Every year as winter rolls around, we fear the cold or flu that will knock us off our feet for a week. The winter season brings with its cooler temperatures, a wide array of cold and flu viruses that make their rounds across America. Approximately 62 million Americans will miss days from work due to a flu-related illness this coming season.
In my recent post about the flu vaccine, I talked about natural prevention strategies for the flu. So, you know about vitamin D, and elderberry, and zinc. These should be part of your medicine toolkit to help ward off colds and flu.
To further winterize your immune system add the following super-immunity herbs and mushrooms to your supplement routine:
Astragalus is my number one favorite winter immune tonic. A plant with long stems, pointy leaves and purple flowers, the astragalus is harvested for its roots. Within these roots are astragalosides, plant constituents that stimulate the immune system. It also contains other immunostimulants, such as polysaccharides, beta-sitosterols, and plant flavonoids. The polysaccharides increase immune-mediated anti-tumor activity.
The dried root may be added to a soup, or taken as a decoction, made by boiling in water. It also may be found in capsule or extract form at your local health food store.
Take 1 – 2 capsules daily or drink a decoction of the powdered root several times a week to keep your immune system strong during cold and flu season.
Beta-glucans are chains of glucose molecules attached end-to-end. They are unlike regular starch in that they have branching side-chains (1,3 or 1,6 being the most immunologically active). Molecular chemistry aside, beta glucans are powerful “biological response modifiers” able to activate our innate immune system. 
Several studies have shown the benefits of beta-glucans in reducing the risk of serious post-operative infections in high-risk surgical patients.   Another study found that mice given yeast Beta-glucan with or without antibiotics were protected against anthrax infection.
Most studies used 1,3 beta-glucan sourced from a yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. However, you can also find this powerful immune system booster in several mushrooms used in every day cooking, such as Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake.
At the first signs of a cold, start taking beta -1,3/1,6 – D – glucan 100mg three times a day. Another option is to make a superimmunity soup (see below), with all types of winter vegetables, adding the mushroom sources of 1,3/1,6 beta-glucan, and sip throughout the day.
The use of Cordyceps dates back to traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicines. Cordyceps is known in Chinese medicine as a powerful lung tonic. It fortifies the Qi circulation in the lungs, and is especially useful for someone who is prone to bronchitis, wheezing or coughing. It has been shown to increase respiratory capacity.
Take 1000 mg capsules twice a day as a means to strengthen your defenses. It may also be prepared as a decoction by adding to boiling water, then simmering for 10 to 15 minutes.
When you need an immune pick-me-up, try this superimmunity soup to charge up your immune system and ward off that cold. It contains many common vegetables that we all enjoy, but feel free to vary the recipe by adding your own winter vegetables. You may vary the mushroom used from shiitake to reishi or maitake. It is ideal to always add the astragalus, but it may be harder to find at your local grocery store. Astragalus may actually require a trip to Chinatown.
Also, remove any ingredients you don’t enjoy. For example, I am an avid cilantro lover, so I always add cilantro to my soups, but there are those among that may not share my enthusiasm. Feel free to quietly omit the cilantro if you are one of those, but don’t tell me. I love cilantro too much to forego it. You can also use the soup recipe to make a vegetable stock to use in other recipes.
Here’s my recipe:
1 yellow onion
2 large organic carrots
2 stalks of organic celery
1 head of kale
30g dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
30g dried astragalus root
1-2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
10 garlic cloves (chopped or whole)
1 bunch of cilantro
¼ cup olive oil
Ground black pepper
- Wash and cut the vegetables
- For extra browning and flavor, you can sauté the vegetables with olive oil or sesame oil
- Wash the mushrooms and astragalus root and place into pot
- Pour cold water into a large soup pot up to 3/4 full, add all vegetables, and bring to a boil
- Lower the heat, and cook uncovered for 40 minutes
- Add sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Cool down and enjoy!
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 Qun L, Luo Q, Zhang ZY, et al. Effects of astragalus on IL-2/IL-2R system in patients with maintained hemodialysis. Clin Nephrol. 1999 Nov;52(5):333-4.
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 Dellinger, EP; Babineau TJ, Bleicher P, Kaiser AB, Seibert GB, Postier RG, Vogel SB, Norman J, Kaufman D, Galandiuk S, Condon RE (September 1999). “Effect of PGG-glucan on the rate of serious postoperative infection or death observed after high-risk gastrointestinal operations. Betafectin Gastrointestinal Study Group”. Archives of surgery 134 (9): 977–983.
 Vetvicka, V; Terayama K, Mandeville R, Brousseau P, Kournikakis B, Ostroff G (2002). “Pilot Study: Orally-Administered Yeast β1,3-glucan Prophylactically Protects Against Anthrax Infection and Cancer in Mice” (PDF). Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association (Birmingham, AL : The Association) 5 (2): 5–9.
 Zhang J, et al. Effect of polysaccharide from cultured Cordyceps sinensis on immune function and anti-oxidation activity of mice exposed to (60)Co. Int Immunopharmacol. 2011 Dec;11(12):2251-7. Epub 2011 Oct 11.