With chilly nights and cooler days quickly approaching, you might worry that a dreaded cold or flu will soon follow. Did you know there are foods and herbs that can help strengthen your immune system? Some of them are probably already in your pantry!
Here are some of my favorite home remedies to introduce during the cold and flu season, preferably as prevention, and also for support when you have a cold.
This magical spicy rhizome is my number one go to when I'm feeling chilled, achy, or I'm wanting to help a fever do its critical immune job of killing off the foreign bodies that are bringing me down. I also use it preventively and end up making a lot of Ginger Tea in the fall and winter. Teas are a wonderful way to ingest lots of great nutrients, the hot liquid itself can be quite healing and it's very affordable. You might make a pot and keep it warm in a thermos to drink throughout the day.
Shop Ginger: Ginger Force || Ginger Essential Oil
A beloved ancient food, another rhizome and the number one go to in many Eastern communities for cold and flu. Golden Milk is an easy, delicious method of taking Turmeric; use fresh or dried turmeric and simmer in milk with chai spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and a touch of honey. I like this recipe, though I do usually add black pepper for some bite. You can get creative with the spices, as they vary in regions and even households. Choose spices you like, or that you have, then experiment with blends! Just be sure to add enough turmeric for the rich curcumins that lend the golden part and many healthy compounds.
Shop Turmeric: Fermented Turmeric Tablets || Fermented Turmeric Booster Powder || Turmeric Force
3. Raw Garlic
A cousin of onion with impressive anti-microbial activity, garlic is an all time favorite when it comes to fighting off sickness. Garlic brings an unmistakable flavor to food, a unique savory zest. Do not cook the garlic for best results if you want to use it for cold or flu. This is in order to maximize exposure to the volatile oils, where many of the anti-microbial benefits exist. Simply add your garlic to your food after it has been cooked!
I like garlic because it is readily available, affordable and shown to be effective against a broad spectrum including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic pathogens. If you aren’t sure what kind of “bug” you have, garlic has you covered!
Here are a couple of tricks to help get the raw garlic down in sufficient dosage to knock back a cold:
- Make a piece of toast with butter and add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic after it is toasted. You’ll love this fresh garlic bread!
- If concerned about your breath, or you don’t feel like eating: try chopping the garlic into pill size pieces and swallowing without chewing. Not chewing helps to minimize the effect on breath.
- Make a honey and garlic syrup, oh yeah!
I will typically take 1-2 cloves (or 1-2 tsp garlic honey) every 2-4 hours during an acute stage. Better yet, I start with the garlic as soon as I feel those pesky symptoms.
Shop Garlic: Garlic Force
Note: a trick for cooking garlic is to peel and smash the garlic about 10 minutes before using. This process causes a protective response within the garlic which releases a group of compounds called allicin, an important group of healing compounds within garlic. The allicin will remain intact during cooking if this time to develop after bruising is allowed.
4. Lemon and Honey Tea
If you don’t have any Turmeric or Ginger around, you might make a simple lemon tea! Use the infusion method with organic lemons. This tea is also great to warm you up on a cold day!
I like to make a large pot by bringing water to a near boil. Add 2 cut up lemons, squeeze and add the peel and all to infuse about 3 - 5 minutes. Add honey or maple syrup to taste. If you like spice, add a pinch of cayenne for a nice kick. If you don’t have organic lemons, skip steeping with the peel and simply squeeze the lemon into the hot water and add your sweetener.
Note: add peels only if organic, otherwise simply add the juice. Longer steeping will bring out the bitter oils of the peel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, over-steeped tea does not retain the brightness of the properly steeped version.
5. Pine Needle Tea
Did you know that pine needles have 4-5 times the amount of Vitamin C than lemons? Any true Pinus spp is safe to make into tea, presuming it comes from a clean area and not too close to a road or other pollutants. Pinus virgiana, or Virginia Pine, has especially good flavor.
