Being in good health is all about immunity, a body system that is working constantly to maintain our well-being. As we interact with our environment, literally ingesting it with every breath and every bite, we have barriers in place that allow what we need to pass through, like oxygen, sunlight, and nutrients, while keeping the rest out. By incorporating nourishing and supportive herbs into our daily lives, we can cultivate an abundance of health and vitality.
“Human Immunity is a complex and beautiful dance of elements flowing back and forth between the human body and the rest of the world.” – David Hoffmann, Medical Herbalist
Immune System Basics
The immune system is made up of cells, tissues, and organs. Although this system isn’t located in any one place in the body, there are three key defense mechanisms that are actively working to protect us every day. These mechanisms are designed to block anything from invading our bodies that is unfamiliar or poses a potential threat, including the integumentary system a.k.a. our skin, the respiratory system via mucous membranes lining our nose, throat and lungs, and the immune cells which live in the lymphatic system located throughout our body including the spleen and thymus gland.
The skin, our first defensive front, is a literal physical barrier of protection. Sebum (oil) is secreted by the sebaceous glands and when mixed with sweat becomes the acid mantle. This slightly acidic barrier covers the skin of our entire body like armor.
Our second layer of protection is mucus (snot), produced by mucous membranes in the tissue that lines the nose, throat, and bronchial passages of the respiratory tract, as well as the lining of the stomach and intestines of the digestive tract. As you probably know, snot is sticky, which is entirely the point! Any foreign matter that makes it past our skin, usually through the intake of breath, will get stuck to our mucosal lining where it can be removed from the body by coughing or sneezing, or neutralized by being swallowed and digested.
Throughout the body you can find immune cells, which are our final, and most active immune system defenders, comprised of a variety of cells with different protective functions. Produced in the bone marrow and stored in the spleen and thymus – the major glands of our lymphatic system – immune cells cruise through the blood stream, patrolling our organs and tissues for trouble. Our innate immunity is comprised of “sentinel” white blood cells and “first responder” neutrophils (the most common white blood cell), which help the body maintain its normal, healthy vigilance, and protection. Acquired immunity is the “memory” component of immunity, made up of T and B cells, which produce specific memory cells to protect us against repeat exposure.
How to Support the Immune System with Herbs
Now that we know the major components of the immune system, here’s how to maintain the health and function of these great defenders:
Maintaining Healthy Skin
Skin health is best maintained from the inside out. Many imbalances that arise on the skin can be an indication that something internally may need support. The liver-skin connection is especially important to consider, as the skin is a detoxification pathway of the liver. This is when we reach for skin-supportive alterative herbs like red clover, burdock root and dandelion leaf & root. These tonic herbs promote liver health through their hepatic, and eliminative action, and when eaten in whole food form provide the prebiotic starch inulin to help support healthy skin.*
To support good mucosal integrity, herbalists turn to plants that support normal, healthy tone in the membranes, and also ones that are soothing and moisturizing to our tissues. Roots like licorice or marshmallow are some of our most soothing, protective agents to support healthy mucosal tone.*
Feeding Our Immune System
Herbal protocols for our immune cells are approached two ways: support and stimulate. We support our immune system year-round with immune tonic and adaptogen herbs. These daily efforts promote optimal functionality so that when we are impacted by our environment, our immune response is poised and ready for action. Herbs rich in polysaccharides like reishi and astragalus, and the deep purple nutrients from elderberry have been used around the world to support a healthy immune system.*
Predictable seasonal shifts – the kids head back to school, the sun dips low on the horizon and the days become cold, the trees begin to flower – are when our immune system is hit the hardest. Here we need to reach for our immune stimulating herbs like echinacea and spilanthes, which contain tingly phytochemicals called alkamides, to ignite our immune fire. Also useful here would be lymphatic herbs like cleavers which has been traditionally used to support the healthy flow of lymphatic fluid.*
A simple way to receive the benefits of these herbs is through herbal teas. Here are some of our favorites!
- Try our Everyday Detox® Lemon tea and Red Clover tea to support skin health.*
- Throat Coat® teas support throat health.*
- When supporting your immune system, stock your cabinet with daily immune tonic herbs like Reishi Mushroom with Rooibos and Orange Peel tea for year round support. For support when you need it, reach for Echinacea Plus Elderberry tea.*