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8 Immune Boosting Spices & Herbs

The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of Western medicine, once said, “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” What I love about herbs and spices is not only are they easy to add to our everyday routines, they flavor foods and several are loaded with compounds and qualities that are immune boosting powerhouses. Here are eight immune boosting spices and herbs to not only enhance your eating experience but to help your body fight off viruses, infections, inflammation and various diseases.


springs of immune boosting herb rosemary in a tea with lemon
Immune Boosting Spices & Herbs can be added to drinks and foods or used as supplements.

The Immune-Boosting Benefits of Herbs and Spices

1. Turmeric

Turmeric has been used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years in Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. It contains powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.


  • Turmeric is hard for the body to absorb, making supplements a popular choice to reap the full medicinal benefits. Pure Curcumin, the active ingredient in Turmeric, is sought in supplement form. Turmeric can also be used in the powdered form as a culinary spice or made into a tea from powder or the root.

  • The active ingredient in turmeric is Curcumin (it’s what gives it its yellow color).

  • Curcumin is proven to have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties and as such aids in the prevention or treatment of a host of diseases or ailments including: cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart & lung conditions, diabetes and more.

  • It is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and is antimicrobial.

(1,2)

2. Garlic

Garlic is widely used as a flavoring in cooking. However, it has been used since ancient time for its health and medicinal qualities to treat and prevent an array of conditions and diseases.


  • Garlic is actually a plant in the onion family. It is often referred to in terms of uses of cloves—each bulb contains 10-20 cloves.

  • It is mostly used as an additive to culinary dishes (start nearly any recipe with a sautee of healthy oil, onions and garlic) and can also be eaten raw.

  • The active ingredients in garlic include the sulfur compounds allicin (it’s what gives it its distinctive smell), plus diallyl disulfide and s-allyl cysteine.

  • Garlic is known to boost the immune system, is antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and may aid in the reduction of cancer. (3)

  • Garlic is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese. It also contains decent amounts of copper, vitamin B1, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and others.

(4,5,6)


3. Rosemary

The herb has been hailed since ancient times for its medicinal properties. Rosemary was traditionally used to help alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, boost the immune and circulatory system.


  • Rosemary is a perennial plant (it lives more than 2 years).

  • The leaves are often used in cooking (I add rosemary to so many things—eggs, soups, chicken, etc) . Used also as powdered & liquid extract and tea.

  • Possible health benefits include improved blood circulation, immune system, concentration, digestion, brain aging, and cancer fighting.

  • A good source of iron, calcium, and vitamin B-6.

  • Antioxidant properties of rosemary have been mainly attributed to its major diterpenes, carnosol and carnosic acid, as well as to the essential oil components.


4. Oregano

Oregano has long been used in the kitchen as a culinary herb and for its immune supporting properties. It is a natural antioxidant source and may help fight off bacteria and viruses, potentially reduce the growth of cancer cells and help alleviate inflammation.


  • Oregano is a perennial plant (it lives more than 2 years).

  • The leaves are often used in cooking (another one that can be added to so many recipes from a simple egg scramble to soups and meats). Also available as a supplement form, oil of oregano.

  • Possible health benefits include improved concentration, digestion, brain aging, a boost to overall health and fights bacteria, inflammation and cancer.

  • Antioxidants in oregano include tryptophan, lysine, valine, arginine, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E (tocopherol).


5. Thyme

Thyme has been used in traditional medicine and various other ways for over two thousand years. The ancient Egyptians for embalming, in Greece as an incense, Romans as a remedy for melancholy. It is native to the Mediterranean.


  • Oregano is a perennial plant (it lives more than 2 years).

  • The leaves can be used in cooking or sprinkle on top of dishes. Also available as a tea and as an essential oil.

  • Thymol, the primary active ingredient in thyme, has been shown to be antioxidant, free radical scavenging, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antispasmodic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic and perform anti-tumor activities.

  • Thymol containing plants have been used for managing many cancer types, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases.

  • The fresh thyme herb has one of the highest antioxidant levels among herbs and is loaded with numerous minerals and vitamins including Vitamin C, A iron, calcium, magnesium and manganese among others.

(21,22)


6. Cinnamon (Ceylon)

Cinnamon has been used since 2000BC in Egypt for its medicinal properties. It is the second most popular spice in the US and Europe after black pepper. Many use it purely for its delicious taste, but the health benefits are worth examining.


  • Available in powder form or whole; as essential oil and supplements.

  • Widely used in powder form as a culinary additive.

  • Has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and antimicrobial properties, and it might offer protection from cancer and cardiovascular disease, among other conditions.

  • It has also been shown to lower blood sugar.

  • Contains traces of vitamins B & K.

  • Loaded with antioxidants including polyphenols, choline, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

  • Studies show it outranked superfoods such as garlic and oregano in regards to their anti-oxidant properties. (23)

  • There are 2 types of cinnamon: the common variety, cassia, and the one known as “true cinnamon,” Ceylon. The latter is a little harder to find, but is of higher quality and shows to be the better form as cassia has a compound called coumarin, which is believed to be harmful in large doses.


7. Andrographis

Andrographis is an herb that has been used since ancient times in oriental and Ayurvedic medicine, and has long been used in tradition medicine in Asia. It has a wide range of immune supporting benefits.


  • Available in capsule or tincture form, taken as a supplement.

  • Most widely used to treat symptoms of the common cold, flu and upper respiratory tract infections.

