5 top herbs to build immunity -- astragalus, echinacea, garlic, ginseng, and licorice

When the immune system is strong and healthy, disease doesn't stand a chance because the body's white blood cells are working hard to destroy harmful, invading germs. The immune system protects against infection and against more serious conditions like cancer. A strong immune system depends on healthy diet, clean water, fresh air, plenty of exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. Build the immunity with fresh vegetables, fruits, and medicinal herbs so that disease will not stand a chance.

Our favorite immune boosters include astragalus, echinacea, garlic, ginseng, and licorice. All five are time-tested and proven to build up the immune system. We rotate astragalus, echinacea, and ginseng, taking several doses daily either in capsule, tea, or tincture form. We use garlic several times a week and licorice occasionally. This schedule works for us, but everyone is different -- so do whatever works best for you.

Herbs can build the immune system.
© Erwin Purnomo Sidi | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Build immunity with herbs like garlic, astragalus, and echinacea.

Why is immunity important?

The immune system protects us from sickness and disease. Many parts of the body make up the immune system including the thymus, spleen, lymph glands, tonsils, adenoids, enzymes, proteins, and bone marrow. White blood cells and lymphocytes, constantly searching for harmful antigens, make up the backbone of immune defenses. These little security guards are constantly dealing with viruses, funguses, bacteria, parasites, pollen, insect venoms, chemicals, malignant cells, and foreign intruders.

Build immunity by getting enough sleep and breathing fresh air.

Symptoms of poor immunity include chronic infection, inflammation, frequent colds, respiratory problems, swollen lymph glands, exhaustion, chronic fatigue, food allergies, and depression. When the immune system is working at peak performance, the body does not get sick. Good diet low in processed sugars, restful sleep, and exercise are the main requirements for keeping the immunity in good shape. Breathing fresh clean air, getting morning sunlight, and maintaining low stress levels are also important.

To improve immunity, avoid toxins.

Toxic substances can wreck havoc with the immune system. To boost the immunity, avoid junk food (saturated fats and sugars), tobacco, pesticides, herbicides, recreational drugs, antibiotics, and steroids. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can contribute to a decline in immunity and should be taken with caution and only when necessary.

Avoid stress to build immunity.

“Take time to smell the roses” is a great old saying that holds as true today as it did in past ages. Memorable fragrances like apple pie or freshly mowed grass, combined with relaxation techniques like deep breathing can greatly reduce stress and boost immunity. So can smelling lavender, rosemary, and other fragrant herbs. Scheduling time in for relaxation, meditation, and prayer works wonders for the immune system. It is also a good idea to develop good relationships with other people. Loneliness lowers immunity.

Build immunity with aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is a great way to build up immunity. Use favorite essential oils in massage, bath, and diffusers. Most all essential oils help kill bacteria and stimulate production of white blood cells. It has been found that people who use essential oils have a much higher level of resistance to illness. They catch fewer colds and recover more quickly. Myrrh essential oil is a good one to try. Remember that essential oils are powerful -- one drop goes a long way.

Laughter helps build up the immune system.

“Laughter is the best medicine” especially holds true in cases of a depressed immunity. Find reasons to laugh. See a funny movie, get together with friends, or read a light-hearted book. Studies show that laughter actually does decrease harmful chemicals that suppress the immune system.

Boost immunity with herbal green drinks.

In cases of depressed immunity, take high potency green super foods daily.The active ingredients and live enzymes in “green drinks” can detoxify the blood. Whole grains and fresh vegetables should be consumed at every meal. Also add fruits, seeds, nuts, cold-pressed oils, and lean meat to your diet.

Quick and easy ways to strengthen your immune system during flu season

Jini Patel Thompson shares her advice on building immunity in the following video:

Build immunity with a variety of herbs.

Many herbs can build immunity. Besides astragalus, echinacea, garlic, ginseng, and licorice, there are others that can really help. Mushrooms, goldenseal, yellowroot, rosemary, burdock, milk thistle seed, white willow, elder flowers, catnip, yarrow, boneset, hawthorn, parsley, oregano, cat's claw, Pau d Arco, and dandelion work to improve the immune system.

Immune building tincture recipe

An excellent tincture or tea for building immunity might include echinacea root, ginseng root, cinnamon bark, cat's claw bark, and Pau d Arco inner bark. Add Usnea lichen for extra benefits. Cover the pieces of herbal plant material with vodka. Gently shake daily and make sure plant material stays under the vodka. Keep in a dark, cool place for two weeks then strain. Keep liquid in air tight container in dark pantry or your refrigerator.

