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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Strengthen the Immune System with Herbs: Herbalist Kathleen Gould describes the benefits of astragalus root, garlic and reishi mushrooms.

Jan 31, 2015 10:44AM ● By Kathleen Gould

In the colder winter months, using herbs to help strengthen our immune system is a simple way to help prevent getting common illnesses such as flu, colds and respiratory imbalances. Although this will not guarantee not getting sick, it cannot hurt, and in most cases will help.

We are not just physical beings, but first and foremost spiritual, emotional beings, as well, and staying healthy means decreasing stress and thinking loving positive thoughts as often as possible. Meditation and prayer are wonderful ways to bring us to a loving space in our hearts and minds. Just five to 10 minutes a day in meditation can make a big difference in our overall health.

For most of us, the immune system works without any problem, but with the addition of stress, anxiety, poor nutrition and lack of exercise or sleep, it could use a bit of help, especially during the winter months. As we look for herbs to boost our immune system, we must also look for ways to prepare these herbs that fit into our busy schedules, because most of us do not have time to make complicated preparations. One of the easiest things we can do is to incorporate herbs right into our foods. Three great herbs to get to know are astragalus root, garlic and reishi mushrooms (all medicinal mushrooms are great food additions).

Astragalus is called an adaptogen, meaning it helps protect the body against physical, mental or emotional stress. In addition, it helps increase overall energy, can help build resistance to disease and reduce the incidence of colds and flu.

Garlic is a highly nutritive and inexpensive food that enhances the immune system to help strengthen the body against allergens and pollutants. It is a wonderful antibiotic, antifungal and antiseptic that is effective against both viruses and bacteria.

Reishi is a powerful mushroom that works to enhance the function of the immune system. Also an adaptogen, reishi helps rid the body of bad bacteria, viruses and pathogens to help fight off infection. It is a powerful immune stimulant, antihistamine and antioxidant and works to stimulate T-cell activity. It is used to treat chronic respiratory infections, ulcers, hypertension, high cholesterol, allergies and a host of other imbalances.

Soups are an easy and delicious way to infuse all the healing properties of these medicinal herbs right into our food. Put a small piece of reishi mushroom, two tablespoons of astragalus root and a couple pieces of garlic in a muslin bag. Add other healing roots like burdock, dandelion and eleuthero, if available (about one rounded teaspoon each), to the muslin bag. Put the bag of herbs right into the soup as it cooks, and then remove the bag before serving.

It is possible to do the same thing with any dish that cooks for a longer periods of time, such as rice and beans. The reishi mushroom is somewhat bitter and can overwhelm a recipe, so do not use too much. A small piece about one inch in diameter is more than sufficient.

Every day, more and more of us are coming back to the knowledge that herbs are powerful allies for both prevention and healing. Open up to the Earth and all her healing medicines. She is waiting for you and she will answer—all we need to do is ask.

Kathleen Gould is a registered herbalist with SW Herb Shop & Gathering Place, 148 N. Center St., in Mesa. Contact her at 480-694-9931 or

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