Decoding herbal jargon: herbal actions to build immunity

30 Mar 2023 | Herbal medicine, Home herbalism, Immunity, Immunity Kit

Sage leaves and white teapot and mug. How to sooth a sore throat - you can use sage tea. Recipe from the Make Your Own Immunity Herbal Remedy Kit | Everyday Empowered

If you’ve ever read, talked to or listened to a herbalist you’ll hear them going on with these strange words… mucous membrane trophorestorative, immunomodulator, lymphagogue….

When you first start out it can be like listening to a foreign language. But then, as you walk along your {home} herbal path, your ears start to pick out some words… then one day, magically you’re fluent – or comfortable swimming in those waters at least.

To start our series about Immunity – we’re decoding herbal jargon around the immune system. Knowing these terms, you’ll build mastery and confidence understanding your herbs and your remedies.

A quick note – immunity is best built holistically. This article focuses just on herbal actions that directly support immune function. To truly build holistic immunity in our modern age, you will need to support the body in other areas – such as lymph, digestive, sleep, reducing stress and supporting the nervous system, toning respiratory system etc. Some of these systems will be more or less relevant for different people – more on that next article.

So – herbal actions to build immunity.

Immune stimulantsherbs which stimulate the immune system against various pathogens.

Immune stimulants are traditionally used during the active stage of infection; most effective when taken at the first sign of getting sick. They are generally used short term for this purpose (although there will be overlap and may be taken longer because of other herbal actions).

There also seems to be a bit of debate in the herbal world as well. As to which herbs are true immune stimulants and which are immunomodulators – so you might come across people using and understanding the herbs differently.

These herbs can be contraindicated or cause flare-ups in people with an already overactive immune system, such as autoimmunity or allergies.

Immune stimulant herbs include: Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or E. angustifolia), elderberry (sambucus nigra), garlic (Allium sativum) etc

Immunomodulatorsherbs which bring balance to the immune system rather than stimulating or subduing it.

I tend to think everyone should incorporate these herbs at various times of the year to proactively build immunity. These (along with immune tonics) are the ones that will generally enhance your overall immune function when taken over the longer term. Note  – longer term doesn’t mean continuously, but if you know you’re vulnerable at particular times of year, I’d start using these herbs regularly in the lead-up.

These herbs are particularly useful for chronic low immunity such as frequent or recurrent infections, and overactive immune systems (allergies, autoimmunity).

Immunomodulators include: Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous), shiitake (Lentinulaedodes) or other medicinal mushrooms, tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis).

Antimicrobials – these are herbs that fight against specific pathogens and infections.

Often when we’re sick, we’re turning to antimicrobial herbs to fight the invading infection, whether it be viral, bacterial or fungal. This is a broad class of herbs and whilst all the examples below are antimicrobials, some will excel as anti-fungals (calendula for example) or antivirals (ie. elderberry), so it’s good to get to know each herb and understand its specific use.

Antimicrobial herbs include: elderberry (sambucus nigra), thyme (thymus vulgaris), olive leaf (Olea europaea ) calendula (calendula officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) etc.

These terms are some of the most common herbal jargon you’ll encounter when learning to ‘boost’ your immunity with herbs (not that it’s all about ‘boosting’, more about bringing balance really).

Stay tuned – the next article will be about taking a holistic approach to immunity.  And I’d love to help you deepen your understanding. Use the contact form to send through any questions you have about the immune system and how you can care for yourself at home.

About the Author

Cat Green

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