Build immunity with mullein and cleavers.

Some herbs improve immunity by strengthening the lymphatic system. Red clover, mullein, cleavers, barberry, and baptisia (wild indigo) are the most useful.

Build immunity before flu season.

For added protection during the cold and flu season, start taking immunity building herbal teas and tinctures on a daily basis in late August. Try taking echinacea for a couple of weeks, then switch to astragalus or a yellowroot / ginseng mixture. For best results, avoid excessive or prolonged use of any herb.

Tips for using astragalus in herbal medicine and home remedies

Astragalus root is an adaptogenic herb that helps heal any condition that is present in the body -- especially decreased immunity. It adapts to your needs! Astragalus increases the body’s resistance to stress. Used for many purposes, the root is great during the cold and flu season. Regular use of astragalus builds immunity and it also helps rid the body of viruses. It is best to take it before you get sick, ensuring strong immunity to fight off sickness. Astragalus should not be taken when fever is present.

This healthy woman has built up her immunity with astragalus.
© Tomi Tenetz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This woman prepared for cold and flu season by building up her immunity with astragalus root.

Astragalus has a long history.

Astragalus has been used in Asia for many centuries. Native to the northern regions of China, the herb is known as Huang Qi. The Chinese people gather wild astragalus roots in the springtime and dry them for seven years before using in medicinal tonics.

Use astragalus for everything from adrenal exhaustion to ulcers.

Astragalus root is used in the treatment of immune system, stress related conditions, high blood pressure, common colds, flu, sore throat, night sweats, fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach ulcers, circulation problems, fluid retention, hormone imbalances, Alzheimer’s disease, chemotherapy symptoms, and diarrhea. It is a good antioxidant that nourishes the adrenal glands and enhances adrenal function. Astragalus is considered an anti-clotting agent and can help prevent coronary heart disease. This amazing herb also speeds up a slow metabolism rate and is useful in the treatment of obesity.

Astragalus contains lots of flavonoids.

Some of the compounds in the root include flavonoids, polyphenols, and beneficial minerals including iron and zinc. Astragalus is a wonderful immune enhancing herb. It is a strong anti-viral agent, working to produce extra interferon in the body. Astragalus is known to counteract immune suppressing effects of some cancer drugs. According to various studies, astragalus appears to restore T-cell counts to normal in cancer patients. More scientific testing is underway and hopes are high that the herb can help treat HIV patients.

Growing your own astragalus plants.

In the United States, astragalus is sometimes called “milk vetch” but this is inaccurate since many vetches are toxic to humans. Astragalus and vetch are both in the same plant family as peas. Seed should be scratched or “scarified” before they are planted indoors in spring and may take up to ten weeks to germinate. When chances of frost have passed, plants should be set out in a sunny garden or cultivated bed. Astragalus plants prefer dry, sandy soil but will tolerate a heavier loam.

In the wild, astragalus is often found growing in meadows, mountain thickets, and evergreen forests although it does best in a sunny area. Once this perennial plant is established, it does not like for its roots to be disturbed. Roots harvested for medicinal purposes should be grown at least four years before harvesting. If you find the plant difficult to grow, remember that members of the pea family require beneficial bacteria to be present in the soil. Also try adding a little lime to raise ph levels to neutral or slightly alkaline. Visit wikipedia for pictures of astragalus.

Tips for using echinacea in herbal medicine and home remedies

Echinacea build immunity while protecting against colds and flu. Scientific tests have shown that echinacea increases the production of white blood cells. It also increases the body's production of interferon which helps fight colds and flu virus. Echinacea should only be taken for six to eight weeks at a time. Stop for two or three weeks and then begin again. Echinacea is easy to grow in any dry, sunny location. It is draught resistant and hates to get wet feet.

Echinacea is also known as purple coneflower.
Echinacea is also known as purple coneflower. Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

Use echinacea to build immunity. Echinacea is one of the best immune builders in herbal medicine.

Echinacea boosts the immunity and increases resistance to disease.

Echinacea or Purple Cone Flower is a well-known plant. It is valued for boosting the immune system as well as producing beautiful blooms in the flower garden. As a medicinal herb, echinacea strengthens the body's resistance and helps fight infection caused by bacteria, fungus, and virus. It also is considered a lymphatic tonic.

