The biggest asset we have when it comes to protection of our health is a strong immune system. It is already known to modern medicine that many viruses, bacteria and other types of microorganisms live in our bodies. The only difference is that some people get sick and some don’t. What usually happens is that our immune system gets weakened over time, for various reasons, and the bugs get out of control (plus the once that come from external environment).
So what can we do in order to support our immune system?
1) Lifestyle – too much stress will cause low inflammatory process that will keep signaling to your white blood cells to come in action. However, if this process goes on for a long period of time, the inflammation will become chronic and immune system exhausted. We will develop allergies, sluggish digestion, adrenal exhaustion etc. that can lead to more complex health challenges. Lack of rest and not taking time for simple life pleasures and recharging the batteries will make physical body week and energy field depleted.
2) Diet – it is very intimate and personal choice which diet we opt for, so I will not talk about what you should eat and what you shouldn’t. However, I would suggest you eat varieties of food and listen to your body; have a conversation with your stomach and feel the body sensations if not sure about some choices; get in touch with yourself. Visit farmers markets and buy some fresh produce, preferably organic, that was just picked and is full of vitamins and vibrant energy. Supermarket food is boxed for quite some time and made to stay fresh for prolonged periods. Longer it sits in the fridge, less vitamins you will get by consuming it. Fast foods – avoid, sugar- avoid. Read labels, especially on processed food – many times it contains additives and artificial colorings and flavorings that your poor liver will have to work hard in order to filter (and then pass on to your kidneys). I realized that what we put in our bodies is determined by how much we love ourselves.
3) Exercise – I know, you heard about it before, but have no time to do it. Well, I will just remind you that lymphatic system has no pump, like cardiovascular, and it heavily relays on movement for stimulation. Muscles, by contracting and expanding stimulate the lymph and cause the movement of its fluid. Immune/lymphatic system is all over your body.
4) Healthy gut – if having digestive problem, address it. About 80% of the lymphatic/immune system is located in your guts. You see why what you eat has something to do with your immune system?
5) Energetically speaking, immune system belongs to second chakra territory. This is the area of feelings we have for ourselves, the place we meet (or not) our needs and stay in touch with true ones, and finally, it is the center of vitality and sexuality. When we have compromised immune system, we want to also look into all of the above. If we had abandonment issues as children, we definitely want to look into them. What we do not express and heal, we are bound to carry inside of psyche and body, and that will put extra weight on our immune system. Chakra is orange in color, so eating orange food, or wearing orange clothing on some days can help recharge this important center.
And let’s now look into those ancient and precious friends of ours, the plants. They have been for eons with us, supporting, nourishing and saving our lives.
Since this article is getting long already, I will split all the information in two articles. In this one, we will address Elder tree and share some recipes. It is a MUST herb to have in your home medicine chest.
Elder (Sambucus racemosa) has rich folklore and it is extensively used by people of many traditions all over the world. It is native to Europe where it has long history of use. It is said that Celtic druids made flutes from elder to communicate with the souls that crossed over. They also believed that spirits of the forest dwell in the hollow wood of elder tree. White blossoms in the spring are signifying the reincarnation of the dead. In some other countries of the old continent, like England, the cuttings of elder where left on the thumbs and if they flowered in the spring it meant that the soul of the deceased has joined heaven. It is said that the elder should be planted in the middle of your garden, as it is the leader of the plants, an elder that other plants look up to, as it is also the case when it grows in wilderness.
Elder is very powerful herb. It is highly revered for preventing and stopping influenza, as it contains flavonoids that stop virus replication. The medicinal parts of elder are berries and flowers. However, they have different role in the healing process: elderberries are antiviral, antioxidant rich, immunomodulating, while flowers are diaphoretic (promote sweating), diuretic (promote urination), relaxing nervine, anti-viral. In some countries the berries are considered poisonous. Actually, when eaten raw, the seeds in the berry contain certain chemical that can cause nausea and vomiting. When cooked, this effect is completely eradicated.
It can be used as syrup, tea, jam, wine, tincture.
Here are some recipes!
Elderflower Tea Blend
1 part elder flower
1 part yarrow flower
½ part peppermint
½ part rose hips
Place about half cup of this mixture and cover with 1l boiling water. Let it steep for 20-30 min, strain and drink warm. Add local, raw honey if desired.
Other spices, like cinnamon, cloves, etc. optional.
Fill a jar half way with elderberries and cover them with honey. Mix well, and follow by brandy or vodka (leave about two fingers of the jar empty, so you can shake it occasionally). After 4-6 weeks strain the berries. Use every day during the cold and flu season to prevent illness or, when feeling you are coming down with influenza. When getting sick, take it more frequently by spoonful (1 tablespoon every hour). When using it to get better or prevent illness, it is used less frequently, every day once or twice.
1 cup of dried berries
¼ cup of dried rose hips
2 cups of water
1 cup tart cherry juice (good to take concentrate, not sugary juice)
15 grams of dried herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.
Simmer the elderberries in water for about half an hour. Turn the heat and add the herbs. Let it sit for 30 minutes. Strain, add the cherry juice, honey and brandy. Some recipes call for equal amount of honey as the herbal liquid we have just made. I would start with half cup of honey and half cup of brandy. Taste it and keep experimenting until you reach the desired taste. You can make the syrup thicker by cooking more after you add honey. But I do not suggest that as the enzymes of the honey will be destroyed on high heat. Store in the fridge and use within 6 months.
In the second part of this article on prevention we will talk about few more herbs and nutrients that are important for healthy immune system. Until then, enjoy your herbal preparations!And stay in good health.
Northeast School of Botanical Medicine graduate