9 Herbs and Spices to Boost Immunity
Updated: Apr 21
Did you know that, before there were any medications made in scientific labs, plants were the only source of natural healing? There are many ancient healing plant-based medicinal treatments that stem from Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and Native American cultural practices. Until recently, only anecdotal evidence has existed to support the use of plant-based alternatives for medical treatment. However, now that many hospitals and universities are recognizing, and even embracing, the benefits of ‘alternative’ treatments, research on the use of plant-based medicine for natural healing is now emerging. Nearly 40% of Americans now turn to natural herbal or plant-based therapies in addition to traditional western medicine.
As you know, one of the backbones to staying healthy is to keep your immune system robust and strong. Here are some common kitchen staples that can be incorporated into your daily routine to help naturally prevent nasty colds, annoying infections and debilitating viruses.
1. Turmeric Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric not only lends to its beautiful orange-hue, but it’s also been shown to be a potent immune enhancing substance through its anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-cancer properties.
Dosage: Take 400 to 600 milligrams of turmeric extract (available in tablets or capsules) three times per day. Whole turmeric is more effective than isolated curcumin. The dosage for the whole root is 1.5 to 3 grams per day or 1-3 grams per day of the dried, powdered root. For best absorption, take it with black pepper and/or healthy plant-based fats.
2. Cayenne Capsaicin, the main phytonutrient in cayenne, is a great source of carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that can help ward off free radical damage and support healthy immune function. Cayenne is also rich in Vitamin C, which fights and prevents colds and other infections. Vitamin C contains bioflavonoids, which the body needs to produce white blood cells, the disease-fighting component of the blood that helps to fight infection.
Dosage: Add a teaspoon (or more if you like your food hot!) to meals. Two teaspoons of cayenne pepper provide 28% of the recommended daily value for vitamin A and 4% of the recommended daily value for vitamin C.
3. Oregano Carvacrol and thymol are essential oils in oregano that contain fungicidal and anthelmintic (ability to destroy internal parasites) properties.
Dosage: Taking the emulsified oil of oregano orally 200 mg three times a day for six weeks has been shown to eradicate intestinal parasites.
Don't love oregano oil? Good news! Dried oregano also contains these antimicrobial compounds and new research shows that oregano powder may help stimulate healthy bacteria in the gut and boost immunity. Use it daily in salads and cooking.
4. Ginger Ginger has been touted as a digestive and immune-enhancer backed by strong research. Ginger helps to open up the lymphatic system and prevents the build-up of toxins that may create infections. Ginger also helps to activate T-cells, which are vital to a healthy immune system and for destroying viruses.
Dosage: For inflammation, use 125 to 1000 mg (1 gram) three to four times a day. One quarter-inch slice of fresh ginger is equal to 1 to 2 grams of powder.
5. Garlic Garlic offers protection against many bacterial and viral infections. In order to stimulate the release of the enzyme allinase, fresh garlic must be crushed or chopped. Allinase then turns into allicin, which contains the disease fighting characteristics.
Dosage: The recommended daily dose of allicin is 8 milligrams, equivalent to about 4 grams or 1 clove of fresh garlic.
6. Lemon & Lime Flavonoids and terpenoids (limonene) are phytonutrients or plant substances present in lemons and limes that possess anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic potential. The flavonoids also enhance the antioxidant capacity of vitamin C and act as powerful antioxidants themselves.
Dosage: Squeeze lemon or lime juice on salads, veggies or any hot meal to add a little zest plus vitamin C to serve as a natural immune-booster.
7. Green Tea Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the plant compound, or catechin, found in green tea that may exert antiviral and cancer-fighting effects. Numerous studies have been conducted evaluating the effects of green tea on certain types of cancer. Many studies have shown protective benefits of green tea against colon, breast, esophageal, and ovarian cancer.
Dosage: Since there are many variables involved in each study, there has not been one standard recommendation for green tea consumption. Most studies have safely demonstrated that between 1 and 4 cups of green tea daily may contribute to health benefits.
Elderberries contain natural substances called flavonoids that may help reduce swelling, fight inflammation, and boost the immune system. Studies have found that elderberry may ease flu-like symptoms such as fever, headaches, fatigue, sore throat, cough and body aches. The benefits appear to be greatest when elderberry is started within 24 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Dosage: There is no standard dose of elderberry. Some studies have used 1 tablespoon of an elderberry syrup extract four times a day to treat flu symptoms. Also available are elderberry lozenges, often paired with zinc, which may be taken throughout the day once a cold begins (Note: Take lozenges containing zinc on a full belly as zinc may cause nauseousness.)
Prebiotics are like ‘food’ for probiotic strains. Prebiotics promote the growth and/or activity of certain types of healthy bacteria, helping to reduce undesirable pathogens or unhealthy organisms.
Dosage: You can find prebiotics naturally in Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, garlic, leeks, banana, onion, barley, millet, oats, wheat flour, rye, tomato, and asparagus root. Try to include a variety of foods containing prebiotics throughout the week.
Probiotics, along with prebiotics, help to restore balance to the natural gut flora, which naturally stimulates the immune system. Probiotics are live organisms such as bacteria or yeast that are beneficial to the intestinal microbial balance. They work by re-colonizing the gut and inhibiting the growth of pathogenic organisms.
Dosage: When taking probiotic supplements, there is no set dosage since there are so many different probiotic organisms. Many probiotic supplements are dosed by the number of live organisms they contain. For instance, a typical dosage of Lactobacillus acidophilus ranges between 1 billion to 10 billion live organisms (CFU) split into three or four doses. Higher CFU counts do not necessarily improve the product’s health effects. The World Gastroenterology Organization notes that the optimal dose of probiotics depends on the strain and product. For people with various health conditions, published studies and reviews provide some guidance on probiotic species, strains, and doses that might alleviate their symptoms. If you're interested in learning more about how probiotics may help with specific conditions and the fascinating emerging evidence around probiotics, check out the WGO's position paper.
What about fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kombucha? While the process of fermentation may promote the growth of probiotics, we don't know the exact quantity in these foods and, oftentimes, don't know the exact strains. That said, I often recommend adding these foods to meals as they may have potential benefits through probiotic activity, and they definitely have healing benefits through their naturally occurring plant-based nutrients. (For example, miso is packed with B vitamins and kraut and kimchi have boatloads of healing phytonutrients).
My personal recommendations for building a healthy gut? Eat the recommended amount of fiber daily (at least 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men) and choose a variety of plant-based foods to get that fiber. The fiber make up of each food is different therefore getting a variety of plant-based foods is important in creating a healthy gut. Add foods with live cultures, such as kimchi, kraut, miso and plant-based yogurt, daily.
one clove of garlic, minced
1 inch of ginger, minced
1 tsp green tea leaves
juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (ACV)
Add all ingredients, except lemon juice and ACV, to a tea strainer. Pour hot (not boiling) water over the mixture and steep for 10 minutes. Strain the tea and add the lemon juice and ACV. Enjoy as a tea drink or as a shot taken several times a day.
*You can also add 1 gm of turmeric powder and a dash of cayenne
What are some of your favorite immune-boosting ingredients?