When people speak of immunity, the terminology used is nearly always one of warfare. Our immune system is waging a battle, revving up the forces, overcoming illness. While these metaphors are helpful in understanding certain aspects of our immunity, they create the impression that our immune system's only job is one of defense. This perception hampers our ability to best support this vital part of ourselves. In fact, the role of our immunity is far more complex and beautiful.
As herbalist David Hoffman describes it, immunity is, "a complex and beautiful dance of elements flowing back and forth between the human body and the rest of the world." Immunity then, can be seen less as a battle, and more as a process of adaptation and harmony with the world around us. This means that staying healthy through the colder seasons is not simply about pulling out the echinacea when a viral prowler is at your body's door. It's about setting up a daily routine of herbal and nutritional allies that will help your body adapt more efficiently to the qualities of the season. Here are a few thoughts on how to think about which allies you might want to choose.
WARM THE BODY When the weather outside is cold and blustery, your body needs more support in staying warm. Herbs like ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic, angelica and cardamom enhance digestive fire and warm the body from the core outwards. Ginkgo, gotu kola, and hawthorn enhance circulation to the periphery and keep fingers and toes warm, as well as supporting good circulation to the brain.
NOURISH YOUR ROOTS Winter is a time for deep nourishment, providing nutrient dense foods that build vitality and protect against the dry and cold qualities of the environment. Foods and herbs that build immunity, nourish endocrine function and moisten the body help us to maintain our vitality through these cold months. Eat a diet rich in colorful root vegetables, healthy fats, mushrooms, seaweeds and leafy greens. Include root nourishing adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, astragalus, codonopsis, eleuthero, licorice, and reishi.
STRENGTHEN YOUR EXTERIOR Just as plants thicken their exteriors and seal off vulnerable tissues to protect themselves in the cold months, we too can strengthen our barriers and make it more difficult for pathogens to take hold. Vitamin C and flavanoid rich citrus fruits and berries such as elderberry, rosehips, and lemon strengthen connective tissue and enhance immune function. Lymphatics such as calendula, echinacea, and burdock keep the lymphatic system moving and clear out waste products more efficiently. Diaphoretics such as elderflower, tulsi, and yarrow shunt blood to the periphery and clear out waste through the skin. Of course, all of these herbs have anti-pathogenic properties as well!
Danielle Charles Davies has a BSc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and in addition completed two years of clinical training at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. She has written for the the American Herbalists Guild and has also served as a food columnist. Her musings, and recipes, can be found at her blog, Teacup Chronicles.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.