I have a big White Pine Tree in my front yard that I enjoy using, here is my recipe. Most anyone in the US will have access to a pine tree close by. Pines are easy to ID, forage and make into tea. Just be sure it is a true pine (Pinus spp) and not the Yew Pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus) which is not really a pine.
Another zesty food ingredient, Cayenne contains a special compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin has clear pain relieving benefits which might help explain the historical use for cold and flu. Creams formulated for pain with capsaicin are found at conventional pharmacies. Cayenne peppers contain rich levels of Vitamin C and other nutrients known to help immune system function. I suspect we will learn more about potential immune properties with more research. The warming nature and decongestant properties of cayenne are certainly welcome during cold and flu season. I like Cayenne Peppers in vinegar, or I like to add a pinch to my lemon and honey tea.
7. Black Seed
Here we have another ancient food remedy much like Ginger and Turmeric with a very long history of use and many common names including Black Cumin, Roman Coriander, and Black Sesame. Black Seed, or Nigella Sativa, boasts a broad range of benefits to general health including better immune function. This plant is rather newly discovered in the west and yet is one of the most beloved of great healers of antiquity. If you want to know more, check out Sayer JI's excellent review of Black Seed.
Black seed oil is very popular today, though I find it interesting the historical use and research is primarily on the seed powder. You can integrate either oil or seeds into your food. Use the oil for salad dressings and other non-cooked applications. Grind the seeds and sprinkle on salads or decoct into a tasty tea.
To make a tea, add 3 tsp of seeds per 2 cups water. Simmer for 10 minutes or longer. Add honey or maple syrup to taste.
Shop Black Seed: Golden Black Seed Powder with Turmeric
8. Fermented Foods
Eating fermented food is a great way to encourage healthy gut bacteria which in turn creates an environment where healthy immune cells thrive. And better yet, fermented foods are very easy to make at home!
The food blog Kitchn hosts a nice article with links on how to make 23 different fermented foods!
Not a fan of eating fermented foods? Shop Probiotic: Probiotic All-Flora
Any of these foods might be made into a vinegar. I highly recommend unfiltered apple cider vinegar for additional healing benefits. Vinegars are a great solution if you are avoiding sugars, alcohol, or simply don’t have time for tea. You could also make up combinations such as Ginger, Cayenne, and Garlic for a little version of Fire Cider. Or make your own Fire Cider such as this one demonstrated by the legendary Rosemary Gladstar.
10. Fall & Winter Foods
Many winter vegetables contain preventive and protective compounds so be sure to include foods like onions, horseradish, winter squash, saffron, and lemon into your diet.
Feeling overwhelmed by all this info?
Start simple! Begin trying one thing at a time. For instance, you might try a new tea every week or month. Or you might begin to incorporate some of these items into your meal planning.
Most importantly, remember the basics
- Get good quality sleep, 7-8 hours a night, your brain and body needs it!
- Drink enough water, at least 8-10 glasses a day. Drink the cleanest water you have access to, and not from a plastic bottle.
- Eat whole fresh foods.
- Avoid processed foods.
- Add plenty of fresh or dried culinary herbs like rosemary, sage, basil, oregano and many more; the lovely volatile oils that you smell have mild immune supportive properties.
I like to increase my consumption of immune supportive foods starting in fall and continue all winter long. However, as soon as you feel symptoms coming on, you'll want to "dose up" and take larger amounts and consistent doses of immune-building foods like raw garlic or cups of tea throughout the day.
In order to have plenty of immune support from my food on a daily basis, I like to add herbs and other super foods in to soups, sautees and salads. Just a little at a time will expose my family to immune strengthening compounds. You can also order herbal teas while you're out as a healthy alternative to adrenal depleting caffeine and sugar drinks.
All of the foods and herbs discussed here are on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. Meaning generally safe for both children and adults. Always check with your medical practitioner or pharmacist about contraindications with any medication you might be taking.
With any food, spice or herb, there is a slim chance for allergic reaction. Whenever you add a new food or herb into your diet, best start with a small amount and make sure it is working for you. Use common sense here! Always back off if something is causing any unwanted side effects for you.