Our immune systems do an important job – they fight harmful substances and germs that enter our bodies and create antibodies that remember how to fight these nasties next time we come into contact with them. So, as our first line of defence against cold-weather illnesses, it makes sense to do what we can to help boost our immune systems to help us stay healthy and well during winter.
Maintaining a strong immune system
As a baseline, there are some foundational things our immune systems need to function well:
Plenty of water: We are constantly losing water through our breath, urine and bowel movements, and sweat. Our blood and lymph nodes contain immune cells and need water to circulate through our bodies.
Exercise: Physical activity is an important aspect of being healthy and maintaining a strong immune system. It mobilises immune cells outside our bones into the bloodstream and moves immune cells from the bloodstream into tissue.
Sleep: There are many important things that happen when we sleep, not the least of which is giving our bodies the time and space to heal. During sleep, our immune systems reset - a process called homeostasis where it adjusts to the current conditions to maintain optimal health. If we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t get the important adjustments we need.
Well-balanced diet: A lot happens in our gut and the health of our gut plays an important role in the performance of our immune systems. The nutrients in our food help to maintain our immune systems and support homeostasis. So, a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean proteins, and fats is essential to our immunity.
Low stress: When we are stressed, we often sleep poorly, eat less healthy food, drink less water (and often more alcohol), exercise less, and generally have low mood. All these things impact our immune system.
Now, many of us have these things fairly well covered in our everyday lives, and if so, should have well-functioning immune systems. But even the healthiest of us can succumb to winter bugs. The good news is, Mother Nature has helpfully supplied everything we need to boost our immune systems and give us some robust protection when we need it. And even better, all you need to do is walk to your garden to get it!
Nature’s pharmacy – where to start
The beauty of herbs is that you don’t need a garden to grow them. They will be just as happy living in pots as they are in your garden. So, if you’re an apartment dweller or don’t have a lot of room, you don’t need to miss out on creating your own, natural pharmacy.
In her recent book, The Herb Farm founder, Lynn Kirkland talked about the seven essential herbs she always has growing. And it just so happens, these herbs will put your immune system on the right path to supporting you (and your loved ones) as we head into winter.
It is widely known that Echinacea is a wonderful immune system support. Not only does it act as a preventative, it also helps while you are unwell to clear up the symptoms of colds and flus to speed up recovery time. But immune boosting isn’t all Echinacea does, it can help minimise pain from headaches and migraines, acts as a digestive aid, lowers blood sugar, reduces inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, and can even help with anxiety. It can be made into a tincture at home and taken orally as needed.
Thyme isn’t just for cooking. As a wonderful natural expectorant, Thyme is great for loosening phlegm and enabling it to be ejected from the body. It also has powerful antiseptic and antibacterial qualities and is incredibly effective for sore throats and coughs. If you’re struggling to get rid of a cough, try drinking some Thyme tea or soaking in a Thyme bath!
Peppermint is a wonderful herb that can be used internally and topically. It is great for treating coughs and colds as it acts as a decongestant and expectorant. Peppermint helps to relax the muscles in the windpipe to support clearer breathing and reduce coughing. But it doesn’t stop there. Other internal benefits include helping to reduce nausea, improving mental function, and reducing stress. And if you apply peppermint topically, it is wonderful for treating aching muscles, joint pain, and reducing itching.
For centuries, Chamomile has been used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, mild astringent, and healing herb. From treating croup, colic, and fevers in children, to helping with various gastrointestinal issues and insomnia, Chamomile is one of our household staples! The most common way to take Chamomile is as a tea, but you can add its flowers to salads, or infuse it in oil.
With its antifungal and antimicrobial properties, Calendula is well known for its wound healing qualities. It is wonderful on burns, bruises, and cuts, and can help prevent the minor infections they may cause. It has been shown to help prevent dermatitis or skin inflammation, and of course, can also heal the mouth, throat, and digestive tract. It can be used topically or taken as a tea.
Arnica has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities, which make it fantastic for controlling bruising, swelling, and promoting recovery following physical trauma. It can be taken pre-emptively before a procedure, although is always best to check with your physician first. Arnica can also be used to treat muscle aches, insect bites, and joint pain. It can be taken both a tincture, and topically.
Last but certainly not least is our wonderful Aloe Vera. The healing and therapeutic prowess of Aloe Vera has been widely known and harnessed for centuries for everything from skin problems to stabilising kidney stones. It supports the immune system, helps detox the body, heals, and lubricates the digestive tract. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t experienced the spectacular curing benefits of Aloe Vera with sunburn, insect bites, blisters, wounds, burns, and even psoriasis. You can literally crack open an Aloe Vera leaf and apply it directly to your skin (although wash your hands thoroughly as you don’t want to get raw Aloe in your mouth!).
And this is just the beginning….
Hopefully, this will have you heading out to your local garden centre to get yourself some fresh herbs to plant! Trust us, you will not regret it. Creating your own natural pharmacy is one of the most empowering things you can do and the rewards you will reap from healing yourself with the things nature has provided us with, is incredible.
Keep an eye out for our next blog in a couple of weeks as we’ll share some remedies you can make at home using our seven favourite herbs!