Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine encourage us to shift our diet and lifestyle along with the change of the seasons. Autumn is about returning to our roots and going inward energetically. It's a great time for taking stock of our life and our health. Feeling the end of Summer blues can signal us to nourish ourselves in a deeper way. You can take this mindful approach one step further and incorporate Autumn centered roots, herbs and fungi into your day. A great way to do this is to try autumn-centered medicinal herbs, including some immune-boosting roots and mushrooms that truly feel nourishing during this time of year.
Just as the detoxifying bitters and leafy greens, like nettle and dandelion leaf, signal springtime and bright edible flowers, like calendula and borage, grace your summer diet, the fall season also has traditional botanicals. These tend to be harvested at this time of year and also supply us with just the right nutrients and healing compounds we need to fight the health issues we encounter during autumn, like cold and flu. Here are some well studied fall season herbs, used around the world for millennia, to include in your food, teas, and as supplements.
Medicinal mushrooms: I like to include more medicinal mushrooms into my diet and my herbal remedies at this time of year. Shiitake mushrooms are especially nice (not all the medicinal mushrooms taste so delicious!) Shiitakes demonstrate antiviral activity to keep the common cold at bay. Some other adaptogenic mushrooms to consider include reishi and chaga. Chaga has been shown to boost immunity, slow aging, protect against oxidative stress, fight cancer, balance hormones, rid kidney stones, reduce inflammation and much more. It can be taken in powder, capsule, tincture and tea form. You can also include mushroom powders in your coffee, smoothies, soups or use capsules.
Burdock root: Burdock root is rich in vitamins and minerals, and its inulin content (as is found in dandelion and elecampane root as well) is being studied for its beneficial effects on the immune system, especially in the area of the gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Try cutting it into matchstick-size pieces and use in stir-fries, seaweed dishes, and sushi. You can also include it in a pickled vegetable recipe.
Astragalus root: A staple of traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is a warming immunogenic herb well-suited to fall. Complex polysaccharides in astragalus act as immunomodulators while the nutrient-rich root nourishes the body deeply. It boosts immunity and buffers the effects of stress. It increases the amount of anti stress compounds our bodies use to repair and prevent stress-related damage. It may also reduce the ability of stress hormones like cortisol to bind to receptors. Use it in powder form, tincture, or added to soups and stews.
Garlic: Garlic is the original super-immunity herb. Compounds in garlic boost the disease-fighting response of white blood cells when faced with viruses in the body. Garlic helps prevent sickness in the first place, lowers total duration of cold and flu, and also diminishes the severity of symptoms like headaches, fever, and sore throat. Use fresh, organic garlic and add to your recipes in the last few minutes of cooking to preserve allicin, one of its active compounds. The best way to use it is to include two to three cloves of garlic in your diet each day.
Elderberry: A warming herb that's a favorite with the kids and adults alike in the form of elderberry syrup and tinctures, this is my go-to herb for early signs of flu. Studies have shown that elderberry extract can significantly shorten the duration of influenza while lowering the need for medication, when compared with placebo. Of course, if you think you have the flu, also seek appropriate medical care. See below for more on Elderberry.
Ginger: While ginger itself is actually a tropical plant, the root (rhizome) of the ginger plant has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years to warm the body, beat chills and reduce aches, pains, and digestive symptoms. Organic ginger can be used fresh, dried or powdered. Juice it raw, add to smoothies or other recipes, or steep it as a tea.
Echinacea: Echinacea root is one of the most widely used botanicals for cold and flu prevention. It's been shown to reduce both the severity and the duration of colds. Studies suggest echinacea contains active substances that support immune function. Take it in capsule form, tincture or tea when cold and flu season comes around. If you take the same medicinal herbs all year long it might be time to shake up your routine a bit and shift your daily botanicals along with the seasons. This fall, load up on nourishing roots and immune-boosting medicinal mushrooms for a change of pace and a healthier season.
Black elderberry may help you ward off your next cold or flu.
Elderberry, a rangy shrub that produces large clusters of small, dark berries, has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb. European, or black elder, is the most commonly used of the 30 species of elderberry. Because the raw berries contain a cyanide-like substance, they must be cooked before use, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Black elderberry syrup, supplements and extracts offer many potential health benefits.
Black elderberry may reduce the duration and severity of your next cold or flu by decreasing congestion and increasing sweating, which helps your body rid itself of infection, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The form of the supplement produced different results in some instances, with the dried form, capsules or tablets and extracts -- showing significantly greater effect than oral drops.
Bacterial infections, such as H. pylori, the bacterium the causes stomach ulcers, may respond well to treatment with black elderberry extract, according to the University of Texas at El Paso. Elderberry also enhances the effectiveness of the antibiotic clarithromycin. A study published in the February 2011 issue of the journal "BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine" found that black elderberry inhibited several species of streptococcus, a type of bacteria that commonly causes respiratory infections.
Antioxidant properties of black elderberry help protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to cancer, according to Purdue University. Elderberry possesses among the highest levels of antioxidants of all berries and small fruits. A study published in the April 2012 issue of the journal "heptogastroenterology" found that black elderberry extract inhibited invasiveness and metastasis of gallbladder cancer.
Black elderberry contains proteins that inactivate certain types of cell reproduction and may offer anticancer benefits, according to a study published in the May 2011 issue of the journal "Toxins." Researchers noted that the elderberry proteins are less toxic than other proteins, such as ricin, a highly toxic derivative of the castor oil plant, and may represent a viable lower-risk option for cancer treatment and prevention.
Blood Sugar and Fat
A compound in elderberry, called ursolic acid, may help regulate blood sugar and discourage fat storage, according to a laboratory animal study published in the November 2011 issue of the "Journal of Medicinal Food." In the study, 15 weeks of supplementation with ursolic acid resulted in decreased body weight, abdominal fat and blood sugar levels. Researchers concluded that elderberry extract may offer a natural means to favorably alter metabolism to help decrease the risk for obesity and diabetes.
Elderberry's blood sugar-lowering effects may increase the effects of diabetes medications and cause dangerously low blood sugar. Elderberry also acts as a diuretic encouraging your body to release fluids and should not be used together with diuretic drugs. Similarly, its immune-stimulating activity makes it work against drugs that suppress the immune system, such as steroids and other drugs used to treat autoimmune conditions. Consult your doctor for guidance on the proper use of elderberry.