Immune System Support: Herbs + Nutrition

posted in: Herbalism | 4

I am such a baby when I get sick. Fortunately, it doesn't happen too often – my whole family tends to stay pretty healthy. In fact, when I think about the times any of us have fallen significantly under the weather, there has been something weird going on in our lives: travel, eating crappy food more often than usual, and visiting hospitals, for example.

There are a few things I like to do, especially this time of year, for immune system support. Some of them are things I have researched extensively while others are crunchy wives' tales that I've just tried and have worked. 🙂

Herbal + nutritional helps for immune system support.

Bone Broth

I know I have a lot of vegetarian and vegan readers, so this tip won't serve you. That's why I'm getting it out of the way first.

You know why chicken noodle soup is like, the thing to eat when you're sick? The tradition is actually based in the fact that chicken broth made from REAL chicken bones and root vegetables is super nourishing. The canned stuff won't cut it – it's basically just MSG-flavored water. Fortunately, making your own bone broth is easy and cheap.

I keep an ice cream bucket in my freezer that I throw vegetable scraps in – carrot tops, onion peels, and that sort of thing – and whenever we have chicken we put the bones back in the pan and throw the veggie scraps, a little salt, and a splash of vinegar in the mix. I'll cover this with water, bring the whole thing to a boil and then cover it and let it simmer all day.

The vinegar helps pull the minerals from the bones – don't skip it!

After it cooks for a loooooong time (6-12 hours depending on what I have going on) I strain it into a big container and use it in pretty much everything.

According to Dr. David Jockers of Exodus Health Center in Kennesaw, GA, there is a lot of scientific evidence behind the soup-when-sick tradition:


These nutrients include bone marrow which helps provide the raw materials for healthy blood cells and immune development.

Other valuable nutrients include collagen, gelatin, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, glycosamino glycans, proline, glycine, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. These all help with the development of healthy joints, bones, ligaments and tendons as well as hair and skin. These nutrients are considered beauty foods because they help the body with proper structural alignment and beautiful skin and hair.

Glycine and proline are essential for connective tissue function which is the biological glue that holds our bodies together. Without them we would literally fall apart. These two amino acids are essential for healing microscopic wounds throughout the body and they also suppress inflammatory activity. This is especially important for inpiduals with chronic inflammation or auto-immune conditions.

Bone broth provides the nutritional synergy to calm an overactive immune system while supplying the body with raw materials to rebuild stronger and healthier cells. This is why it is such a great healing food to have when the body is encountering stress from bacterial or viral infections as well as digestive disorders and leaky gut syndrome.

I'm sold – whenever I feel under the weather, bone broth is my first stop. Chicken broth is my personal favorite, but you can make delicious stock from any animal bones, really.

Essential Oils

One story that circulates around the essential oil “community” is the origin of Thieves Oil during the Bubonic Plague. The Hippy Homemaker explains:

Thieves oil originated from around the 15th century, when the bubonic plague was running rampid through Europe and Asia. Four thieves from Europe, who were notoriously robbing the infectious dead bodies of all their possessions. They, miraculously, never contracted the highly infectious plague and this led to deep inquiry in court after they were caught and charged. The magistrate offered them a deal, their secret for a reduced sentence. Taking the deal, they told stories of their knowledge of essential oils and their powerful medicinal properties when combined in certain ways. This specific oil that they had created, concocted from aromatic herbs and oils, was HIGHLY EFFECTIVE in killing all of the airborne bacteria. In fact, in 1997, Weber State University did a study that found this oil to have a 99.96% success rate at killing airborne bacteria. We don’t know whether or not this story is true, but the essential oils are antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-infectious. They will stimulate the immune system, circulation and respiratory system, and help protect against the flu, colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, sore throats, cuts, and more.

I've never used Thieves Oil specifically (though I've heard very good things about it from smart people [:) I do love using essential oils and feel that they help us both avoid illness and bounce back from it when we come down with something. Those I use most for these purposes are:

  • Rosemary, which aids congestion, promotes mental clarity and has antibacterial properties.
  • Tea tree oil, which kills, like, everything. Antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial, I break this out when I'm feeling particularly paranoid about what we might have come in contact with. Like after we go to malls or use the bathroom at WalMart or something.
  • Eucalyptus, which I use to make my all natural vapor rub.

Root Vegetables

This is one of those cunchy wives' tales I was talking about – I don't really know why it works, but it could be the natural antiviral and antibacterial properties of root veggies like onions and garlic that make them so healing. Onions boiled in milk is an age-old fever reducing remedy and I've found that it works very well. Getting kiddos to drink it can be rough – but that's another story.

Elderberry Syrup

Another age-old remedy is Elderberry Syrup, which is known to help prevent and treat the flu.

Not only is elderberry syrup an amazing flu prevention but it can also be taken if you ever do come down with the flu. Elderberry syrup is truly amazing when it comes to influenza and sickness in general.

On a recent episode of The Walking Dead, Herschel was collecting elderberries to treat the deadly flu that was going around their community. I got way too excited: “That's TRUE!! Elderberries really ARE good for the flu!!!”


Simple, but effective! Lack of sleep destroys our health on so many levels. It's so important to get enough rest and most of us need more in the winter. Studies consistently show links between our circadian rhythms and immune health.

Things I'll Be Trying

There are a few other natural immune boosters I've heard of from my crunchy friends but have not yet tried. I plan to do so this winter!

  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil
  • Chokecherry Syrup – chokecherries have some of the same properties as elderberries so I'm going to experiment with them as a flu remedy if I can
  • Probiotics – I have used probiotics in the past but I haven't done any careful experimenting with how they affect the immune system. Will correct!

Do you try to boost your immune system naturally? What are your favorite methods?


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Kylie Wiser is an herbalist specializing in skincare and women's health. She shares recipes and resources on Everblossom to help others live a more holistic lifestyle. She lives in Fargo, ND with her huge family and lots of houseplants.

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