This post was written by Sara Weinreb. Sara is an herbalist, host of the Medium Well podcast, sustainability and business strategist, and writer covering sustainability, wellness, and mission-driven business. You can keep up with her and her musings on Instagram and her curated weekly email, Sara … lately.
Having a healthy immune system is more important now than ever. It’s our first line of defense against all the nasty stuff that makes the rounds this time of year. Sick happens, but thankfully, there are many recipes and ingredients to help turbocharge immunity— and as an herbalist, this is something I’m passionate about. Here are some of my favorites.
Bone Broth or Nourishing Vegetable Broth
As we head into colder weather, we want to support our bodies with warming soups and stews and cooked veggies. Bone broth is particularly supportive of the system— whether you make it yourself (I like to freeze bones from chicken in a Stasher until I have enough to make a broth!) or buy it, sipping on bone broth or cooking your rice and quinoa in it, will be supportive of your overall health. If you don’t consume meat, fear not! Make a powerful veggie stock with any leftover veggie scraps you have as well as anti-viral and bacterial garlic and ginger, nourishing mushrooms, and seaweed (I like to add kombu to mine!), and any other herbs or spices you’d like to add. A nourishing vegetable broth is very supportive of a healthy system! I like to add a bit of miso to mine when consuming to further boost the gut benefits.
Since you may not want to cook when you’re sick, I recommend making broths in big batching and freezing in either jars or ice cubes (and then transferring to Stashers) for easy consumption later. I love using the ice cubes while cooking vegetables or making rice, just throw one in for lots of added health benefits!
Immune-Boosting Teas and Herbal Support
I am a huge fan of herbal teas for overall health and immunity. You can buy herbs loose at your local herb shop or online, or buy tea bags (I love Traditional Medicinals), focusing on nourishing herbs like nettles and oatstraw, or immune-boosting herbs like astragalus root (which I only recommend taking preventatively, not during times of acute illness), elderberry (as a tea or syrup), and echinacea. I love the throat coat line by Traditional Medicinals which is both delicious and packed with immune and gut-loving herbs.
The list of herbs can go on and on— there are hundreds of herbs that support overall health, gut health, and immunity. Work with a local herbalist or doctor that is well-versed in herbs to find the right fit for you, and always do your research to ensure an herb is not contraindicated for a health condition you have or a medication you’re on, especially in the case of immune supportive herbs if you have an autoimmune disease.
Since raw honey is also packed with health benefits that help fight infections and provide beneficial nutrients, you may want to add a bit to your tea for the added deliciousness as well as health benefits! Just let the tea cool off a little bit before adding as boiling water will kill many of the beneficial elements of raw honey.
Integrating Immune-Supporting Produce into Your Diet
It’s true what they say about “eating the rainbow,” which is a great way to support that you are getting a diverse range of vitamins and minerals from your produce. To boost immunity, focus on eating a variety of vegetables including leafy greens like spinach and kale, which are high in vitamin K, calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, and much more, as well as ginger, onions, and garlic, which are antiviral and antibacterial. Berries are packed with nutrients as well— especially wild blueberries, which I buy frozen and add to smoothies or oatmeal. Keep going until your plate or bowl has a variety of colors— carrots, tomatoes, beets, and all vegetables will be supportive of your system in keeping healthy. Fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut will also help keep up your good gut bacteria.
Reduce Inflammatory Foods
We live in a world where many of us experience chronic inflammation from several dietary and environmental factors, and inflammation makes it harder for us to fight off disease. When trying to prevent getting sick, or while experiencing symptoms, it may be supportive to cut back on foods that are known to be inflammatory such as gluten, dairy, and sugar. While each person reacts differently to all foods, these three categories are generally considered inflammatory for many and can make it more challenging for your body to fight infection or disease if they are a central part of your diet. Consider reducing or eliminating foods in these categories either preventatively, or when you are sick for an easier recovery.
Overall, there are many ways to boost your immune system and help you fend off disease in the fall and winter. While there’s no surefire way to avoid getting sick, I’ve found that these tips have given me the best chance of staying healthy.