I’m about to mix up another batch to drink throughout the next couple of months to strengthen my immunity in preparation for the winter months ahead. I’m sharing my recipe in case you’d like to try it too!
Deep immunity vs. surface immunity
When we feel a cold or flu coming on, many of us have herbal allies that we like to have on hand to save us in a pinch. Echinacea root and elderberries (see Elder for Natural Cold and Flu Care) are two of the most popular and well-known herbs that many people like to use to help fight off and/or to reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms when we come down with something. There are also many common kitchen herbs (see 5 Common Kitchen Herbs to Help Kick Your Cold in the Butt!) that people commonly use in such situations. Many of these herbs are very helpful as they work on our surface immunity, and are often incredibly supportive with their anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and other important effects.
However, if you are prone to catching colds, and are repeatedly getting the bugs that are going around, building your deep immunity is something to consider. Herbs that effect our deep immunity work to strength our immune system at a deeper, cellular level, having more of a lasting effect than herbs that we use in a pinch for fighting a cold. Deep immune building herbs are ones that we use regularly over time, and their effects build gradually over time.
A bit about the herbs in the recipe:
The herbs used in this tea are often used in tincture form, but the client who I designed this tea for was trying to reduce his coffee intake and wanted to consume his herbs in tea form to help provide a substitute for the java. The slow cooker method may be too slow of a method for some people, but personally I love having my tea cooking away in the backdrop of my day.
This tea is intended to help build deep immune strength when used over a period of a few months. There is much more that these herbs offer beyond enhanced immunity, and the following blurbs will give you a hint of that.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus):
Common names include: milk vetch, Huang qi (Chinese), kibana-ogi (Japanese), and hwang-gi (Korean)
Astragalus is a plant native to China, and its root has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Astragalus root is an energizing and tonic herb that is well known for its ability to build deep immune strength and to energize the whole body. It has a long history of traditional usage for building up ‘insufficient qi’ (life energy/vitality), for cardiovascular disease, and for immune support. Astragalus protects against stress, and protects/strengthens the spleen. It is also known to have beneficial effects on the heart, kidneys and liver.
The immune-modulating/enhancing activity of astragalus is due to numerous factors. Astragalus enhances the immune system (it restores T-cell function, increases interferon synthesis, strengthens natural killer cells and increases white blood cell immune activity), strengthening immunity against colds, flus and other illnesses.
Astragalus is useful for:
• treating long-term illness
• treating post-viral infections
• treating chronic fatigue
• people with cancer receiving chemotherapy treatment
• re-building energy levels
• treating non-acute viral infections (like chronic hepatitis) (5)
• treating recurrent infections
• building deep immune strength
There have been many promising studies where astragalus has been used as a complementary treatment alongside radiation and chemotherapy treatments in cancer patients.
The liver is an important organ in the body’s immune support system and research has found astragalus root helps protect the liver from a variety of liver toxins.
Astragalus works gradually, with its effects building over time.
• Avoid in acute illness; in TCM astragalus is not used in acute infections like colds and flus as it can “feed the illness as well as the host.”
• It has been suggested that Astragalus may oppose immunosuppressive drugs (like Interferon), because it tends to improve immune function.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum):
Common names include: Ling Zhi (spirit plant)
Known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as the mushroom of immortality or longevity-spirit plant, reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum, was (and still is) recognized as a superior tonic herb, which made people feel stronger and healthier and generally increased vitality. It was traditionally used by Chinese monks to promote calmness and enhance meditation practices as it “calms the spirit”. Today it is best known for its ability to promote healthy immune function and build deep immunity, however in TCM it is commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, moodiness, listlessness and poor memory. (2)
Most clinical trials relating to reishi and the immune system have studied its anti-cancer activity. It has developed a reputation as an herb to use alongside chemotherapy and radiation treatment in cancer patients.
A mild adaptogen, with an effect that builds over time, reishi is ideal for improving deep immunity and strengthening the adrenals in individuals who are under constant stress and feel tired and depleted. When used over time it can help restore energy levels and vitality, regulate sleep, and improve deep immunity.
The immune-modulating/enhancing effect of reishi is due to many factors. It strengthens the immune system by enhancing monocyte, macrophage and T-lymphocyte activity (2), and helps increase white blood cell count, hemoglobin, platelets and tumor-fighting cells. (1) Reishi can also be helpful in cases of excessive immune response, sucagainsth as immune system dysregulation (auto-immune conditions) and allergies. (2)
Some of the main actions of reishi include:
• Immunomodulator: activates immune response against cancer and chronic infectious disease (1)
• Cardiovascular tonic: helps with hypertension, coronary heart disease (1); lowers cholesterol, reduces cardiac pain (angina)(2)
• Chemotherapy and radiation uses: protective against radiation and enhances treatment (1)
• Protects the liver and kidneys (1)
• Reduces stress (1)
• Adaptogen (mild) (2)
• Adrenal fatigue
• Contraindicated in cases of obstructed bile ducts
• Use caution alongside immunosuppressive drugs
• Potential to cause additive effect with blood-thinning medications like warfarin or aspirin
• Avoid in acute infections• Avoid in mushroom allergies (2)
Preparation: As Ganoderma is a hard, tough mushroom that cannot be chewed or easily digested, and because it tastes bitter, it is mostly consumed in the tablet or powder form, as a tincture, or as a water-based tea or broth.
Deep Immune Building Slow Cooker Tea Recipe:
Reishi: 10g dried reishi/day
Astragalus root: 10g dried root/day
Add 10g dried reishi to a slow cooker (or a pot on the stove) and 1 qt. (4 cups of water); decoct (low simmer) 2-4 hours, reducing liquid to 2/3.
During the last half hour add in 10g dried astragalus root; decoct for half an hour, and then cover and let the entire mixture steep for an extra half hour.
This is enough tea for one day (average adult dosage), so you can increase the recipe and make it ahead of time for the next several days, and divide the remaining liquid up equally over the number of days you have used herbs for. You can work it out so that you only have to make the tea twice per week.
Important: Should you become sick with an acute infection like a cold, you should temporarily stop drinking this tea and switch to using herbs that work on your surface immunity like those mentioned above. It is important to do this, as although the herbs in the Deep Immune Building Slow Cooker Tea help build deep immunity, they can also end up “strengthening the bug as well as the host.”
It is always important to seek appropriate medical care as needed, and to follow the standard protocols for when this is necessary. The use of herbs as described in this blog are not a substitute for medical care. If you have a medical condition or are taking medications, consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before using these herbs.
1.Yance, Donald. Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism. Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease. Healing Arts Press. 2013.
2.Winston, David and Maimes, Stephen. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press. 2017.
3.Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbs for Long-Lasting Health. Storey Publishing. 2014.
4.Bone, Kerry and Mills, Simon. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone. 2009.
5.Baillie, Dr. Nicky: notes from post-graduate unit: Working with People with Cancer
Do you have an herbal question for me? Send me a note through my contact page. I’m always looking for questions that I can answer in my blog—Herbal Q&A! Have fun making this tea recipe!