By Euan MacLennan, Herbal Director at Pukka Herbs and Medical Herbalist at a London-based NHS practice
During the seasons, our body can be challenged by viruses and bacteria, both of which cause infections, albeit of a different sort. We are lucky to have inbuilt defence mechanisms that protect us from invasion: our immune system and its many complex components.
Every day we each inhale more than a 100 million different bacteria, according to the Medical Research Council. To stop the infectious invaders, we each have about 30 million unique antibodies, each programmed to recognise a single known bacterium, plus millions more ‘naïve’ antibodies waiting to attack previously unknown bacteria.
It’s no surprise that simple lifestyle habits such as getting a good night’s sleep, a balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables and washing your hands regularly can help support your body’s ability to fight off infections, but did you know that plants have powerful properties to help support your body’s defence mechanism?
Our immune system maintains the ecological relationship between the mind-body-spirit and the world in which we live and interact. Antiviral and antibacterial herbs offer a natural way to support immunity and respiratory health overall. Here are five of my favourite natural remedies to help support your immune system:
Echinacea: A renowned immune tonic with some very interesting research, echinacea can be particularly helpful for fighting infections of the respiratory tract. It may have a preventative action but also help relieve symptoms and speed recovery.
Elderberries: Bursting with brightly coloured pigments that act as natural antioxidants, elderberries are a natural source of vitamin C. Elderberry is a powerful fruit shown to ‘de-activate’ viruses, helping to stop them spreading through the body. It may also help the immune system in a similar way to Echinacea.
Sipping on herbal tea is a fantastic way of incorporating these two ingredients into your day-to-day lives. My favourite is Pukka Herbs Organic Elderberry and Echinacea, packed with antioxidants to reduce stress and fight infections. (Available from Waitrose, Tesco and Holland & Barrett. RRP £3 for 20 sachets).
Vitamin C: Well-known for supporting our immune function, vitamin C plays an important role by improving the activity of some white blood cells such as ‘natural killer cells’, allowing our immune system to communicate and co-ordinate its attack against viruses.
Andrographis: Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to promote the production of antibodies and reduce the severity of infection, andrographis contains compounds that rally the immune system to fight effectively against invaders such as viruses. Pukka Herbs has worked with the University of Southampton on a clinical trial to prescribe andrographis to NHS patients in 20 GP surgeries across the UK to sooth symptoms of respiratory tract infections.
Mushrooms: There are approximately 400 species of fungi that have been identified with medicinal properties, and many have antiviral, antimicrobial or anti-inflammatory qualities. Mushrooms are high in beta glucans – natural substances found to help ‘prime’ our immune system, making sure it’s ready for action to fight off infection. They can be easily added into your diet through daily doses of supplements.