Use echinacea tincture as a gargle to treat sore throat.

When using the herb as a wash for external applications, apply to affected area frequently. Dried echinacea can be used as a dusting powder on boils and eczema. The root is known to help kidney infections. Diluted echinacea tincture makes a good gargle for all throat problems, especially sore throats. Echinacea tea can be used for colds, flu, fever blisters, gingivitis, yeast infection, and food poisoning.

Use echinacea with elder flower or catnip to treat congestion.

If treating any condition with mucus, phlegm, or congestion, combine echinacea with catnip or elder flower. When using echinacea to get over the flu, use with fever reducing herbs like yarrow or white willow bark.

Echinacea is native to North America.

Native Americans were familiar with echinacea. Among other things, they used it for snakebite, fever, and to treat old, stubborn wounds.

Echinacea is native to North America and is considered a wildflower. It grows abundantly in the great plains and does well here in the North Georgia mountains during dryer years. Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is resistant to heat, and cold but doesn't like wet conditions. Butterflies and bees love the knee-high plant.

Echinacea makes a beautiful cut flower that is long lasting. Many  varieties are available in garden centers and some have a sweet scent. Echinacea blooms the first year from seed if planted early.

It is easy to prepare echinacea for winter storage. Just harvest after the plant flowers, brush off any dust, tear into pieces, and dry in an airy location. Store in air tight containers away from insects, light, and heat.

Tips for using garlic in herbal medicine and home remedies

Garlic (Allium Sativum) is an excellent herb for building up the immune system. Garlic cloves contain sulfur and an amino acid called alliin. When crushed, alliin converts into allicin, a potent antibiotic that combats bacterial and fungal infection. Garlic also contains thiamine, which helps discourage mosquito and other insect bites. Germanium, an antioxidant that enhances endurance, builds immunity, and promotes healing, is also found in garlic. Most people recognize the smell of garlic and it is often used as a culinary herb. It is also one of the most useful herbs in herbal medicine.

Garlic helps build up immunity.
Photo of garlic cloves and bulb courtesy of Pexels.com

Garlic is a favorite medicinal and culinary herb that helps build immunity.

Garlic inhibits breast and skin tumors.

Garlic reduces the formation of carcinogenic compounds and may inhibit breast and skin tumors. Garlic helps clear arteries, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, helps prevent blood clots, stimulates the immune system, lowers blood sugar and triglycerides, promotes a healthy digestive system, and improves the health of the cardiovascular system.

Use garlic as a herbal remedy to clear respiratory infections.

Garlic is a very powerful herbal treatment for all chronic respiratory diseases. The active ingredients not only act on bacteria and fungi, but also protect against viruses, parasites, and yeast infections. Louis Pasteur used garlic to treat TB in the early part of the 20th century. In 1858 he confirmed what herbalists already knew -- garlic possesses a strong antibacterial action.

Garlic has a long history.

Garlic's use in China goes back for thousands of years. Garlic was used by the ancient Romans and many other cultures. The Bible mentions that the people craved garlic. Numbers 11:5 talks about God's people being tired of manna from heaven and longing for cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. If manna was a sweet wafer, I guess they were hungry for something savory.

Garlic juice speeds healing and helps get rid of worms.

Garlic cloves can be rubbed on skin eruptions like acne, warts, and corns to help speed healing. Treatments must be repeated three times a day for up to six weeks in stubborn cases. To treat worms, eating 3 to 6 cloves a day is recommended.

Garlic helps rid the body of toxins

Many studies are being done on the benefits of garlic. The cloves, eaten daily, may help prevent stomach and colon cancer. Garlic has been used as a therapeutic food for many centuries especially for disease prevention. It has been used internally against infection and externally for problems with the eyes, ears, and throat. It has been used to promote sweating which helps rid the body of toxic chemicals.

Garlic festival

Gilroy, California hosts a yearly garlic festival that celebrates everything garlic. Most commercial garlic is produced in China, but California is the top garlic producing state in the USA.

Growing garlic

Garlic is a perennial bulb that sends out slender, round stems (like an onion). There are two types -- hard neck and soft neck. Garlic grows one to three feet high depending on variety. Garlic blooms are white or lavender and are a welcome addition to any flower border. The bulbs multiply during the season forming clusters of bulblets or cloves. Propagate by dividing the bulbs in late summer. Garlic needs full sun and loose, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Soil should be kept on the dry side since garlic does not like wet feet. Elephant garlic, which has a huge bulb, is really wild leek. It is not a true garlic and doesn't contain the same properties.

