This is the usual time of year for our immune tonics sale, but of course this year, it seems more relevant than ever. So, to support your continued good health through the next seasons and beyond, we have a collection of our most reliable boosters, balancers, and strengtheners to bolster your body’s defenses against whatever is floating around out there.
Starting more generally, for the (hopefully!) many of you who are well and strong right now, we have a few options to protect that wellness in a balanced way for long-term use.
The classic herb for proactive immune wellness is Astragalus Root, an herb from China, where it is used to boost the “Wei Qi”, or defensive energy. This is the vital force that encircles your body just at the surface, forming a shield against “external pernicious influences”, which can mean anything from viruses, bacteria and infections to allergens and environmental toxins.
Astragalus is considered a balanced immune strengthener, able to protect you without creating over-reactive immune states, and so it is often the most intelligent choice for long-term use. Thinking about how taste correlates with effect, I find the sweet roots of Chinese medicine such as Astragalus and Licorice (also on sale!) to show the pleasant signature of an herb that can be used often. Our Essence of Astragalus has a sweet, nutty taste with some richness to it from the polysaccharides that are the heart of so many tonic roots’ effects.
Speaking of sweet roots, it doesn’t get any sweeter than Licorice! While not as generally applicable as Astragalus, Licorice is also considered a deep tonic, and is used as a harmonizer of the effects and tastes of other herbs, as well.
Licorice is a classic herb of Mercury– a tonic to the lungs and respiratory system, but also a flexible and intelligent messenger for other herbs’ actions and effects. It can be used alone as an immune support and as a specific against many viruses and infectious agents, as well as for its steroid-like action that reduces inflammation and injury.
Licorice can also be used as it is in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in conjunction with other herbs, to direct their actions, reduce their unwanted effects, and make them more palatable. It is an important part of our Foundation Formula, and also available by itself as an Essence. It should be noted that Licorice can cause problems in people with hypertension or cardiovascular or adrenal imbalances, so speak with your healer about it if these are concerns for you.
For our next protective tonic, we leave the plant kingdom and enter the world of fungi- six of them! Our Six Mushrooms Formula is a combination of Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail and Agaricus blazei, a powerhouse team of immune boosters, anti-infectives, and overall tonics. Turkey Tail has excellent antiviral properties, while Maitake and Shiitake bring deep nutritional support. Agaricus has the widest array of immune-boosting constituents of any herb, and Cordyceps carries excellent protection specific to the respiratory system. Finally, Reishi balances all these systems, and protects the Shen spirit of peace and calm in the heart, the source of all our other energies.
Bridging these long term tonics with ones for more specific uses, our Defense Somalixir combines medicinal mushrooms with Snow Lotus, a Tibetan herb which is vitality-boosting and protecting on many levels of being. Birch Polypore, like our other fungal friends, is anti-infective, but it is also very anti-inflammatory, and so protects the body from the damage that can come from an overactive response. Chaga also brings immune-defending properties to this formula, along with liver tonic effects, useful for clearing out after an illness or toxicity.
And, even though the optimal plan is to avoid illness from the start, it’s a good idea to have a few Spagyric allies on hand in case a threat to your health becomes more immanent. The next group of medicines are ones we reach for if we start to feel more run down, or have sniffles, sneezing or other symptoms of infection, or if someone we’ve been around catches something and we want to ward it off.
Propolis is a special resin created by bees, who collect various tree saps and exudates and process them into a thick lacquer that they use to coat the inside of their hives, sealing up cracks and drafts and creating an anti-microbial environment inside. “Propolis” means “before the city”, referring to its ability to protect the bees’ “city” before invaders can get a foothold and cause illness.
Our Green Propolis Spiritualized Essence carries that same energy to your system, and it is one of the most Wei Qi boosting substances we work with. A few drops of it and the energy around the body becomes hot in pleasant way, with the feeling of a shield of invincibility that nothing can breach. It’s intense in taste and energy, but if you find yourself around anyone with an active illness, a dose of this can almost be felt to push away the infection and boost your vitality from your deepest core. For a little extra defense, combine it with our Devil’s Club, also on sale, and discussed below.
