“Beyond Toilet Paper” A proactive offense to boost your immune system

You’re washing your hands 10 times a day, not touching your face, have stocked up on supplies (including toilet paper) and maintaining social isolation. What else can you do to improve your body’s ability to fight the COVID-19 virus?

The difference between people who tend to be sick and others who never succumbing to the latest bug lies in their immune system. This complex system is made up of connective tissue; lymph glands; various organs, such as bone marrow, thymus, and spleen; and various cells including white blood cells, T cells, and B cells to name a few. Each have specialized jobs to keep us healthy. Therefore, anytime there is a “hole” in the system, opportunistic bacteria and viruses can move in. There are germs around us all the time; the difference of whether or not we get sick lies in our immune system’s strength.

Five years into a thriving 18-year Aging Life Care Management practice I recognized the need for slower medicine and became certified as a Holistic Nurse. The study of herbs and their medicinal use was a natural consequence of my search for historically proven methods to improve the lives of our aging clients that treat the whole person. I have found herbs to be safe and effective as a first line of treatment or prevention.

The herbs listed below help to improve the immune system. The healthier your immune system, the less likely you are to get sick or if you do, it will be milder.

Elderberry (Zingiber officinale)

Tincture Bottles

Elderberry is a traditional folk remedy for cold, flu, and sinus infections which has been scientifically proven to possess antiviral and antibacterial properties.  As documented in the writings of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Pliny the Elder, elderberries and elderflowers have long been used for making preserves, syrups, wines and winter cordials to support health. Most commonly, the flowers or berries of elder are employed for their healthful benefits. 

Elderberry has tannins and viburnic acid contained in the fruit; both of which are known to have a positive effect on cold and flu symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal tracts and nasal passages.

Elderberries also specifically support the immune complement system. The complement system is a part of the immune system that enhances (complements) the ability of antibodies and phagocytic cells to clear microbes and damaged cells from an organism, promote healthy inflammation, and attack the pathogen’s cell membrane. Studies have shown that elderberry extracts activate immune complement, having complement fixating activity.

In February of 2019, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials investigating the action of black elderberry in 180 participants with upper respiratory symptoms, was published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol 42, and concluded that elderberry substantially supported immune status, strengthen the immune system and inhibit virus attachment to cells inside the body, thus preventing the infecting flu virus from replicating.

Echinacea Angustifolia (also Echinacea puruprea, Echinacea pallida):

Echinacea is one of the most widely used and most effective used flu remedies in the world. Archaeologists have found evidence that Native Americans may have used echinacea for more than 400 years to treat infections and wounds, and as a general “cure-all.” Throughout history people have used echinacea to treat scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Although this herb was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, its use began to decline in the United States after the introduction of antibiotics. Echinacea preparations became increasingly popular in Germany throughout the 20th century. In fact, most of the scientific research on echinacea has been conducted in Germany.

Echinaca bloom with a honey bee

It is known to improve the body’s natural immune system to help prevent viral illnesses, as well as reduce the length and severity your body’s response to the flu symptoms when taken immediately after symptoms appear. Echinacea helps stimulate immune complement, which is the part of the immune system that enhances the ability of antibodies and phagocytes to clear microbes.

Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar reminds us that echinacea is both “preventative and curative.” Unfortunately, many people stop taking it once they are sick, thinking it can’t help them anymore. However, echinacea stimulates many aspects of our immune system to fight infection more quickly and continues to be an important ally even once we become ill. It is a very mild herb with no toxicity level reported, so dosing with two dropperfuls of extract, every 2-4 hours at the onset of illness will give better results.

The liquid form of Echinacea is more effective than tablets or capsules as part of Echinacea’s benefit is due to direct contact with the tonsils and other lymphatic tissues at the back of the throat.

Raw Honey: “works better than cough medicine”

As a backyard Beekeeper, I have found 1000 medicinal ways to use honey. What I personally found interesting is the antimicrobial activity of local raw honeys is due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide. Your local Beekeeper produces raw honey that hasn’t been heated or pasteurized, and contains natural vitamins, enzymes, powerful antioxidants, and other important nutrients. Raw honey has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties, and promotes digestive health. Pasteurized, unfiltered honey found in most stores does not contain pollen and has used heat which kills the medicinal properties of honey.

Natural Honey Comb

When honey is removed from the hive, by a beekeeper, it needs to be strained to remove parts of bee bodies and pieces of wax.  If a coarse strainer is used without heating, then the honey will contain the pollen that was present in the original honey from the local area. If this local honey is ingested regularly, it can reduce pollen allergy symptoms in humans.

A study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews assessed evidence from multiple studies testing honey as a cough suppressant and determined it to be effective. Seniors cough for a number of reasons, such as chronic lung issues, allergies, and colds, and coughing can interfere with a senior’s sleep quality and overall quality of life. Honey is natural solution and can be used long-term to help relieve coughing. 

