Maintaining a strong immune system is key for overall health. One of the best ways to boost your system is by taking herbs for immune health.
Research shows that the best way to build your immune system is by taking a holistic approach to wellness, which may include:
- eating nutrient-dense food
- getting optimal amounts of sleep
- daily exercise
- limiting alcohol consumption
- and managing stress
Even if you follow all of the recommended lifestyle guidelines, there still comes a time when your immune system needs extra support. Especially during cold and flu season.
This is where natural herbs come into play. Many herbs are loaded with phytochemicals that help to build a strong, healthy immune system.
Read on to see about the best immune-boosting herbs.
Table of Contents
Best Herbs for Immune Health
There are many herbs that are claimed to boost immune health. In this article, we’ll review the best research-backed herbs for immunity.
Echinacea is a popular herb that is often taken for its immune-boosting properties.
This herb works best when taken at the early stages of sickness.
Researchers believe that echinacea works by increasing phagocytosis, a process where the immune system targets and destroys invading microbes.
Lab-based research shows that echinacea works to increase the body’s macrophage response. Macrophages are important immune cells that identify and kill invading pathogens.
Additionally, research shows that echinacea enhances both the innate, and adaptive, immune systems.
Echinacea also has antiviral properties.
In vitro studies show that the extract of E. purpurea is active against HSV-1, HSV-2, HIV-1, and influenza A.
You can read more here about the benefits of echinacea here.
Summary:It appears that echinacea has a strong immune-stimulating ability and antiviral properties. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these claims.
Astragalus is one of the best herbs for immune health.
Research suggests that astragalus can increase macrophage activity. Macrophages are immune cells that engulf and remove pathogens from the human body.
According to the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, clinical research conducted in the 1970s showed that high doses of astragalus (15.6g daily) helped to increase various markers of immune health, including serum IgM, IgE, and cAMP.
One study found that astragalus has significant immune health benefits when taken alongside vaccines.
An animal study found that astragalus was effective in helping to fight the influenza virus in chickens. The researchers also noted that this herb worked to increase overall immunity.
A lab-based study found that astragalus has strong anti-influenza virus activity.
In line with its other antiviral benefits, astragalus has been shown to be effective in combatting Epstein-Barr virus in the lab.
Summary:Lab-based studies indicate that astragalus is an effective herb for improving immune health. Additional human clinical trials are needed for verification.
Elderberry is a popular herb for boosting immune function. Clinical research shows that elderberry can help to reduce the duration of colds.
A clinical trial found that elderberry extract helped to reduce cold duration and severity in air travelers. The study was conducted with 312 economy class passengers taking a long international flight. The passengers were interviewed before and after the trip and researchers found that the elderberry group had a reduced number of total colds, as well as a decreased sickness severity.
A meta-analysis study of elderberry clinical trials found that supplementation with elderberry substantially reduces upper respiratory symptoms.
Research shows that elderberry also has antiviral activity.
A placebo-controlled, double-blind study showed that elderberry extract reduced the activity of a variety of different viruses during an influenza outbreak. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever reduction, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the elderberry-treated group within 2 days (compared to 91.7% of the patients who showed an improvement within 6 days in the control group).
Additionally, an in vitro study showed that elderberry extract has an inhibitory effect on influenza viruses.
You can read more here about the benefits of elderberry.
Summary:Research indicates that elderberry can help to boost the immune system and reduce the severity of colds.
Andrographis shows evidence of being an herb beneficial for improving immune health.
In an open-label study observing 30 participants, andrographis extract supported immunity by increasing the amount of immune cells. This study also noted that andrographis improved various inflammatory markers.
In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study, participants with upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) taking KalmCold (A trademarked andrographis extract) had a significant improvement of 52% in cold symptoms when compared to a placebo.
Another randomized, double-blind, placebo study discovered that andrographis extract was capable of effectively reducing common cold symptoms, such as sore throats, in study participants when compared to a placebo.
