At the first signs of a cough or sniffle, you might think, “I’d better take some echinacea or elderberry.” These are some of the more common plant-based medicines, but how do they really work? And with cold and flu season around the corner, what are some other superfoods that can help fight off bugs?
Far below the threads of your favourite sweater and those goosebumps on cool fall mornings is an army at the ready. White blood cells are the force that destroys ‘the bad guys’—the germs and toxins that turn up and threaten to cause illness.
That army and the system it supports, your immune system, are both impressive and complex, easily deteriorated by outside threats, such as stress and lack of sleep, but also easily boosted by superfoods that strengthen those hardworking white blood cells. So, what are nature’s top immune-boosting superfoods?
1 | Elderberry
Yes, elderberry really does come from a berry: the dark purple berries of the European elder tree. Rich in antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, and with powerful anti-inflammatory abilities, the elderberry is a warrior in fighting off infections and has a long history of use tackling colds and the flu.
Because this extract also tastes delicious, it’s perfect for kids at the first sign of coughs or sore throats.
2 | Astragalus
In traditional Chinese medicine, this superfood is known as ‘yellow leader’ for its yellow roots. The native plant is typically boiled and consumed through the seasons to help prevent illness.
How does it work? Also called huang qi, astragalus herb boosts antibody and antiviral compounds, such as interferon, to protect against viral invasion. Astragalus has also been used to support lung disorders.
3 | Echinacea
Hailed as a ‘cure-all’ for a range of infections and diseases, echinacea is a Native American plant that stimulates activity across the immune system. Studies have shown its effectiveness in regulating immune response with an increase in the activation of the immune response to fight off germs.
For most of us, what this really means is fewer days out sick with a cold or flu, and milder symptoms.
4 | Ashwagandha
If you’ve been hunting for elixirs to improve your sleep, you might have come across ashwagandha. As a potent adaptogen, ashwagandha uplifts the body in the face of stress, which can disrupt interaction between the nervous and immune systems, and cause immune dysfunction. With its rejuvenating and anti-inflammatory properties, ashwagandha is also known as ‘Indian ginseng’ and promotes overall health with improved energy and longevity.
5 | Garlic
Now there’s even more reason to cook with garlic. Long used to treat common colds and chest infections, it’s a flavourful way to increase your body’s natural killer cells (that army. With antioxidant phytochemicals such as organosulphur compounds, garlic destroys free radicals that damage membranes.
6 | Ginger
If you suffer from motion sickness, you might already have ginger chews or teas in your cupboard. Beyond its effectiveness in treating upset stomach, ginger is also an immune health workhorse.
With its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties derived from its gingerols, paradols, sesquiterpenes, shogaols and zingerone, ginger quickly works to relieve cold and flu symptoms and even support stress resistance. Feeling a tickle in your throat? Put our Bistro’s ginger shots to work!
7 | Ginseng
A 2020 study found that people who took two capsules of ginseng extract a day were almost half as likely to catch a cold or the flu. By stimulating strong antiviral activity, ginseng root extract is sought after to help keep illness at bay—and if you’re already sick, it can help with that too. The same study showed reduced illness from 13 days (on average) to 6.
8 | Reishi Mushroom
In a salad, stir-fry or even blended with your morning coffee, reishi mushrooms are a delicious way to boost your immune health. This ancient staple in Asian medicine diffuses toxins to balance and revitalize while nourishing and protecting the heart and liver.
9 | Turkey Tail Mushroom
One of this mushroom’s three superpowers is supporting immune health (gut health and longevity are the other two). By stimulating the white blood cells that fight infection and promote immunity to toxins, turkey tail naturally strengthens the health of your immune system.
10 | Turmeric
It’s the spice that gives yellow curry that beautiful golden colour—and it’s been used in traditional Indian foods for centuries for its ability to reduce pain and inflammation, and enhance immunity.
Turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, fights the free radicals that damage cell membranes and DNA, and it can even kill harmful cells.
With these superfoods, improving your immune health is just the start. Each brings an array of other health benefits, from better sleep to more energy. And with so many great recipes, it’s easy to incorporate these immune boosters into your daily diet for wellness through cold and flu season and all year round.
This article was published in The Good Life magazine.