In August of 2018 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (PHE) issued guidelines recommending doctors “Use honey first for a cough” The evidence showed that honey could be effective at reducing the symptoms of acute coughs due to upper respiratory tract infections (infections of the airways), including how often people coughed and how bad their cough was. enn State College of Medicine found that a small dose of honey given before bedtime provided better relief of nighttime cough and sleep difficulty in children (over 1 year) than no treatment or dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medications.

Honey did a better job reducing the severity, frequency and annoyance of nighttime coughing resulting from upper respiratory infection than DM or no treatment. Some cough medicines can cause irritability, sleepiness, or dizziness. These side effects may be a concern for people who have health problems and are elderly.

Raw Honey

We sell 4 oz and quart size containers of honey from my back yard at our office. (We can ship this local honey but due to the weight, shipping can be expensive).

Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger Root is one of the best and most popular herbal remedies for treating cold and flu symptoms and for helping the body to heal. Ginger works on several levels, most notably by inducing sweating to aid in detoxifying the body and by soothing the digestive tract so a sick person can eat without feeling nauseous. Traditionally, ginger root can control a cough and reduce inflammation associated with colds and the flu.

Recover or intercept flu symptoms with this great herbal tea. To make, simmer a couple of cinnamon sticks and slices of fresh organic ginger in water for at least 20 minutes. You may want to add some locally grown organic honey to soothe a sore throat, making it an effective and natural cough suppressant.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Whole Garlic Clove

Garlic is a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral herb that may be consumed to safely prevent and heal cold and flu infections, as well as other life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia. Additionally, fresh garlic extract has been shown to improve the antibiotic activities of other medicines when taken together.

To get the most out of garlic’s flu-fighting properties, it’s best to chew a raw clove every three or four hours. If you can’t bear the taste, try cutting cloves into pieces and swallowing them down like pills or mixed crushed garlic with honey. Additionally, onion is a close to garlic biologically and contains many similar antiviral chemicals though not as powerful.

TNot thrilled about taking raw garlic? Try this soup:

Garlic and Onion Soup Ingredients

Garlic and Onion Soup Ingredients

  • Two organic onions, sliced and caramelized.
  • Four globes of organic garlic, roasted (The “globe” is the entire head of garlic with all of its “cloves” or pieces.)
  • 1/2 gallon of soup broth (bone preferably or vegetable-based)
  • One bay leaf
  • One sprig of rosemary.
  • Thinly sliced raw garlic to taste.

Steep raw onion slices overnight in honey. Take the resulting mixture at intervals like a cough syrup. You can also use more onions in cooking whenever you have a cold.

With the growing recognition of the value of herbs, it is surely time to examine the professional therapeutic use of these herbs. There are profound changes happening in the American culture and herbal medicine, 'green medicine,' is playing an ever-increasing role in people's experience of this transformation. -David Hoffman

VITAMINS: Vitamins are essential constituents of our diet that have long been known to influence the immune system.

Vitamin C:

Humans lost the ability to endogenously produce vitamin C and therefore we have to get it from dietary sources. But how much we really need on a daily basis to maintain optimal health, is still hotly debated.  However, there is little debate that when it comes to optimizing immune function, there are a number of important reasons why supplementing with vitamin C can be beneficial. One important reason is that Vitamin C supports both the production and function of leukocytes (white blood cells), especially neutrophils, lymphocytes, and phagocytes. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, kale and broccoli.

Vitamin B:

Vitamin B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 and B12, contribute to your body’s first response once it has recognized a pathogen. B6 is found in cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, chicken and meat. B9 (folate) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and is added to commercial bread-making flour. B12 (cyanocobalamin) is found in animal products, including eggs, meat and dairy, and also in fortified soy milk.

Vitamin D:

Some immune cells need vitamin D to help destroy pathogens that cause infection.Although sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, food sources including eggs, fish and some milks and margarine brands may be fortified with Vitamin D (meaning extra has been added). Most people need just a few minutes outdoors most days.

People with vitamin D deficiency may need supplements. A review of 25 studies found vitamin D supplements can help protect against acute respiratory infections, particularly among people who are deficient.


Staying hydrated can boost your immune health too. Water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells. Try to avoid overdoing beverages that can made you dehydrated, like coffee. Or try eating more hydrating foods, such as cucumbers, celery or watermelon.



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Hawkins, J., Baker,C., Cherry,L., & Dunne,E.(2019)Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials,42,361-365. DOI:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004

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Vimalanathan,S., Schoop,R., Suter,A., & Hudson,J.(2017).Prevention of influenza virus induced bacterial superinfection by standardized Echinacea purpurea, via regulation of surface receptor expression in human bronchial epithelial cells. Virus Research, 233.51-59. DOI:10.1016/j.virusres.2017.03.006

Wangensteen H, & Barsett H.(2017)Elderberry and Elderflower Extracts, Phenolic Compounds, and Metabolites and Their Effect on Complement, RAW 264.7 Macrophages and Dendritic Cells. International Journal of Molecular Sciences,18(3),584. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18030584

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