In a small study observing 20 healthy people taking andrographis extract, andrographis was able to boost immune health by increasing white blood cell and neutrophil counts.
And finally, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study investigating the effects of Kan Jang® (a trademarked herbal extract containing andrographis) on URTIs and sinusitis, it was found that Kan Jang® was capable of reducing headaches, coughing, nasal symptoms, and temperature when compared to the control group.
Summary:Clinical human research shows that andrographis may be useful in supporting immune health by increasing immune cell levels and reducing cold symptoms.
In traditional herbal medicine, goldenseal is used as an immune system stimulant. New research is starting to verify this traditional usage.
Animal research shows that goldenseal extract has the ability to increase IgM (immunoglobulin M) response in mice. IgM is important for immune health because it’s the first antibody that the body sends when it senses a foreign pathogen.
Additionally, goldenseal is one of the most effective antimicrobial herbs.
A test-tube study showed that a goldenseal extract had antibacterial activity against the following forms of bacteria:
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Streptococcus sanguis
- S. mutans
- S. pyogenes
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- and Escherichia coli
You can read more here about the benefits of goldenseal.
Summary:Initial research shows that goldenseal is an effective antimicrobial herb and helpful for boosting overall immunity. Human clinical studies are required to verify these claims.
6. Artemisia annua
Clinical research shows that Artemisia annua (i.e. sweet wormwood) has strong antimicrobial properties.
While this herb is well known for its ability to treat malaria, it’s also helpful for fighting against the flu.
Lab research shows that sweet wormwood is effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, including:
- Streptococcus pneumonia
- Listeria innocua
- Escherichia coli
- Salmonella enteritidis
- Klebsiella pneumonia
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- and more
A lab study showed that Artemisia annua is helpful for those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system.
A review article looked at 20 lab studies (conducted in 2020/2021) and found that the various constituents in A. annua may impede the SARS-CoV-2 attachment, membrane fusion, internalization into the host cells, and hinder the viral replication and transcription process. Clinical trials are needed to verify if these findings hold up in human participants.
You can read more about the benefits of Artemisia annua here.
Summary:Lab research indicates Artemsia annua has strong antimicrobial properties and is beneficial in strengthening the immune system. Further clinical trials are needed to verify the efficacy of sweet wormwood for colds and flus.
7. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a traditional relaxing herb and is well known for helping to support those struggling with anxiety.
Research shows that lemon balm has strong antiviral properties that could be useful for those looking to boost their immunity.
An in vitro study looked at the antiviral activity of lemon balm essential oil and Tamiflu® (a common flu drug) for the treatment of influenza. The results showed that lemon balm effectively inhibited influenza virus growth. In addition, when used together, this herb was shown to increase the efficacy of Tamiflu®.
Another in vitro study found that lemon balm essential oil is effective in fighting herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2.
You can read more about the benefits of lemon balm here.
Summary:Lemon balm has been found to have antiviral properties. Human clinical trials are needed to determine the impact of this herb on a variety of viruses.
8. Osha Root
Osha root has antimicrobial properties that may help to protect against infection.
A study looking at phthalides, a category of phytochemicals that are well represented in osha root, found that they have strong antimicrobial properties.
Another study found that osha root extract is particularly effective against numerous bacteria, including
- Escherichia coli
- Enterococcus feacalis
- Strespcoccus epidermidis
- and Staphylococcus aureus.
This is in line with traditional usage. Osha root has been used to disinfect wounds, for coughs and colds, as well as for the flu.
Summary:Test tube studies show that osha root is an active antimicrobial with the ability to fight against bacterial attacks. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these promising findings for immune health.
In closing, maintaining a healthy immune system is key to maintaining your health and wellbeing.
If you are looking for natural ways to boost your immune system, there are natural herbs to support your body.
This article contains some of the best herbs for increasing immunity.
As with all herbs and supplements, it’s best to talk with your personal healthcare provider prior to making a change to your routine.