Searching for the best natural remedies to get you through the winter *ick*? Or to strengthen your immune system to the point that it can fight off just about anything? Then walk with me a bit... I’m sharing some of my most effective tools!
My grandmother loved proverbs. You know, those pithy sayings that convey a deeper truth. They are not so much commonplace today, but she used them ALL THE TIME in regular conversation, especially when she was trying to teach me something valuable. I learned so many from her!
One of her favorites was "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Did you know that Benjamin Franklin actually coined that phrase? So wise! It IS much better to do a little bit to prevent illness than to suffer through the unpleasant and sometimes long-lasting repercussions.
These days, I'm all about taking small, proactive, daily actions to enhance my body’s ability to protect itself. That's mostly what you'll find here. By developing a consistent routine, we can build up our bodies' defenses and remain strong throughout all seasons the of the year.
Yes, sometimes *ick* does break through the defenses, despite best efforts. But when it does, you’d better believe I’m ready to do battle and wipe it out quickly! Thankfully, nature provides remedies that can help avoid illnesses and shorten the duration if you do pick one up. Beyond essential oils (which are amazing!), here’s what's in my arsenal!
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WEAPON #1: ELDERBERRIES
Why elderberries? Elderberries, one of the world’s most commonly used medicinal plants, are consumed every day in my home throughout the colder months, as they provide excellent immune system support. The dried berries are high in flavonoids, antioxidants, and Vitamins A, B, and C, all of which have been shown to stimulate the immune system, help avoid illness, and speed recovery when sickness rears its ugly head.
Thinking it’s an old wive's tale? Think again! There’s actually a good deal of scientific backing regarding the efficacy of elderberries!
- Several studies, such as this one conducted by Australian researchers, have demonstrated that elderberry syrup administered at the first sign of illness shortens the severity and length of colds and flu. In particular, the travelers studied in this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial who used elderberry before, during, and after overseas travel experienced a 2-day shorter duration of their colds and reported a reduction in cold symptoms.
- Israeli researchers likewise found that in elderberries support the immune system in fighting cold and flu. In this study, patients with influenza who were given elderberry syrup recovered in half the time and used significantly less medication than the placebo group. “A complete cure was achieved within 2 – 3 days in nearly 90% of the elderberry-treated group compared with at least 6 days in the placebo group.” Whoa! The study showed that elderberry syrup can reduce the overall duration of influenza by 3 – 4 days. Super cool!
Thinking you might need some immune-stimulating elderberries in your life?!?
HOW TO USE: Elderberries can be prepared in a variety of delicious ways, including syrup (try recipe #1 or recipe #2, or watch this video on how to make elderberry syrup), tea, gummies, and popsicles. My 5-year old daughter LOVES elderberries prepared all these ways and actually asks/begs for them!
Our family uses elderberry syrup preventatively by taking ½ to 1 teaspoon a day during peak cold and flu season. We also like it on pancakes or waffles and poured over dairy-free ice cream. If we do start feeling under the weather, I double or triple that dose until we feel better. You'll also find that elderberry popsicles are great for soothing sore throats while boosting your immune system.
Want to sift through TONS of scientific studies on the efficacy of elderberries, learn additional ways to prepare them, and read up on safety data (contraindications and adverse reactions)? Check out The ABC Clinical Guide to Elder Berry by the American Botanical Council. It contains just about anything you ever wanted to know about these tiny wonders!
WEAPON #2: RAW HONEY
Why raw honey? Honey is an antioxidant that is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and loaded with vitamins and minerals. It can be used to increase energy, boost the immune system, reduce allergies, soothe coughs or sore throats, and fight infections. Honey has many other health benefits, which you can learn more about here. According to the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, honey works better than dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in store-bought cough syrup. The study also said children who took honey got more sleep than those who took over-the-counter medications, as did their parents. [NOTE: Honey is not recommended for children under 1 year of age.] Not sure about you, but I'd much rather have a spoonful of honey than dextromethorphan! Stick with raw honey, which is not heated or processed and contains more nutrients than filtered honey. Ideally, look for clean, local, pesticide-free honey, particularly if you are wanting to support your body or deal with allergens common to your area. If you live in the DC metro area, I'm currently loving the raw honey from Apex Bee Company (read about their incredible mission!), which I buy at MOM's Organic Market. If you're buying from Amazon, we go with this one. HOW TO USE: Benefiting from raw honey can be as simple as taking 1 teaspoon straight from the jar. You could also combine it with cinnamon powder or essential oils to further increase its power (see this post for easy DIY cough syrup recipes!).
WEAPON #3: RAW GARLIC
Why raw garlic? Garlic is antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory. It contains high amounts of manganese, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Garlic is often used to decrease blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, lower total cholesterol, prevent cancer, and metabolize iron. Hop over to this article by The World’s Healthiest Foods to learn much more about how garlic can benefit your health. According to Fundamentals of Microbiology, many research studies have identified allicin, a sulfur compound, as one key to garlic’s antiseptic properties. Allicin gives raw garlic, when crushed or chewed, its pungent taste and smell.
