One of the problems with Echinacea is that the plant material has to be of the highest quality and preferably fresh. I have serious doubts as to how active most commercial products are. I also believe that Echinacea is best used short term, for a few weeks at most as it may become less effective is taken continuously.
Some of commonest wayside weeds are great allies for cold and ‘flu prevention and treatment. For boosting immunity throughout the winter, I recommend using Elderberry. Traditionally Elderberry in the form of syrup or juice has been used as a winter fortifier since ancient times. Studies in the twentieth century showed that it boosts the immune system and is effective against some strains of influenza. It will also sooth coughs and help the body deal with fevers.
Beyond infections, Elderberries have been shown to act as powerful antioxidants preventing cellular damage, to improve the cardiovascular system, ease constipation and help the body cope with stress. Truly a “superfood”.
You can buy Elderberry products in health food shops or on line. Alternatively you can make your own syrup from dried or fresh berries (they are still on the trees for a few more weeks). Clients who have a one to one herbal consultation with me have access to Elderberry extracts of the highest quality made by my supplier Rutland Biodynamic.
Alongside Elderberry I recommend Rosehip syrup. Rosehips are one of the best natural sources of vitamin C combined with powerful flavonoids and other phytochemicals that work synergistically. Even when made into syrup or cordial, the available vitamin C in this wonderful herb is high. Older folk will remember being given Rosehip syrup as children during the war years. It is delicious by the way.
Of course you could just take a vitamin C supplement. However if you take Rosehip, you are ingesting the essence of a whole plant with a complex balance of highly bioavailable elements. The amount of Vitamin C is lower than in a supplement but the overall action may be deeper and wider. This makes more sense to me than bombarding your body with vast quantities of a single chemically refined substance.
And you can save money. For the cost of a couple of bags of sugar and a couple of hours work, you can make your winter’s supply from wild rosehips. Gather them now or better, wait until after the first frost. Here’s how to do it.
Another good way to ensure you are getting good quality natural vitamin C in your diet is to make fresh sprouts through the winter. In the Far East bean sprouts are a traditional winter tonic. I prefer alfalfa and broccoli sprouts. They make delicious winter salads. Here’s how to…
There is one supplement I do suggest you consider taking particularly if you spend most days indoors. This is vitamin D, which among the many vital functions it is involved with, is a strong potentiser and balancer of the immune system. We can get trace amounts of vitamin D from food, particularly fish and eggs, but our main source is from exposure of the skin to midday sunshine…. and that is one thing we don’t see much of in northern latitudes in the winter.
As often as you can get 15-30 minutes in the midday sun exposing parts of your skin. You can also buy lamps which emit the right from of UV light, but they tend to be expensive. As a back up, take a vitamin D3 supplement delivering around 1500-4000 IU.
If you are very prone to low energy and frequent infections in winter consider also take a look at my article on three supplements that make a powerful difference to health for additional support (if you are taking Elderberry and Rosehip, you probably don’t need the pine bark extract referred to in that article.) If you tend to get really run down in winter, I strongly suggest you have a proper herbal consultation with me.
Finally some common sense general advice to maintain your immune system:
- Keep active,through the winter: Get outdoors and walk.
- Maintain healthy sleep patterns
- Eat good food
- Deal effectively with stress
- Be observant of good hygene in public places (virus are spread “hand to mouth” as well as in the air).
In part 2 next week. I’ll talk about what to do if you do go down with a bug.