How to Foster a Healthy Immune System
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How to Support Your Immune System with Herbs

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Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Editors' note: Today on the blog, we've asked Amanda Jokerst, a certified herbalist and licensed massage therapist, to share her advice on how to stay healthy during this challenging time. We've both consulted with Amanda on our health and have been impressed with her care, experience, and especially her practical, evidence-based approach to herbal medicine and massage. In part 1, Amanda explains just why getting enough sleep, eating well, and other factors are so important. Here in part 2, she talks about specific herbs that can help, once the below steps are taken. Here's Amanda:

I'm an herbalist, so why did I relegate herbs to part 2 in this series? Because without giving time and attention to everything I outlined in part 1, herbs will be nowhere near as effective as they could be, if they are effective at all. If we aren't taking in the basic building blocks to support healthy immune system function and implementing necessary lifestyle practices such as a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, stress reduction, and movement, we are really expecting a lot of the plants. They are not magic bullets. We have to do our part so they can do theirs.

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This and images below by Amanda Jokerst

Now for the herbs that will support your healthy lifestyle practices.

If you're having trouble sleeping, try supplementing with magnesium glycinate, or use some sleep-supporting herbs like what's found in our Get Some Zzzzs tincture formula or the Sweet Sleep tea here at Forest & Meadow Apothecary.

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As a supplement to using healthy coping strategies for life's stress, such as spending time outside and talking to others, you might further benefit from herbal support. I've been using my favorite nervous-system allies, which have been magnesium glycinate, ashwagandha, passionflower, and rose. And if you're needing some immediate support for your nervous system, I would suggest our Stress Less or Anxious Thoughts Be Gone tincture formulas or our Hug Your Heart or again, the Sweet Sleep teas can also be helpful.

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Some of us turn to alcohol when we are stressed or lonely (which is totally understandable), so try reaching for an herbal ally such as skullcap, milky oats, or passionflower to soothe and support your nervous system instead. Hops tincture can be a great ally as well (especially for hoppy beer drinkers!), providing a stronger sedative effect, which may be particularly helpful for some individuals right now.

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While exercise is key, not everyone can manage a 20- to 30-minute walk every day. If you or someone you know isn't able to engage in a lot of movement right now, try drinking some gentle lymphatic teas every day such as chickweed, cleavers, violet, or calendula.

In addition to the herbs and herbal formulas above, specific herbs can play a great role in boosting immune system.

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Astragalus is one of my favorite immune tonics. It can help stimulate white blood cells, natural killer cells, and T-lymphocytes and increase production of antibodies and interferon, making it a great ally during cold and flu season. I often use it in my clinic for reduced immunity due to chronic infection, stress, or general lack of vitality, as well as for lingering viral infections or recurring colds and upper respiratory tract infections. Astragalus can also be a supportive in cases of chronic lung weakness.

It has a mild, slightly sweet taste that most people of every age find pretty palatable. Because it doesn't have a strong flavor, you can add astragalus to soup stocks and broths (remove it before consuming) or use a tea of it to cook rice or beans – giving a medicinal boost to your food! To prepare it as a beverage, simmer about 1 tablespoon per cup of water for 15-20 minutes. You can strain and drink it right away, or let it steep for another hour or so before drinking, taking 1-3 cups per day. We have astragalus at the shop as a bulk herb, and it's also in our Immune Tonic Tincture, Immuni-Tea, and Immune Tonic Soup Base. Note: It is advised to discontinue the use of astragalus during acute fever.

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All of our medicinal mushrooms are what we call “immune amphoterics,” meaning they have a modulatory effect on the immune system. They are used for immune deficiency conditions such as cancer, AIDS, and chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as immune hyper-functioning autoimmune conditions. Reishi has immune-enhancing effects and is traditionally used for fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. Shiitake and maitake both stimulate the system to bolster its ability to fight infections more quickly and efficiently.

Use 2 teaspoons of dried mushrooms to 12 oz of water, simmer for at least 1 hour, and drink 2-4 cups per day. Shiitake and maitake can also be found fresh in some grocery stores and eaten as a medicinal food. Any of these mushrooms combines nicely with astragalus for a daily immune supportive tea or as a soup base. We have reishi, shiitake (local from Ozark Forest Mushrooms!), and maitake at the shop as bulk herbs and in our Immune Tonic Soup Base.

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Holy basil falls into the category of adaptogen, a plant that helps the body to respond to stressors in a more balanced way, and is a highly revered plant in Ayurvedic medicine. It is an immunomodulator that helps to strengthen and balance the response of the immune system, and it possesses some antiviral and antibacterial properties. Holy basil is also a helpful respiratory ally that encourages our bodies to expel bronchial mucus and can aid in the natural fever response. I also love it because it smells so wonderful. Drinking teas of plants that are high in aromatic volatile oils can serve to soothe, calm, and uplift the nervous system – something we could all probably use a bit of right now! We have holy basil in bulk, and it also features in our Cheer Up Buttercup Tincture, Holy Hibiscus Vinegar, Holy Basil Shrub, and our Hug Your Heart Tea.

Editor's note: During shelter-in-place, you can order from the Forest & Meadow Clinic & Apothecary here in St. Louis for pickup and/or schedule a virtual appointment with Amanda. An online store is coming soon as well. 

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About Amanda Jokerst

Amanda is a certified clinical herbalist trained in the Vitalist tradition of herbal medicine, a licensed massage therapist, and a certified practitioner in the Arvigo techniques of Maya abdominal therapy. She is a graduate of the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, a 1255-hour program in Vitalist Western Herbalism, botany, herbal medicine-making and formulation, flower essences, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, pathology, and herbal safety. Amanda grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and recently moved back after several years of study in various part of the country to open Forest & Meadow Clinic & Apothecary. She truly believes in the power of the therapies she practices, and says that offering this work to others is one of the most life-giving and soul-enriching things she's ever done.

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