Boosting Immunity With Herbs

For over 4,000 years, the Chinese have used certain herbs to
prevent common diseases. The ancient Chinese knew nothing of bacteria
or viruses, yet some of these herbs were said to "strengthen the
exterior", or the "shield". Modern scientific research is confirming
that they were right. Thousands of years later, and sixty years after
the discovery of penicillin, the study of herbs affecting the immune
system is one of the hottest topics in pharmacological research. Can
herbs really strengthen our resistance and help us lead healthier
lives? Both the wisdom of centuries of observation, and the scrutiny
of the scientific laboratory, support the view that they can.


Our immune system recognizes and destroys anything foreign to the
body, including cells like bacteria and other microbes, and foreign
particles including toxic compounds. This recognition and destruction
is performed by cells in the circulatory and the lymphatic systems.
These cells are produced in the bone marrow and lymphatic tissue
(thymus, lymph nodes, spleen and tonsils) respectively. The cells
begin their lives as "stem cells". These cells are so featureless
that there is no way to determine what type of blood cell they will
ultimately become. They may develop into any of a number of different
kind of cells, for instance: red blood cells, various types of white
blood cells, etc. These cells are then released into the blood stream
and are carried to all parts of the body. There are essentially two
types of cells, one of which is called "memory cells". Memory cells,
as the name implies, remember specific foreign cells or chemicals to
which they have been exposed, and react immediately when they are
next exposed to those compounds. Drugs which effect the memory cells
stimulate immunity only to one disease or antigen. Vaccines are an
example of drugs which effect memory cells.

Most herbs for the immune system don't affect memory cells, but
are general immune system stimulators (immunostimulants). They
increase the activity of the immune system but are not specific to a
particular disease or "antigen" (a protein against which immune cells
act). Rather, they increase resistance by mobilizing "effector cells"
which act against all foreign particles, rather than just one
specific type (i.e. a measles virus).

Remarkably, since the discovery of penicillin, our scientists, in
search of drugs against infectious disease, have looked only for
chemicals which kill bacteria or viruses. Finally, they are coming to
realize that it is possible to boost the immune system, which can
then fight naturally against infectious agents, without the drawbacks
of antibiotic therapy. While immune stimulants cannot replace
antibiotics in some cases, they have proven far superior in others.

Echinacea is a very popular American wildflower and garden plant,
the purple coneflower. It's also one of America's most popular herbal
products, also used to prevent and treat the common cold, influenza
and infections. Echinacea is the best known and one of the most
researched of immunostimulants.

Echinacea was among the most popular herbs used by Native American
Indians. At least 14 tribes used Echinacea for a coughs, colds, sore
throats, infections, toothaches, inflammations, tonsillitis, and
snake bites, among other uses. It was used by the Dakotas as a
veterinary medicine for their horses.

By the early Twentieth century, echinacea had become the best
selling medicinal tincture in America, used for a variety of internal
and external conditions. But by 1910 it had been dismissed as
worthless by the AMA, although it continued to be used. Echinacea
fell into disuse in this country in the 1930's. However, Europeans
began growing and using echinacea, especially the Germans, and to
this day have produced the best scientific documentation of its
value. The extract's popularity in the U.S. grew rapidly during the
1980s, and the plant is now again among America's best-selling herb

The most common anecdotal reports about the use of ecinacea are
from people who begin taking the extract at the first sign of a cold.
Often to their surprise, they find the cold has disappeared, usually
within twenty-four hours, and sometimes after taking the extract only
once. Anecdotal evidence carries little weight in scientific circles,
but plant drug researchers have conducted over 350 scientific studies
about echinacea. Here's what some of those studies say about

The most consistently proven effect of echinacea is in stimulating
phagocytosis, or the consumption of invading organisms by white blood
cells and lymphocytes. To prove this, scientists incubate human white
blood cells, yeast cells and echinacea extract. They examine the
blood cells microscopically and a count the numbers of yeast cells
gobbled up by the blood cells. Extracts of echinacea can increase
phagocytosis by 20-40%. Another test, called "the carbon clearance"
test, measures the speed with which injected carbon particles are
removed from the bloodstream of a mouse. The quicker the mouse can
remove the injected foreign particles, the more its immune system has
been stimulated. In this test too, echinacea extracts excel,
confirming the fact that this remarkable plant increases the activity
of immune system cells so they can more quickly eliminate invading
organisms and foreign particles.

