food sources: apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mango, peaches, red bell pepper, romaine lettuce, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, and winter squashes


Protect the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental pollutants. Around the cells are receptor sites where germs can attach. Bioflavenoids attach to the cells of the immune system and prevent germs from doing so. A diet that includes at least six servings daily of fruits and vegetables will provide the body with a healthy level of bioflavenoids.

Herbal sources: Rose hips, cayenne, burdock root, dandelion, red clover, slippery elm.

Food Sources: Elder berries, buckwheat greens, citrus fruits.


Glutathione is an amino acid found in a variety of foods, and is also produced by every cell in the body.  It is a potent antioxidant, and helps to neutralize and break down free radicals so that they may be eliminated and destroyed.  It also helps to strengthen and regenerate immune cells.

Herbal sources: Milk thistle

Food sources: asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, grapefruit, onions, oranges, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, and watermelon


Herbs for the immune system:


Astragalus membranaceus

Stimulates T-Cell activity. Stimulates phagocytosis(invader-engulfing activity), increasing the total number of cells and the aggressiveness of their activity. Increased macrophages activity has been measured as lasting up to seventy-two hours. It increases the number of stem cells (the ‘generic”cells that can become any type needed) in the marrow and lymph tissue, stimulates their maturation into active immune cells, increases spleen activity, increases releases of antibodies, and boosts the production of hormonal messenger molecules that signal for virus destruction.”

Preparation and dosage:

Tea: 2-3 ounces of herb to a pot of tea; drink throughout the day.

Tincture: 30-60 drops up to four times daily.

Food: add 4-8 slices of astragalus root to any broth or stock and simmer for 2-3 hours see recipes attached.

No toxicity has ever been shown from ingestion of astragalus.

Siberian Ginseng

Eleutherococcus senticosus

Increases immunocompetent cells, specifically T lymphocytes ( helper / inducer, cytotoxic, and natural killer cells).

Cumulative results: the longer you use it, the better it works. It tends to kick in after 6 months of use.

It is a momamine oxidase inhibitor which Buhner indicates as being helpful in depression.

Preparation and dosage:

Cold infusion 3-6 ounces up to three times daily

Extract:1-3 full droppers 1-3 times daily.

May temporarily increase blood pressure which tends to drop back down to normal after a few weeks of use.

Is a better alternative for those under 40 than American or Korean Ginseng it does not posses the strong estrogenic effects that the two Ginsengs do.


Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia

Boosts the immune system by stimulating the body to produce more infection-fighting weapons. Interferon kills germs and also infiltrates their genetic control center, preventing them from reproducing. Echinacea also increases the immune systems production of macrophage cells, as well as prohibiting the invading bacteria from secreting an enzyme called hyaluronidase. This prevents the bacteria from being able to break through the protective membranes such as the lining of the intestines and respiratory tract, and invade tissue.

Preparation and dosage:

It is best to use Echinacea when the first symptoms of a cold or flu are noticed.

Extract: Full dropper of the extract each hour until symptoms cease. (Note: discontinue use of Echinacea after a few weeks.)

Shitake Mushrooms

Lentinus edodes

Shitake mushrooms mobilize the immune system against viruses, bacteria, cancer and parasites. One of its major constituents, lentinan, has been shown to stimulate immunocompetent cells (T cell production and aggressiveness, natural killer cells, and macrophages), to ne directly active against viral encephalitis, and to have potent antitumor activity and aggressiveness of the human immune system against abnormal cells.

Increase your intake of the following foods and herbs to help boost your immune system.


Garlic is rich in sulfur containing compounds such as allicin and sulfides. Many believe this may be the source of its immune boosting ability.  Eating garlic stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting cells, and also acts as an antioxidant reducing the build- up of free radicals in the blood stream. Garlic has powerful antimicrobial properties and helps to cleanse the body of unhealthy microorganisms.



Packed full of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium, copper, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. They are also high in fiber.



Broccoli is rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids. It also contains a variety of other powerful antioxidants. Broccoli is a good source of B-complex vitamins, sulfur, iron, and chlorophyll, and has more vitamin C than citrus fruits.



Has powerful anti cancer agents such as indoles, chlorophyll, and flavenoids that block the development of cancerous cells.  Also naturally fermented and unpasteurized sauerkraut is an excellent source of beneficial bacteria and is helpful for improving the health of intestinal flora.



Carrots are one of the best sources of beta-carotene.



Kale has the highest content of carotenoids of all the leafy green vegetables. It also contains chlorophyll, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, folic acid, and iron.



Parsley contains an abundance of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and magnesium and is a rich source of chlorophyll.



Watercress is exceptionally rich in calcium, iron, and carotenoids. Also watercress is high in chlorophyll.

Soups, stews, baking and roasting increase the purifying and nutrifying impact of these foods.

Try adding astragalus, shitake mushrooms, or dried seaweeds  to soups or grains.

Don’t fret about exact amounts and dosing – just get started and throw some in to taste.


Soup Recipe 

            2 cups carrots (diced)

            2 cups butternut squash (diced)

            1 cup onion (diced)

            4 clove garlic (minced)

            1-3 T olive oil

            5 cups water or stock

            6 pieces astragalus root


Heat a large soup pot and add olive oil. Add onions, carrots, squash, and garlic. Saute over medium heat for 15 minutes.  Add water or stock, and astragalus root. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Cool slightly. Remove astragalus root and puree soup in a blender. Reheat the soup. Season to taste. Makes 4 servings.

*Any vegetable can be substituted in this recipe. Use a 1: 1 ratio of veggies to water or stock.

Herbal Syrup

4 parts Honey (local)

1 part herbal infusion

use any combination of herbs mentioned above

To prepare herbal infusion:

I quart of water

4 tsp. Herb mixture


Any herbs that are roots, bark, or seeds, will need to be simmered in the water as they are tougher.

Add these to your water and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer for 30 minute to an hour.

Turn off the heat and add the herbs that are leaves or flowers to the infusion and let sit 30 minutes or overnight.

Strain into a measuring cup and add honey.

Heat the honey and herbal infusion or water together until the water and honey have merged.

Remove from heat.


add 1/4 cup black cherry concentrate

add 1/4 cup Brandy or glycerin as a preservative

Store in an amber bottle in the refrigerator. Should keep 3-6 months


Buhner, S. (1998). Herbal Antibiotics. Pownal, VT: Story Books.

Vukovic, L. (1998). 14-Day Herbal Cleanse. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall.kju

November, 2008

Ingrid Petres is our Production Assistant and Weekend Manager.

She also helps design our new labels and color ads.

She has been with Cheryl's Herbs since 2005 and is a Certified Aromatherapist.

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