Herbs to boost the immune system are some of the most commonly prescribed medicinal herbs and can be useful in protecting the body during times of stress, against illnesses and for those who have impaired immunity. Natural ways to boost the immune system also involve examining diet, lifestyle and exercise and herbal remedies can play an important part in maintaining a healthy immune system.

If you are considering using herbs to boost the immune system it is important to discuss your particular needs with a health care practitioner who understands your individual needs. Some herbs for the immune system may enhance or interact with the action of synthetic medications and should be monitored by a herbalist or a doctor who understands how herbs interact with other treatments.

Medicinal Herbs for the Immune System

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)

The dried reishi mushroom is considered in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a nourishing overall tonic that stimulates qi(chi), or the bodies basic energy levels. This herb has a reputation for longevity in Asian communities and is known as “the mushroom of immortality” in TCM. The powdered extract is used to treat physical and mental fatigue and has been prescribed to treat altitude sickness, chronic bronchitis and insomnia, cancer and HIV. The dose for reishi varies but for immune protection the dose is 80mg daily.

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)

This herb is so well-regarded amongst herbalists and is possibly the most well-known herb in use today. Echinacea is available in a standardised formula known as Echinacin™, and also is prescribed in combinations of the flowering tops, the root or a blend of these three variations. Echinacea is used as a preventative measure to avoid coldsflu and infections, and has shown to reduce the incidence of infections by stimulating the immune system. People who are exposed to a wide range of bacteria and viruses in their workplace can take a 1000mg tablet of echinacea three times daily to boost their immunity. For those who are taking immunosuppressant medication, Echinacea may reduce the effectiveness of your medication and this should be discussed with your practitioner.

Shitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes/Lentinus edodes)

Shitake is often used in combination with reishi as a medicine to strengthen the immune system. Patients with immune deficiency illnesses defined by low natural killer cell activity improved after treatment with lentinan, which is a shitake extract. In this study, participants received injections of lentinan in hospital and had maintenance doses by mouth as outpatients. Oral doses of powdered shiitake (1.5 g) also improved the levels of helper T cells in well volunteers. Reishi and shitake mushrooms complement each other in a very effective formulation providing immune-enhancing, tonic and nourishing activity particularly relevant for cancer patients. Shitake is indicated:

  • As an adjuvant complementary therapy for cancer and leukaemia.
  • To counteract the immunosuppressive and debilitating effects of conventional cancer treatments.
  • In cases of weakened or suppressed immunity such as post-viral syndromes, HIV infection and autoimmune diseases.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and in other debilitated conditions.

Picrorhiza (Picrorhiza kurroa)

The root of this herb is a significant Ayurvedic medicine. Its traditional uses include digestive pain, bilious fever, asthma, bronchitis, scorpion sting, malaria, elephantiasis and chronic dysentery. While traditional herbalists know picrorhiza as a liver herb, this action has overshadowed the immune stimulating effects that make this herb so valuable. This herb combines well with echinacea as an immune stimulant and works well in the treatment of fever and acute infection. When combined with st. Mary’s thistle, this herb is useful in the treatment of infectious liver conditions.

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata)

Also known as kalmegh, meaning “King of Bitters” in Bengali, andrographis combines well with holy basil and echinacea where there is a need for immune improvement in acute and chronic infections. Chinese studies in both bacterial and viral respiratory infections demonstrated showed good results and indicated andrographis shows immunostimulant activity. Investigations from the Sichuan Traditional Medicine Research Institution showed andrographis has a beneficial effect in the treatment of infectious diseases associated with cold symptoms. In particular, andrographis lowered fever within 48 hours in 84 cases of common cold, and 70 obtained normal body temperature within 48 hours. A study on 152 patients with sore throat and tonsillitis found 6 grams per day of Andrographis for a week was as effective as paracetamol in providing symptom relief.

Other natural herbs that have been used to improve the immune system.

The Use of Herbal Remedies and Herbs for the Immune System

Herbs for the immune system can be combined together with attention on diet and relaxation to further help your immunity. From a nutritional perspective, natural ways to boost the immune system are best served by eating fresh and organic food with an emphasis on raw and steamed fruit and vegetables, unprocessed grain and nuts and lean meat.

During times of immune stress, you will have a greater need for vitamins and minerals and may need to supplement your diet in order to get enough of what your body needs. A quality Vitamin B complex, Vitamin C, Iron and Zinc are all great immune boosters and often can be found combined in one tablet to bolster a flagging immune system. Herbs to boost the immune system need to be looked at closely as they can interfere with your medications, so seek help in making the decision on what herbs to take.