Well friends, ‘tis the season for stuffy noses and shoving our faces into our elbows to keep coughs and sneezes at bay (or do we just use our masks now?).
The immune system is our first line of defense against pesky viruses, and there are a multitude of practices and tools to have on hand to help strengthen and support your immune system. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites (and most accessible)!
First and foremost, your daily habits can make or break your immune system. Below are some simple, but powerful preventative practices to arm yourself with.
1. Diet: food is medicine! Load up on a variety of colorful veggies, fruits, and other foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which help stave off incoming viruses. Some of our favorites include citrus fruits, bell peppers, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), garlic, turmeric, ginger, onion, probiotic-rich foods (yay, gut health!), nuts, and seeds.
Bone broth is a staple year round, but especially this time of year. It’s loaded with tons of nutrients, including gut-supportive collagen, essential and non-essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and protein. It’s immune supportive, anti-inflammatory, restores the gut lining, and tastes delicious. NOTE: Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy the benefits of mushroom broth just the same! At Vervain, we carry an herbal broth kit to infuse herbal medicine into your broth for an extra kick. Brew up a big batch, grab yourself a mug, and sip frequently throughout the day!
Hint: if you feel a cold or flu coming on, load up on pineapple. Bromelain is your new best friend, protecting you against infection and easing inflammation!
2. Exercise: regularly moving your bod not only contributes to a healthier, longer life, but also strengthens the immune system by aiding in good circulation, thus allowing the cells to move through the body more efficiently to get their job done. Additionally, those who live more sedentary lifestyles are at a higher risk of contracting viruses and other infectious diseases. So get moving! Exercise doesn’t only mean two hour visits to the gym either. Anything to get you up and going, including walks, yoga, rebounding, riding your bike to the store, gardening, etc.
3. Reduce stress: we know, we know, “stress reduction” is all the rage. But for good reason! Chronic stress - which affects so many of us - suppresses the immune system, making us more susceptible to infection. It also creates a cyclical inflammatory response in the body, contributing to numerous health-related issues and diseases. Keep in mind that sometimes short-term stress can actually be beneficial for us. It allows us to respond appropriately to life instances such as responding to deadlines and emergencies, keeping up with our responsibilities, and even saving our lives. It’s when daily stressors pile up (think financial problems, hating your job, being around toxic people, etc.) and we never come down from them that chronic stress--> inflammation-->infection.
Some of our favorite ways to reduce stress are frequent movement, deep belly breathing, getting out in nature, reading, writing, surrounding ourselves with loved ones, cooking a wholesome meal, meditation, massage, and Amma therapy. We also carry several tools in the apothecary to support the stress response, allowing our bodies to return to a state of homeostasis (balance).
4. Sleep: our bodies recover overnight when we sleep, and so many of us are not getting enough quality sleep regularly. Lack of sleep makes us vulnerable to inflammation and infectious diseases, not to mention it contributes to that previously mentioned culprit: chronic stress. Sleep and the circadian rhythm have a strong regulatory effect on the immune system, involving cytokines, T cells, hormones, and cortisol. Click here for more in-depth information about how this can directly affect your immune function!
You can improve your overall sleep quality by reducing stress, turning off electronics two hours before bed, meditating and deep breathing, drinking tea, and more. Sleep hygiene is an crucial, underrated daily practice that can contribute so much to an overall healthier lifestyle. Again, Vervain is loaded up with all things sleep, including this book (link) that helps you create your own nightly sleep practice!
5. Warming socks treatment: a natural method of stimulating the immune system by improving circulation, this is a cheap and easy way to support yourself! Dr. Nicole Pierce wrote an article all about this practice and it’s easy to see why it’s one of her favorites. Read more here!
6. Dry skin brushing: Dr. Pierce also wrote a great article on the many benefits of dry skin brushing. It’s one of the first things she recommends to her patients who are looking to optimize their health, and (bonus!) the benefits start almost immediately. Check it out!
Herbs & Supplements
In addition to the above daily habits, including certain herbs and supplements can offer even more supportive and holistic protection for the immune system. Luckily, nature has provided us with a bounty of beneficial and medicinal herbs. The herbs and supplements listed below are our favorites, supporting the immune system (of course), lungs and respiratory system, gut health, sore throats, wound healing, mucosal lining, blood sugar, and addressing inflammation, mood, and more! We have a lot to say about each of these powerful treatments and protocols, so for more information on any one in particular, come visit us at Vervain or ask your question below and we will happily expand! There’s so much to learn about each one.
Elder (berry & flower)
Medicinal mushrooms (reishi, chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane, and more!)
...and many more! We have over 200 bulk herbs in stock at Vervain! Click here to see an ever-evolving list.
Vitamin D3/K2 (always take K2 with D! - “Increasing one’s intake of vitamin D without enough vitamin K can cause an increase in calcium levels without the ability to use it effectively, which raises the risk of depositing calcium in arteries and soft tissue.”)
B complex and multivitamins
We hope you’ve found a few things you can incorporate into your daily routine to better protect yourself and your loved ones this season. Remember to drink lots of water, wash your hands, cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing, move your body, and make room for laughter and joy. We are always here to help support you along the way!
In good health,
The Vervain Collective
Erika's Elderberry-Rosehip Syrup
Elderberries and rosehips are abundant in the mountains, trails and backyards all over Idaho. Rosehips are famously chock-full of Vitamin C and flavonoids, and elderberries are a powerful and delicious medicinal food shown to inhibit viruses and reduce the length of cold and flu symptoms. Keep this syrup handy for “flu season” as well as year-round enjoyment and fortification.
1 cup fresh elderberries (1/2 cup if using dried berries)
1/2 cup fresh rosehips (1/4 cup if using dried)
4 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
small piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
1 cup raw honey*
Place elderberries, rosehips, water and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Smash the berries and rosehips to release remaining juices and strain the mixture. Allow the liquid to cool to room temperature. Stir in raw honey. Elderberry-Rosehip Syrup can be stored in the refrigerator and used within 3 weeks or kept frozen for several months.
*if you prefer your syrup less sweet, start by adding half the honey. Local, raw honey adds medicinal and immune boosting properties to this syrup and it also helps preserve the mixture keeping it fresh longer. Raw honey should not be given to infants under 1 year of age.