There are many excellent herbs to support immune health and function.* From Astragalus to Goldenseal, Olive Leaf to Oil of Oregano, learn from Gaia Herbs Formulation Manager, Susan Hirsch, about the immune system and how these 11 herbs can support it.*
Defining the Immune System
Unlike many other systems of the body, which have distinct, easily identifiable organs and tissues, the immune system is complex. It contains numerous types of cells and tissues that both reside in other tissues and circulate throughout the body. A multi-layered shield for the body, the immune system is incredibly hard-working.
The immune system's tissues perform diverse roles: The skin serves as a literal barrier to invaders, lymphatic fluid (lymph) continually circulates to rid cells of everyday toxins and lymph nodes serve as filters for the body. While technically part of the circulatory system, the immune system's tissues comprise parts of the digestive, endocrine, respiratory, and even the skeletal systems. While no system of the body operates autonomously, the immune system has an especially symbiotic relationship with the body's other systems. The immune system knows no boundaries; its cells go everywhere.
Keeping the immune system in balance is of the utmost importance in all stages of life. As the natural defense system, it is designed to spring into action to support every area of the body. If your body is your castle, your immune system acts as the soldiers patrolling the perimeter and every corridor within the walls.
11 Herbs to Help Maintain Immune Health*
Before starting any new herbal regime, we recommend consulting your healthcare practitioner to determine which herbs are right for you, and will work well in conjunction with any current treatments or medications that you may be using.
Bitter tonic to support immune health*
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) leaf has been primarily studied to support immune system health by supporting healthy levels of immune cells in the blood, and healthy body temperature.*4 In Ayurveda, Andrographis is known as the "king of bitters," and in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has long been considered to be bitter and "cold." Andrographis is also used traditionally to support healthy microbial flora and gastrointestinal function, which in turn supports healthy immune function.*4
Provides immune support while assisting the body in adapting to daily stress*
A foundational herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Astragalus root (Huang Qi) supports healthy resistance from occasional physical and emotional stressors, and supports healthy immune function.* Astragalus contains complex sugars called polysaccharides that interact with and educate the immune system and microbiome residing in the gastrointestinal tract.1 In studies, Astragalus has been shown to support the integrity of mucous membranes and epithelial cells in the intestinal tract, which in turn supports immune function in the respiratory tract.*2 Because building a healthy defense takes time, we encourage you to think about your immune system all year long. We include it in many immune formulations such as Immune Shine®, Mushrooms + Herbs Everyday Immune, Astragalus Supreme, and Whole Body Defense®.
Daily immune support*
Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) traditionally has been used for immune support, both as a daily tonic and at the start of an immune challenge.* Black Elderberry is unique in providing both antioxidant and immune support, due to its natural concentration of anthocyanins (the antioxidants that give it that deep purple color) and other flavonoids.* Black Elderberry supports overall immune health.*3
The Elder shrub was so revered that its very name reflects the respect that it was given. The plant has been used since the fifth century AD by both Native American and European herbalists. Native Americans used the branches of Black Elderberry to make flutes, so it is sometimes called "the tree of music." Often used to flavor jams, syrups and wine, this tart, bright purple berry provides delicious daily immune support that can be used year-round.*
The Black Elderberries used in our syrups and other products come from a European growing cooperative based in Austria. This cooperative has more than 450 growers and was founded in 1965. One of our growers, who is the largest producer of organic Elderberries in Europe, has been cultivating these beautiful berries for more than 40 years. Growing herbs for supplements is a long-standing tradition in Europe, so we are honored to be able to work with a family that has preserved this tradition. Black Elderberry forms the base for our delicious syrups as well as Quick Defense and Immune Shine.
Supports a healthy immune response*
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia and purpurea) is used to support continual immune health.* Known as purple coneflower, Echinacea is the name of a group of flowering plants in the daisy family that are native to North America and Europe. In late summer at the Gaia Farm, we have both species of Echinacea in full bloom in all of their bright, inspiring pink and purple glory. Both species of Echinacea have been used historically by Native Americans and Europeans to treat various ailments, and Echinacea remains one of the most popular immune herbs today.
Echinacea is unique in that various parts of different Echinacea species are active in different ways. Some preparations, such as the early spring tops, are rich in polysaccharides, helping to maintain foundational wellness.* This preparation of Echinacea is featured in Whole Body Defense.* Fall-harvested Echinacea roots and seed heads are rich in compounds called alkylamides, which are responsible for this herbs’ tingly sensation and its ability to support a healthy immune response at onset.* These alkylamide-rich preparations are featured in Echinacea Supreme, Echinacea Goldenseal Supreme, Quick Defense, and Turmeric Supreme Immune A.S.A.P.*
Warming and circulating support*
This deliciously spicy herb grown in tropical climates is one of the most widely consumed aromatic species on the planet. Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) supports healthy digestion, and blood circulation, which in turn supports a healthy immune response.* Ginger root contains pungent compounds called gingerols and shogaols, which help to stimulate circulation of blood and benefits all areas of the body.* Ginger is featured in Immune Shine, Quick Defense, Turmeric Supreme Immune A.S.A.P., as well as many other of our favorites. And, nothing beats a hot cup of ginger tea with lemon and honey when you are feeling chilled.