Echinacea causes an increase in the number of immune cells,
further enhancing the overall activity of the immune system.
Echinacea also stimulates the production of interferon as well as
other important products of the immune system, including "Tumor
Necrosis Factor", which is important to the body's response against

Echinacea also inhibits an enzyme (hyaluronidase), which is
secreted by bacteria, and helps them gain access to healthy cells.
Research in the early 1950's showed that echinacea could completely
counteract the effect of this enzyme, and this could help prevent
infection when used to treat wounds. While echinacea is usually used
internally for the treatment of viruses and bacteria, it is being
used more externally for the treatment of wounds. It also kills yeast
and slows or stops the growth of bacteria, and helps to stimulate the
growth of new tissue. It combats inflammation too, further supporting
its use in the treatment of wounds.

Research in 1957, showed that an extract of echinacea caused a 22%
reduction in inflammation among arthritis sufferers. That is only
about half as effective as steroids, but steroids have serious
side-effects. Steroids also strongly suppress the immune system,
which makes them a poor choice for treating any condition in which
infection is likely. Echinacea, on the other hand, is non-toxic, and
adds immune-stimulating properties to its anti-inflammatory effect.

Most people use echinacea for warding off colds and influenza.
Extracts, either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, are the most commonly
used form, and the usual amount taken is one dropperful at a time
(15-25 drops). This is taken at the first sign of a cold and repeated
two or three times a day. European clinics do not use continuous
doses of echinacea but rather alternate three days on and three days
off. This is because some testing shows that the immune system in
healthy subjects can only be stimulated briefly before returning to
its normal state. After several days without stimulation,
immunostimulants can again be effective.

Echinacea has an excellent safety record. After hundreds of years
of use, no toxicity or side-effects have been reported except rare
allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The purple coneflower is
a truly American contribution to world health care through herbs.
This safe and effective immune stimulant was discovered and first
used by the Native Americans and is now a major medicinal plant used
throughout Europe and the U.S.
Breathing problems, asthma, hay fever, bronchitis, hemorrhage of bowel
& lungs, glandular swelling.
During the middle ages, Thyme was thought to increase courage, and
was given to knights as they went into battle. Today, in addition to
its culinary uses, Thyme is used as an expectorant and a
disinfectant, and is also known for its antifungal properties. It may
bring relief to migraine headaches and help clear the lungs and
respiratory system.
Astringent, Carminative, Emmenagogue,
Nervine, Expectorant, Stimulant, Stomachic, Tonic

Good for gargle for sore throat, poor digestion, tonsilitis, lung
problems, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma,coughs, colds, nose and
throat infections mucous congestion in intestines, flatulence,
scrofula, dropsy, jaundice, inflammations, burns, bruises, skin
irritaions, catarrh
GINSENG, KOREAN (Panax) is the most widely used and studied ginseng in
the world. As an adaptogen herb, it is believed to help "balance" the
body. Ginseng's botanical name, Panax, is derived from the Greek
goddess, Panacea, the one who "heals all.". Ancient Chinese records
dated from 25 AD mention this plant as a superior herb for increasing
overall strength and endurance, and for promoting health and well-
being throughout the body. Korean Ginseng is said to be hotter than
either the American or Siberian Ginseng.

David Mowrey in his book, "Next Generation Herbal Medicine ", has
compiled a "Top Twenty" listing for Korean Ginseng based on the "mass
of clinical data and 3,000 years of ancient Chinese medicine":

1. Tumours 11. Stress
2. Diabetes 12. Asthma
3. Radiation sickness 13. Headaches
4. Neurosis 14. Anemia
5. Hypotension 15. Indigestion
6. Hypertension 16. Impotence
7. Joint swellings and pain 17. Depression
8. Cardiac arrythmiea 18. Nervous - Anxiety
9. Atherosclerosis 19. Mental disorders
10. Fatigue - exhaustion 20. Heart disease

Bob Tyndall