A very wise physician called Hippocrates once said “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. You may be astonished by the immune boosting power of some simple foods you could already have in your kitchen, your garden, or growing wild on a country road. Harness this goodness to keep you and your families in great health as we move into the cooler months.
If there was only one immune super food I could write about here, I would choose Manuka honey. Not because it’s delicious (well, that does sway me, but no) but also because it’s a powerful antibacterial and healing agent. While all kinds of honey have healing properties, honey made from the New Zealand Manuka has Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). UMF is a measure of a specific component in the honey called methylglyoxal, which is very strongly antibacterial. Manuka honey has duly received massive amounts of international interest and has been the subject of much research. Research shows it is anti-bacterial against many bugs including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes and Helicobacter pylori, and even some antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains. It’s also a potent aid for wound healing and tissue healing. Recent studies have also proven the age-old wisdom that honey is an effective treatment for coughs. So for immune support, healing of tissues and for the prevention and treatment of infections, look no further than your jar of Manuka honey. Slather it on toast, drink it with herbal teas, or enjoy it straight off the spoon!
When I have given people a favourite herbal cough syrup that contains Thyme and asked what it reminds them of, the answer I usually get is either “Pizza” or “Roast Chicken”. Rest assured there was neither in the syrup! It was the lovely Thyme infusing its magical flavour here, as it does indeed in many of our favourite savoury dishes. As well as being a culinary delight, Thyme is used extensively in herbal medicine for all manner of respiratory infections: sore throats, coughs, and colds. Extracts of Thyme and even Thyme honey have shown antibacterial and antimicrobial activity. Get that goodness in your diet by using Thyme (and its friends Sage and Rosemary) in both fresh and dried form liberally in all your savoury cooking. Add to soups, stews, casseroles, pasta and all meat dishes. You can even dry these herbs and use them in a grinder to sprinkle over all your food for extra antioxidant and immune support. For winter ills, make a cup of fresh thyme tea straight from the garden, adding Manuka or thyme honey for extra effect.
We have three Elder trees growing as ‘weeds’ on our small suburban section. That means three chances to harvest the Elderflowers for cordial and tea, and three more chances after that to harvest the berries that are left to make into syrup to keep us well over winter. Elderberries are action-packed powerhouses of immune-supporting goodness. We now know that the darker the berry, usually the higher the levels of antioxidant anthocyanins. Elderberries are so dark they are almost black, hence their botanical name Sambuccus nigra (nigra means black in Latin). Traditionally used in herbal medicine for fevers with body aches, we now know that such conditions have a viral cause. It turns out that Elderberries indeed have specific antiviral action, especially against ‘flu viruses. Elderberry was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995 and a recent randomized, double-blind trial demonstrated the effectiveness of Elderberry extract in reducing the incidence & severity of respiratory tract infections in air travellers on long-haul flights. Recent research has shown that it is not only an effective antiviral for human influenza viruses but also inhibits the growth of some bacteria that lead to pneumonia and lung infections that complicate recovery from such viruses. Bam! All this from a weed. Nature’s Pharmacy indeed.
Spicing up your life with a little ginger is not just good for firing up your circulation, it also plays an important role in supporting the immune system. Traditionally ginger has been used for fighting coughs, colds, and fevers. It can be added to foods like soups and curries or drunk as a tea using fresh stem/root/rhizome or dried powder. Ginger is not only warming, it reduces inflammation and helps shift phlegm and catarrh. Research has shown that some specific active elements in ginger possess direct antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic activity, while other elements high in the fresh root seem to have a direct action on rhinoviruses that cause colds. Try slicing fresh ginger root into a cup of hot water and adding a spoonful of Manuka honey. Who knew immune support could taste so good?
New Zealand Blackcurrants are exceptionally high in the flavonoids known as anthocyanins and known to be one of the most potent antioxidants of any fruit or vegetable. Anthocyanins are not only massively antioxidant, they are also anti-inflammatory. When eaten fresh, they are also an awesome source of Vitamin C. Studies done in New Zealand focused specifically on the impact of exercise, looking at how exercise can, among other things, lower our immune response. Subjects taking blackcurrant extracts before and after exercising showed not only higher antioxidant levels and the ability to reduce inflammation, but also a higher natural immune response to possible pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Exercise is only one way that we cause oxidative stress in our body- smoking, pollution, air travel and stress all increase oxidative stress too. So does the natural process of aging! So antioxidant support is key for our immunity, and blackcurrants are our best antioxidant yet. If you don’t grow them yourself, seek them out to add to your porridge or smoothies, or find a high potency extract to keep those bugs at bay.
So I’ll leave you with the image of a freshly brewed cup of thyme, ginger, elderberry & blackcurrant syrup with a dollop of Manuka honey, steaming fragrantly under your nose and tantalising your taste buds. Even Hippocrates would be impressed by nature’s bounty!