  • Andrographolide (C20H30O5) is the main active ingredient in the plant. It is a lactone diterpene and is what gives the plant a bitter taste.

  • A natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-cancer and immunostimulant properties, and it might offer protection from cancer and cardiovascular disease, among other conditions.

(27,28)


8. Astragalus

Astragalus is a plant native to Asia and is a major medicinal herb that has been commonly used in many herbal formulations in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years. The root of the plant is made into several forms used in supplements. It is primarily used for its immune boosting compounds.


  • Available in supplement form as capsules, powders, teas and liquid extracts.

  • Typically taken or produced in conjunction with other herbal supplements.

  • The major components of Astragalus are polysaccharides, flavonoids, and saponins.

  • Thought to increase telomerase activity, and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-regulatory, vascular protective, anti-aging and anticancer properties.

  • Immune boosting compounds suggest astragalus increases the body’s production of white blood cells (cells responsible for preventing illness).

(29,30,31)


How to Use Immune Boosting Herbs and Spices in Everyday Life

To incorporate the 8 immune-boosting herbs and spices into your everyday life, consider the following suggestions:


1. Turmeric:

  • Make a golden milk latte with turmeric, milk, and honey.

  • Sprinkle turmeric on roasted vegetables or rice dishes.


2. Garlic:

  • Add minced garlic to salad dressings or marinades or to nealry any dish in the beginning saute stage with onions.

  • Roast whole garlic cloves and spread them on toast or crackers.


3. Rosemary:

  • Add freshly chopped rosemary (or the fried herb) to roasted vegetables for a flavorful and immune-boosting side dish.

  • Brew a cup of rosemary tea by steeping fresh or dried rosemary leaves in hot water for a soothing and immune-supporting beverage.


4. Oregano:

  • Sprinkle dried oregano on roasted potatoes or vegetables.

  • Infuse olive oil with oregano for a flavorful dressing or dip.


5. Thyme:

  • Sprinkle fresh thyme leaves over salads or soups for a flavorful immune boost.

  • Infuse hot water with thyme sprigs to create a soothing and immune-boosting herbal tea.


6. Cinnamon:

  • Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal or yogurt for a sweet and spicy kick.

  • Add cinnamon to baked goods like muffins or banana bread for a delicious immune-boosting treat.


Tips for Sourcing High-Quality Herbs and Spices

When it comes to sourcing high-quality herbs and spices, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Buy from reputable sources: Look for trusted suppliers known for their quality products.

  2. Check for organic options: Organic herbs and spices are often of higher quality and free from pesticides.

  3. Consider the aroma and color: Fresh, high-quality herbs and spices will have a strong aroma and vibrant color.

  4. Look for whole spices: Whole spices tend to retain their flavor and potency longer than pre-ground ones.

  5. Store properly: Keep herbs and spices in airtight containers away from heat and sunlight to preserve their freshness.

  6. Read reviews: Check out reviews or ask for recommendations to ensure you are getting top-notch products.


Potential Side Effects or Interactions to be Aware of

  • Turmeric: Known to cause stomach upset in some cases, especially in high doses.

  • Garlic: Can cause bad breath, body odor, and digestive issues in some individuals.

  • Rosemary: High doses can sometimes lead to allergic reactions or cause skin irritation.

  • Oregano: Generally safe when consumed in food amounts, but concentrated oregano oil may cause stomach upset.

  • Thyme: Rarely, allergic reactions may occur in some individuals.

  • Cinnamon: Consuming large amounts may cause mouth sores or liver damage in sensitive individuals.

  • Andrographis: May cause side effects like headache, fatigue, allergic reactions, and digestive symptoms.

  • Astragalus: Can interact with certain medications and may stimulate the immune system, which could be problematic for individuals with autoimmune diseases.


Recommended Safe Amounts of Immune Boosting Herbs and Spices

When incorporating immune-boosting herbs and spices into your diet, it's important to be mindful of the recommended safe amounts to ensure their effectiveness and avoid any potential adverse effects. Here are the recommended safe amounts for some popular immune-boosting herbs and spices:

  1. Turmeric: Up to 1 tablespoon (6.8 grams) per day

  2. Garlic: 2-4 cloves per day (equivalent to about 4 grams)

  3. Rosemary: 1-2 teaspoons of dried rosemary per day

  4. Oregano: 1-2 teaspoons of dried oregano per day

  5. Thyme: 1-2 teaspoons of dried thyme per day

  6. Cinnamon: Up to 1-1.5 teaspoons per day

  7. Andrographis: Follow the dosage instructions on the product label

  8. Astragalus: Follow the dosage instructions on the product label


Boosting Your Immune System with Herbs: A Summary

After exploring the world of herbs for immune support, it's clear that incorporating herbs like cinnamon, rosemary, and garlic into your daily routine can provide significant benefits. From fighting off colds and flu to reducing inflammation and improving overall health, these natural remedies offer a powerful way to boost your immune system. By integrating these herbs into your everyday life through teas, supplements, or cooking, you can take proactive steps towards strengthening your body's defenses and promoting long-term wellness.

 

As with any herbal supplement, it is always necessary to check with your health care provider before adding a new herb or supplement to your regime. Most claims herein concerning herbs and their potential benefits have not been approved by the FDA. This information is not intended to treat or diagnose any ailment, but instead to offer information to research on your own and discuss with your health care provider.

 

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