Tips for using ginseng in herbal medicine and home remedies

Regular use of ginseng builds immunity, increases sperm count in men, and increases fertility in women. Studies show that ginseng is beneficial for both males and females. Ginseng brings strength and stamina to men. It promotes healthy ovaries during child bearing years and prevents thinning of the vaginal walls in menopausal women. This wild-harvested root is so amazing that it currently sells for over $600 a pound when dried. Farm-grown ginseng can be purchased at much cheaper prices.

Ginseng grows wild in the North Georgia Mountains.
Drying fresh ginseng roots -- photo by Janice Boling

Fresh ginseng should be dried carefully in a warm, airy location such as an attic with fan to avoid mold. This wild ginseng was found near Blairsville, Georgia.

Ginseng roots improve immunity and more.

Ginseng roots contain hormone like substances that strengthen the immune system, fight stress, protect the liver, prevent memory loss, relieve hot flashes, enhance sexual desire, ease difficult childbirth, regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels, and protect against cancer.

Ginseng raises energy levels.

Regular use of ginseng helps protect the spleen and lungs. Ginseng use also raises energy levels, can help stop internal bleeding, and is a remedy for diarrhea. For treating asthma and cough, combine with ginger. For treating chronic cough or weak lungs, combine with mulberry bark. For treating gastric ulcer pain, combine with slippery elm.

Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb and its benefits are cumulative.

Ginseng is considered a powerful, adaptogenic herb. It has properties that treat a broad spectrum of diseases. Benefits from using ginseng are cumulative. Taking the herb for several months to a year (with weekly breaks every two months) is much more effective than short term doses.

Ginseng can raise blood pressure in some people.

Ginseng is sometimes used in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders and is considered a heart tonic although it can raise blood pressure in some people. It also has a therapeutic effect on recurrent viral infections like HIV.

Regular use of ginseng protects against pollution.

Regular use of ginseng helps protect against radiation, heavy metals, and air pollution. Use dried ginseng in tea or chew the fresh root.

Ginseng protects skin from free radical damage.

One of the most promising uses of ginseng is its normalizing effects on skin cancer cells. As the world’s ozone layer thins, exposing the population to harmful UV rays, ginseng offers much needed protection. It help guard against aging skin and early wrinkling.

Ginseng is used in the treatment of depression, Alzheimer's, and liver cancer.

Ginseng offers long term mental and psychological benefits. It is good for depression, assists the memory process, improves concentration, and brings about alertness. It is often used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Ginseng is also known to inhibit the growth of liver cancer cells (one of the most difficult cancers to overcome).

Fresh roots may be chewed.

Roots may be chewed or made into tea. It is very bitter but Tony and I have developed a taste for it. Ginseng may also be purchased as a tincture and in capsules.

Appalachian wild ginseng is the most potent.

Wild ginseng of the Appalachian region (North Georgia included) is the most highly-valued ginseng in the world. Due to heavy harvesting the wild ginseng plant is becoming rare and permits are required for gathering the roots. In 2019, dried ginseng roots sold for over $600 per pound depending on size and shape. Large roots with many branches are very valuable. The most expensive ginseng roots resemble a human body with arms and legs. Find more information about harvesting or selling ginseng in Georgia -- Georgia Ginseng Management Program.

Ginseng grows in the woods.

Ginseng grows best in temperate forests. It can also be grown in a stimulated “wild” environment with artificial shade but is not as valuable as the wild grown roots. Ginseng’s biggest pest is the poacher. When starting a ginseng bed, pick a site that can be monitored regularly.

Ginseng doesn't like to be crowded while growing.

Do not crowd ginseng plants. They must have plenty of air circulation. One plant per square foot ensures maximum growth. Plant seeds in autumn when tree leaves start to fall and expect to wait four to five years for the first harvest.

Tips for using licorice in herbal medicine and home remedies

Licorice has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. It was used in ancient Greece, Egypt, and China for many purposes including building up the immune system. Regular use was thought to stimulate hair growth, improve vision, and increase sexual desire. Large quantities of licorice roots were found in the 3,000 year old tomb of King Tut. Licorice was considered to be such a valuable herb that no Egyptian king would be without it on his journey into eternity. Nowadays licorice is known to strengthen the immune system.

