Winter Immunity

by Susan A.Smith

The job of the human immune system is to prevent and fight disease, but immunity isn't created by a single organ or found in a specific body location. Our immunity is, in fact, an ecosystem and our health is a reflection of our relationship to ourselves, with each other and our environment.

The liver (in addition to 500 other metabolic functions) manufactures lymph. The lymph system stores, filters and warehouses wastes, such as dead bacteria. The bone marrow produces red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells. Some white blood cells mature in the thymus gland, some in the spleen. There are many types of white blood cells, from macrophages (big eaters) to T cells like killer cells, suppresser cells and helper cells. And all this is just the beginning...

Christopher Hobbs, synthesizing Chinese and Western herbal traditions, identifies three levels of herbal activity regarding immunity:

1. Deep immune activation. Such herbs as astragalus (page 4) work at the cellular level, increasing the number of stem cells, producing interferon (an anti-viral protein), and rebuilding the bone marrow reserve. A good way to use astragalus is to make it into soup stock, spaghetti sauce or hot mulled apple cider. Use one slice per cup of liquid.)

2. Surface immune activation. This category includes herbs that are antimicrobial, such as echinacea (page 4), a native America plant. Echinacea is probably the most famous immunotonic herb. It generates and mobilizes white blood cells, is effective against abnormal pap smears, strep throat, colds and flus, wounds, and so much more.

3. Adaptogens. These herbs work through the adrenal glands and modulate hormonal balance. They enable us to adapt to a variety of non-specific stressors. Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng - page 5), for example, helps us overcome exhaustion, debility and depression.

Our immunity needs to be maintained in a state of readiness and herbal tonics help us grow into balance.

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