Immunity isn't found solely in vaccines or magic pills. It is found in the daily practice and caring for one's self on all levels.
Cultivate immunity with these tips!
Our immune system is not an organ. It's not found in one place but rather in every cell of our bodies. We have both our innate immune systems which are incredibly robust and of course, our acquired immune systems which is where our bodies learn to identify viruses we've fought previously.
Our first line of defence though is our skin, where the bacteria that thrives on every surface fights other bacteria and viruses that land there. The mucosal lining our of nose, mouth and throat are equally important, and then there is our stomach acid and the bacterial flora in our gut along with the state of our nervous system that all play into our immunity.
Nutrition is the first thing to address, cutting out processed foods and overstimulating drinks that overload our liver and nervous system are key. Cut back on the sugar, caffein, alcohol and canned /packaged foods. Add more fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes and whole grains! The best advise I ever heard in regard to diet is this, eat any thing and everything you want, as long as you're making it from scratch. This is a good starting point or at least something to think about when we're purchasing food. We also want to avoid industrial grade agricultural chemicals when and where we can, following the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen guides based on yearly assessments of lingering chemical contamination in our fruits and veggies.
The Nervous System is the motherboard of our bodily systems. It determines whether we are safe enough to digest food properly, fight viruses and bacteria, sleep deeply and rest and general. Many of us are spun out from what our nervous system sees as an oncoming bear attack and as a result we are often unable to sleep deeply, let alone properly digest our food or fight off infection. I love it when I can work late into the night and push for that deadline, that bear attack that keeps my nervous system pumping all the chemicals I need to complete the task at hand! But I also want to be sure that my body gets a chance to come down from that high state, a chance to rest deeply and nourish itself.
We can engage that parasympathetic nervous system state by doing several things. Body oiling is my favourite and something I do regularly before bed. You can read a whole article about it here. Meditation is also key. This can be in the form of stillness or in the form of a forest walk, breath work, baking, drawing, yoga and more. My meditation style changes daily and according to my menstrual cycle and mood. We can also tone our Nervous System and Immune System with herbs! So let's dig into those.
Herbs for Immunity
Tulsi / Holy Basil
This amazing little herb is so wonderful and so fragrant, I just can't get enough. It works as both an adaptogen, which means it tones our nervous system to help us adapt to stress, but it is also an immune tonic! This means it gently tones our immune system without over stimulation, making it safe for those with auto-immune issues. I use Holy Basil Body Oil or our Tulsi + Bergamot Body Oil nearly every day while they're in stock. You can also keep an eye out for our Calm Glycerite when it get's restocked in the fall.
You can take Tulsi as a tincture, glycerite, tea, body oil or in your bath to get the benefits of this wonderful herb.
This common shrub loves to grow near the river's edge, arching it delicate branches towards the sun. The flowers in June are a beautiful immune tonic and are lovely in cordials, teas and body oils. The berry tends to be more popular for immune health and is wonderfully effective. Elderberry has been found to reduce a flu to 48hrs when taken regularly at the first sign of illness. Our triple extracted Elderberry Elixir is a staple in our home in the cold and flu seasons.
This is not an immune tonic necessarily but it does wonders by soothing the nervous system, improving sleep and reducing anxiety. Hops is wonderful in tea form, but I do like to combine it with other herbs like chamomile, lemon balm or rose. We combine sedating hops with valerian and few others in our Deep Sleep Elixir. Lack of sleep leads to inflammation, stress and a heightened state of fight or flight, so get your sleep in check!
A mushroom yes, and it's trendy for a reason! This powerfully immuno-modulating herb is wonderful for keeping viruses at bay. Wonderful made as a tea, you can simmer these dried mushrooms for several hours on low to best extract it's compounds. Drink with other herbs and spices like cinnamon or add to your favourite soup or stew!
This one can't be left out! It's gained such a reputation but it does need to be stated that it's considered an immune stimulant. This means we don't want to be taking it regularly like the other four herbs mentioned above, but rather taken acutely at the first sign of illness for up to 10 days at a time. There is also evidence to suggest that Echinacea's main action may be in helping to support lymphatic drainage, which may be why it's so incredibly helpful in fighting off viruses. Immune stimulants are not recommended for those with moderate to severer auto-immune conditions, but again this is on a person to person basis. If you don't experience a flair up when taking it, then continue to use it as advised. I love to use our Echinacea Tincture at the first sign of cough, cold or swollen glands for 3-4 days to nip it in the bud.
Immunity can be found through many daily practices, but daily is the key here. We can't eat like crap, work till midnight and get up under-slept day after day without impacting our immune system. In fact, many people find themselves in a state of nervous collapse, exhaustion and immune failure when they keep up those practices.
We're allowed to slow down. We're allowed to lay on the ground and bury our face in the grass until the soil smells sweet. We're allowed to turn off the computer and put down our phones and crawl into bed with a messy kitchen at 9pm with a mug of soup. Let yourself. Treat yourself. And you will be greatly rewarded with a stronger immune system, less stress and quiet moments to breathe.