Echinacea is the classic immune-stimulating herb, and one that most people are familiar with. We don’t favour its use for too long at a stretch, but it is one of the best remedies for kicking your immune system into high gear against something specific and immediate. If our Echinacea Essence is taken at the first sign of illness in yourself, or even better, in your community, the infection will often stall out at a not-too-serious stage and recovery will be quick.
Note that we do refer to Echinacea as an immune stimulant, rather than as a tonic, and so it is not the best choice for conditions with already strong immune response, as in flu with a high fever, or in persons with autoimmune disorders or who are undergoing immune-suppressant medical treatment.
Moe specific to flu is Elder, also the subject of a new Weed Love post. Both the flowers and berries are medicinal, and we include both in our Elder Essence. The flowers are diaphoretic, inducing sweating as a mechanism for lowering fever, and are also somewhat calming, helping the patient rest. The berries have been shown to be directly active against influenza virus, reducing the severity and duration of infection if used at the outset.
There is some controversy about the use of Elder for different infections, and a particularly hot debate about its safety in coronavirus infection, as I discussed in this post. There is some biochemical logic to worrying about Elder potentially triggering damaging cytokine storms in seriously ill people, but the most useful point I read about this fear is that, if someone is so sick that Elder’s immune-stimulating effects would push them over the edge, then they are likely to be hospitalized and not being attended by herbalists at that point.
This is not to say that these concerns are unfounded or should be ignored, but to point out that the possibility of negative reaction is always present, and rather than making us fear the use of herbal medicine, we should work to treat each patient and each herb as individuals who might get along or might not. Put more simply, as herbalists, we treat the person, not the disease.
Moving out of controversy, one of our favourite adjunct herbs for any of the aforementioned illnesses (and many others) is Yerba Santa. This resinous, aromatic West Coast native is full of antioxidant and protective flavonoids that affect the mucus membranes in particular. While not anti-infective in itself, its tonifying and strengthening effects on the respiratory tissues help those systems ward off damage from infection and recover more quickly from illness.
The way that I think about it is that Yerba Santa makes the sinuses, throat, lungs, and all the mucus membranes throughout the body less permeable and reactive. So our Yerba Santa Essence can be used in conjunction with whatever anti-infective you choose, and the two together will work better than either one alone, with the anti-infective reducing the invaders’ numbers, and Yerba Santa shoring up the walls of the castle so fewer of them make it in.
Yerba Santa combines especially well with Osha, if thick congestion is present, or with Yerba Mansa if swelling and inflammation are getting out of hand. For either situation, a followup course of Red Root will help the lymphatic system clear out toxins so normal nutrition can return to the affected systems.
Finally, for recovery from illness, or just depletion from fighting one off, our Devil’s Club Spiritualized Essence is an excellent recovery tonic. This imposing Ginseng relative is used medicinally and spiritually by Northwest First Nations, and on all levels, it carries the intelligence of Mars. Fiercely spined, it is the defender of the old growth forests where it lives, protecting the big trees in thickets throughout the forest.
Devil’s Club is part of an important ecological keystone trinity, along with bears, who eat and spread its berries along the riverbanks, where it shades the water to make habitat for salmon, also eaten by the bear and spread through the forest to become fertilizer. Bear energy is what this plant speaks of, the strength of fighting for family but not out of anger, like a mama bear, and also the energy of healing, which bears represent.
On a physical and energetic level, our Devil’s Club can help you get your fight back, whether you’re depleted by a simple illness, or more run down emotionally from trauma, pain, or life in general. For physical recovery, it combines well with our Green Propolis, and to help release grief, anger, and emotional trauma, it can be alternated with our Bee Balm.