If a world crisis can teach us anything it’s how to be a bit more resourceful. For example, most of us have been in the decades-long habit of running to the store for supplements, herbs, medicine, etc. when we begin feeling unwell. However, in the coronavirus era we must stay home if we feel sick and/or quarantine if we test positive for the virus…which means no going out for our favorite immune-boosters. Plus, nearly every web-based supplement company is experiencing shipping delays and/or backorders, which means we need a Plan B.
Enter your pantry or spice cupboard, a medicinal treasure trove of humble herbs and spices with powerful immune-boosting properties. Even if you don’t cook “exotic” food, I’d bet you have at least two or three (if not more) of these common herbal allies on hand right now. Here are our top 7 favorites for immune health and beyond.
This is one of the most overlooked, under-appreciated immune-boosting herbs in everyone’s pantry. Greek mothers and grandmothers have a reputation for using cinnamon as a home remedy for nearly every type of ailment and their wisdom has now been validated by modern science.
First off, in a study of 26 different herbs, cinnamon was shown to have the highest concentration of anti-inflammatory, free-radical scavenging, immune-supportive antioxidants than any other spice (including garlic!) 1.
This herb has been used in Italian, French, and Middle Eastern cooking for centuries as a culinary herb but also holds unrivaled medicinal strength. The majority of studies have focused on particular essential oil compounds in thyme leaves like thymol, showing significant antiviral properties4. But other evidence demonstrates it is also antibacterial when combined with cinnamon5 and helps modulate the immune system6. Thyme is delicious in soups, bone broths, and marinades and it also makes a yummy, medicinal tea when combined with honey. To make, combine 1 tablespoon dried thyme with 1 teaspoon raw honey and a squeeze of lemon.
Oregano isn’t just great on pizza and pasta, it’s been traditionally used to support the lungs and fight cold and flu. Its active component: carvacrol, has been shown effective against such pathogens as norovirus 7, salmonella, and E.Coli 8. It’s also been proven to help inhibit biofilms (which are shields that bacteria create to protect themselves from antibiotics) which form during UTIs9. While oil of oregano is typically recommended by health practitioners, the whole herb is also effective when taken as a tea, used in cooking, or you can make your own extraction by soaking it in vodka (check out this tutorial from the American College of Healthcare Sciences on how to make your own extraction).
Turmeric is one of the most studied medicinal plants on the planet, boasting over 5400 studies to date10. Its active components, curcuminoids, act as powerful antioxidants that have been proven to modulate the immune system while increasing antibody response11. Some examples of this include its ability to fight flu, pneumonia12, allergies, and asthma. It also has extensive research backing its anti-inflammatory actions which makes it a good herb to have around for pain13.
Turmeric can be added to grains, soups, curries, dressings, etc. We also like mixing it with raw honey to take at the first sign of a sore throat or tummy trouble. To do so, mix about a teaspoon of turmeric with enough honey to make a paste and take it directly. Others, like our friend Katie Wells the Wellness Mama swear by the healing properties of “Golden Milk”, which combines the healing powers of turmeric and other spices with your favorite milk and natural sweetener…yum!
Nothing spices up a dish as quickly as a dash of cayenne pepper. It’s also a favorite of herbalists for its many healing properties which stem from its ability to heat up the body.
Insofar as immunity goes, science has shown that the active ingredient, capsaicin, is effective for helping control chronic cough14, for congestion not related to allergies (aka: non-allergic rhinitis) 15, for fighting strep bacteria 16, and as a natural blood sugar regulator, and anti-inflammatory17 .
This spicy rhizome is second only to turmeric in its documented research studies and is commonly found in pantries and refrigerators throughout the world. The immune health benefits of ginger could fill thousands of pages (it’s antibacterial18, antifungal, anti-biofilm19, antiviral20, amazing for digestion…the list goes on and on), however, one of the most relevant and impressive is its protective effect on the lungs during infection. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed fresh ginger was effective in blocking the viral attachment of human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) to the lungs by stimulating mucosal production in the lungs 21. Studies show that ginger may prevent and treat nausea and vomiting caused by various conditions. If you are prone to motion sickness take 250 – 1000 mg powdered ginger before riding in a car, boat, or airplane. Fresh ginger makes a delicious tea ⅛ t powdered ginger = 250 mg. or can be added to sparkling water with a bit of stevia to make a healthy ginger ale.
Fennel seeds are traditionally served after Indian meals to help support digestion—and when our digestion/gut microbiome is healthy our immune system is healthy. Additionally, fennel contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory antioxidants, such as vitamin C and quercertin22, and has been shown effective against pink eye (use as a poultice), fevers, diarrhea, and tummy aches due to its antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-stress compounds23.
We like eating fennel seeds straight or you can crush them up to make a yummy, licorice-flavored hot or iced tea (kids love it!).
We hope this information will serve you. It is empowering to know how to use what you have on hand to ward off sickness especially if you can’t get to the store!