Laboratory studies suggest that allicin is responsible for combating the microbes causing the common cold, flu, sore throat, sinusitis, and bronchitis. They have found that the compound blocks key enzymes that bacteria and viruses need to invade and damage host cells.
For example, this study looked at the effect of aged garlic extract on immune cell proliferation and cold and flu symptoms. The group consuming the garlic experienced reduced severity of symptoms, including a reduction in the number of symptoms reported (21% fewer), a reduction in the number of days (61% fewer) and incidences (58% fewer) where the subjects functioned sub-optimally, and a reduction in the number of work/school days missed due to illness (58% fewer).
HOW TO USE: Buy the freshest organic garlic you can find (or grow your own!). Peel 1 – 2 garlic cloves. Crush or mince them on a plate and allow to sit for 15 minutes so that the allicin activates. Chew well or quickly swallow with water.
Not sure about eating raw garlic? Add honey to it! I keep a jar of honey-infused garlic in my fridge. It’s cheap, easy to make, and honey and garlic together make a perfectly potent combination for boosting your immune system and helping you stay well. The honey also mellows the intensity of the garlic flavor, making it more tolerable to eat raw. Here’s a step-by-step guide for preparing it!
You can certainly use the garlic after a few days, but the flavor is less intense after a couple weeks. The cloves will last in the honey for months. And you can add more cloves to the honey as you consume them. Then you will never run out!
I eat at least one raw honey-garlic clove EVERY DAY for health maintenance. How? I mince it, let it sit on a plate for 15 minutes, and then swallow with water. When your body is feeling compromised, eat a clove every hour or two, with the goal of eating about 5 cloves a day. Once you’re feeling better, reduce the number of cloves.
Unwilling to eat raw garlic? When we’re out of honeyed garlic or traveling, AllicinMax is a good substitute.
WEAPON #4: TURMERIC, GINGER, & CINNAMON = GOLDEN MILK (TURMERIC TEA)
Why golden milk? The main ingredient in golden milk – turmeric – is rich in a compound called curcumin, which was found in one study to inhibit the flu. It also contains ginger and cinnamon, which are immune supporting powerhouses in their own right. Here's a post on the top eight reasons to drink golden milk that includes my favorite recipe for making it. It will fill you in on the many health benefits of these three kitchen staples!
WEAPON #5: CAYENNE PEPPER
Why cayenne pepper? It's rich in capsaicin, which helps with the aches and pains caused by illness by depleting the neurotransmitter “substance P,” which relays pain signals to the brain. It also dials up the body’s production of two anti-inflammatory agents – collagenase and prostaglandin – and has been found to reduce coughing.
HOW TO USE: Add a dash to hot tea to ease physical discomfort, or mix it with honey and lemon juice to help with coughing.
If you love spicy things, also consider making fire cider, which you can take daily throughout the fall and winter months as a preventative measure, or every three to four hours if symptoms are present. This tonic – an infusion of apple cider vinegar with jalapeno and cayenne peppers, garlic, and other spicy veggies – is revered by herbalists for its ability to support the immune system and shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms if they occur. It reportedly also contains powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, decongestant, and circulatory movers.
WEAPON #6: COLLODIAL SILVER
Why collodial silver? Colloidal silver – silver that has been suspended in a small amount of liquid – has been used medicinally as an antimicrobial agent since ancient times. In fact, Hippocrates wrote about its antimicrobial properties in 400 B.C.
Over the past few years, several studies have demonstrated that silver is one of the most effective agents in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. For example:
- Researchers from Brigham Young University tested colloidal silver against five pathogens, including streptococci, and found it worked as well as commonly used antibiotics. The researchers noted the silver solution "exhibits an equal or broader spectrum of activity than any one antibiotic tested" and could be "effectively used as an alternative to antibiotics."
- A 2013 study found that low doses of silver can make antibiotics up to 1,000 times more effective and may even allow an antibiotic to successfully combat otherwise antibiotic-resistant bacteria. By adding a small amount of silver to an antibiotic (vancomycin), a powerful synergism occurred, and an infection caused by tetracycline-resistant E. coli was successfully eradicated.
HOW TO USE: There some debate around the safety of taking colloidal silver over the long-term. As such, I do not take it every day, but rather keep this silver spray on hand for times when we are actually ill. Interestingly, it was also prescribed to us when my five-year old and I were both diagnosed with parasitic infections about a year ago.
Beyond good nutrition, stress management, adequate sleep, and the amazing essential oils that I've discussed previously, these are my top 6! Which immune supporting strategy are you going to try first?!? Leave a comment and let me know! :)