Tonify and support*
Goldenseal (hydrastis canadensis) root was popularized by the Eclectics, who learned about the plant from the Native Americans in the 19th century. This herb is believed to tonify and support the mucous tissues of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, while also supporting the digestive process.* Goldenseal root is a natural source of berberine, which has enjoyed recent popularity.
During a time of heavy harvesting around the 1800s, the population of Goldenseal greatly decreased, leaving this plant endangered and almost to the point of extinction. We have long been a supporter of United Plant Savers (UPS), whose mission is to protect native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada and their native habitat, while ensuring an abundant renewable supply of medicinal plants for generations to come. UPS has recently launched their Hope for Hydrastis project, raising funds to help preserve Goldenseal for future generations. We encourage everyone to read more about this important project and how you can help this iconic American herb flourish.
The Goldenseal root used in our products is ethically sourced to ensure that we are not further endangering this important species. We encourage you to reserve this plant for times when it is needed the most to support mucous membrane function and your body’s defense barrier.* It is often paired with Echinacea in our formulations, such as Echinacea Goldenseal Propolis Throat Spray and Echinacea Goldenseal Supreme.
Helps maintain a healthy mucous layer in the respiratory tract*
Another herb commonly used by Native Americans, Grindelia has traditionally been used to support the respiratory system and provide support to an irritated respiratory tract.* Grindelia flowers exude a sticky sap and modern herbalists use this herb to support the lungs and surrounding tissue.* We include Grindelia in our Bronchial Wellness and Black Elderberry Nighttime Syrup.
Cellular immune support*
Highly valued in Japanese and Traditional Chinese Medicine for the support of the immune system, Maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushroom is a fungus that perennially grows on hardwoods in the same place, if undisturbed.* In Japanese, it is called "Hen of the Woods," and is prized in cooking for its delicate texture and earthy flavor. Like its cousin Reishi, Maitake fruiting bodies contain beta-glucans, and it is commonly used to help sustain overall wellness.* Maitake mushroom fruiting body is featured in Immune Shine and Mushrooms + Herbs Everyday Immune.
Supports immune function while also offering antioxidant support*
The Olive tree (Olea europea) has been a revered plant throughout human history, as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, where it was recognized as a symbol of wisdom, peace, and longevity. While much attention is given to the antioxidant support of olives and olive oil, Olive Leaf also provides antioxidant support.* The evergreen leaves of the Olive tree must produce their own antioxidants to withstand the radiation from hot, dry sun. Olive Leaf was used historically to support cardiovascular health, glycemic health, and immune health, by supporting healthy body temperature and healthy levels of immune cells.*
We use fresh-picked whole Olive Leaf, which is then gently concentrated to support a healthy immune response.*
Supports healthy respiratory function and is a natural antioxidant source*
In Greek, Oregano (Origanum vulgare) means "joy of the mountain," as the herb prefers higher elevations in the Mediterranean region. In addition to centuries of use in kitchens across Europe, Oregano leaf has enjoyed an equally long history of supporting a healthy immune response.* Our supercritical CO2 extract of Oregano contains pungent volatile oils, including carvacrol and thymol, which offer support for maintaining healthy respiratory function and a healthy immune response.* Oregano leaf, can be used daily in culinary amounts to support health, and in concentrated Oil of Oregano form to offer increased support when you need it most.*
Adaptogenic support for immune function*
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 2,000 years, where it is known as “Ling Zhi,” or “spiritual mushroom.” It grows on hardwood trees and historically was rare in the wild and reserved for the emperor and his court. Thankfully, Reishi can easily be cultivated. In TCM, Reishi is considered a tonic and adaptogen, meaning that it can support a healthy stress response and is believed to help to balance several different organ systems throughout the body.* Traditionally, it was revered for nourishing the heart and calming the spirit, as well as supporting respiratory health and liver function.*
In modern times, this mushroom is used for many of these same purposes. It contains polysaccharides called beta-glucans, which are mostly found in mushroom fruiting bodies, and helps to support the immune system.* Reishi is featured in Mushrooms + Herbs Everyday Immune.
1 Wei Wang. Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines. 2019, 17: 0252-0263
2 An Xuedong. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2019 118, 109252.
3 Youdim KA. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1995; 1:361-9.
4 Okhuarbobo A. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease. 2014, 4, 213-222
5 Somerville V, Moore R, and Braakhuis A. Nutrients. 2019, 11, 358.