Herbal medicine is an ancient healing art with profound effects on the human body. Plants contain unique constituents that help boost and balance your immune system.
They can either stimulate the immune system by directly fighting against viruses, bacteria and fungi or they can modulate and nourish the immune system to enhance the body’s own natural defences.
These are the top 5 common plants that can help you through this year's cold & flu season:
1. Elder berry & flower (Sambucus nigra)
The Elder flower and berry can increase circulation and improve oxygenation of tissues through its diaphoretic effects on the body. Elder is also considered a relaxant and helps relieve spasmodic coughs, making it an excellent remedy for croup and spasmodic coughing in children. The berries and flowers are high in flavonoids, which have an antimicrobial action within the body and helps strengthen cell membranes to prevent virus penetration.
2. Peppermint leaf (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint leaf contains Vitamin C, calcium, B vitamins and potassium to help give your immune system an extra boost. Peppermint is traditionally used as a remedy for fever and chills, which may be partially explained by its paradoxical cool taste and stimulating and warming after-effects within the body. It also fights against microbes and helps sooth the digestive system, making this tea ideal for the flu.
3. Thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris)
Although thyme is native to the mediterranean, it grows very well here and has become a common addition to any local herb garden. Thyme leaf tea is an excellent cough remedy. It helps the lungs expel excess mucus and helps to sooth inflamed lung tissue. Thyme has a powerful detoxifying and penetrative effect due to its volatile oils, which helps to open pores and thin mucus.
It is also considered an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory for the lungs, and has proved to be an effective traditional remedy against powerful infective organisms like typhoid and diphtheria. Today, thyme is used for postnasal drip, whooping cough in children, sore throats, common colds and bronchitis.
4. Sage leaf (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is also native to the Mediterranean region, but grows well in BC herb gardens. Sage leaf tea is the ultimate sore throat remedy. It has a specific action towards soothing inflammation of the throat, and helps to break up mucus formation. It also contains thujone, a potent antiseptic and antibiotic, which fights against common viruses, bacteria and fungi to assist your body’s immune system and help you recover faster.
5. Osha root (Ligusticum spp)
Osha typically grows in high altitudes along the rocky mountains and cascades, but a less potent relative, the Ligusticum scoticum species, can be found in the forests of BC. The resins within the root relieve congestion by expelling mucus from the lungs and sinuses, and reduce inflammation by naturally increasing your own cortisol production. Osha is best used for cold, flu, sinusitis, influenza, sore throat, and bronchitis. Osha should be avoided during pregnancy.
When deciding on where to live, people often consider the safety of the neighbourhood, proximity to work/school/groceries/etc, easy commutes, convenience of transportation, and so on. However, a growing body of research is looking at another important lifestyle factor for optimal health and quality of life: the amount of surrounding green and blue space.
Green space refers to areas of concentrated plant life, like parks, gardens, forests and trees lining a street. Blue space refers to bodies of water like lakes, streams and oceans.
Our “green and blue time” is becoming progressively more important as urbanization continues to push forward.
"We must find a balance between our connection with nature & the convenience of an urban lifestyle."
Through this article, we will explore the positive health benefits of natural environments on your immune system, mood, stress levels, and family health.
WALKING THROUGH THE FOREST CAN BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM.
In Japan, there have been numerous studies on the immune boosting effect of certain plant-derived airborne chemicals called phytoncides. These antimicrobial phytoncides are released by trees to help protect them against certain viruses, bacteria and fungi. When we walk through the mist of phytoncides, we also receive this natural antimicrobial protection.
The air within natural environments is also filled with helpful microbes, which help to rebuild and strengthen our own microcosm of beneficial skin flora to protect against disease.
NATURAL ENVIRONMENTS HELP BALANCE YOUR MOOD AND REDUCE STRESS.
Most people experience the relaxing effect of nature while going for a walk through the forest or along the ocean, it just makes you feel good. This is because nature promotes feelings of positivity and helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Green spaces have been shown to lower cortisol levels and increase parasympathetic nerve activity. Cortisol is your stress hormone, it gets released during stressful events to get you ready to run for your life. The Parasympathetic nervous system is your “rest and digest” mode, it calms the mind and body down to prepare for meals, rest and sleep. Lowering cortisol and increasing parasympathetic activity can help reduce anxiety, lower stress, balance blood pressure, and turn off mental chatter and rumination.
GREEN SPACES PROMOTE HEALTHIER PREGNANCIES AND IMPROVE CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH.
Nature's effect on stress reduction, as discussed earlier, has a very positive effect on pregnancy outcomes. While under stress, blood is shunted away from your major abdominal organs towards the muscles of your arms and legs to get ready to “fight or flight”. By lowering stress, you are ensuring that you and your baby are getting the optimal delivery of oxygen and nutrients needed. Studies have also shown a positive correlation between increased exposure to green spaces and healthier newborn birthweight.
Nature also provides a calming effect on children. Increased exposure to urban green spaces and beaches has been shown to decrease the potential of children developing ADD/ADHD, and reduce behavioural, emotional and social difficulties in children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.
I hope this information will encourage you to get out in nature more often. Whether it’s walking through a tree-lined street, visiting your neighbour’s garden or walking along the beach, you and your family’s health will benefit from it.
Author: Dr. Fiona Smulders, ND