King Tut was buried with licorice.
King Tut -- photo courtesy of Pexels.com

Large amounts of licorice were found in King Tut's tomb. The herb has a long history in herbal medicine.

Licorice helps heal everything from arthritis to ulcers.

Licorice -- the herb, not the candy -- is the grandfather of herbs. It helps get rid of toxins from the body. Licorice contains estrogen-like compounds that regulate hormones and relieve menopausal symptoms. Licorice fights inflammation, allergies, and arthritis. Licorice reduces stomach acid and is good in the treatment of ulcers.

Mix with other medicinal herbs for added strength.

Use licorice to build up the immune system and as a remedy for bronchitis, fever, asthma, mouth sores, laryngitis, shingles, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, skin problems like eczema, fibromyalgia, indigestion, heartburn, menstrual cramps, obesity, depression, and herpes. Combine with other immunity building herbs like astragalus, burdock root, dandelion, echinacea, and wild yam for added strength.

Licorice makes a good medicinal tonic.

Licorice is a powerful expectorant and helps remove mucus from the lungs. Use in cough syrups, tinctures, and teas for best results. Combine with ginseng for a potent lung tonic.

Licorice helps improve digestion.

Licorice stimulates bile flow and is often used as a gentle laxative. Mix with stewed figs for overnight relief from constipation. Licorice tea soothes the digestive system and is often used to treat irritable bowel syndrome.

Licorice is used as a sweetener.

Licorice is 50 times sweeter than sugar and is often used as a flavoring (although the taste most people associate with licorice comes from anise or fennel). Licorice is also used to sweeten and condition tobacco products.

Licorice works to protect the body.

Licorice has anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. The herb contains high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants that work to protect the body against effects of aging. Licorice is often recommended to improve adrenal function and to build up the immunity.

Licorice makes a powerful poultice for boils and skin problems.

Licorice is widely used in India to treat abscesses and skin problems. Make a paste and apply to the skin as needed.

Licorice is related to beans and peas.

Tons of licorice roots are imported annually from Spain, Germany, Russia, and France. There is a wild variety that grows in the northwestern United States but it is smaller than European specimens.

Licorice is grown abundantly in Europe and Asia as a cash crop. The plant is a legume and related to beans and peas. The perennial grows best in full sun and fertile, moist, sandy soil and does not tolerate heavy clay. In the wild, it is never found growing more than 50 feet from water. Licorice can be grown in the home garden if conditions are right. Harvest licorice roots in the fall when they are at least three years old. The dried root can be chewed like candy and used to sweeten the breath.

Licorice should not be used for over four weeks without medical supervision. People with high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, kidney, heart, or liver conditions should avoid licorice. This herb should not be used by pregnant or breast-feeding women or by men with sexual dysfunctions. Licorice contains glycyrrhizin which can cause serious side effects such as headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, and even heart attacks when mixed with certain drugs or taken in high doses. Licorice may also cause water retention, which can lead to leg swelling and other problems.

After using ginseng regularly for a couple of months, discontinue use for two weeks. Do not use ginseng with caffeine. People with high blood pressure should not use ginseng. Do not use ginseng during pregnancy.

Do not uses garlic if you take blood thinners or before having surgery. Don't take garlic if you're on hypoglycemic drugs. Avoid while nursing as garlic may cause the baby to have indigestion. Garlic can irritate the stomach and skin in sensitive individuals. Test before using large amounts! Avoid high doses of garlic in pregnancy and while nursing.

High doses of echinacea can cause nausea and dizziness. Consult with a physician before taking echinacea if you have an autoimmune disease such as TB, lupus, collagen disease, or multiple sclerosis. Sometimes people that are allergic to daisies, mums, asters, or ragweed may experience a reaction to echinacea.

Never take astragalus root when feverish as it may raise body temperature. Astragalus plants produce a gummy sap that may cause rash or bring on asthma attacks in some individuals. Always consult with a healthcare professional before using any herbal remedy especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medications.

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"The best way to really learn about herbal medicine is to touch and smell different herbs, taste them, use them daily, and grow them if possible. Herbal medicine is a way of life. It is not a quick fix." Janice Boling -- herbalist, web designer, artist, and writer

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** Most of the articles in this online herbal encyclopedia were first published by the North Georgia News in a weekly column titled Every Green Herb (by Janice Boling).

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