The best-known and most researched western immune stimulant herb is Echinacea. Modern research demonstrates that Echinacea works more effectively when combined with other immune stimulating herbs that also help manage fever, drain the lymphatics and resolve mucous congestion. For example, the Chinese herbs Andrographis leaf, Forsythia green fruit, Lonicera flowers, Platycodon root, Magnolia buds, Isatis root and Glycyrrhiza root (Liquorice) combine well with Echinacea to enhance its therapeutic effects. This combination can activate immunity to overcome a number of conditions including cold, flu, fever, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, middle ear infection and mucous congestion especially in the ears, nose and throat.
Taking this Echinacea-Chinese herb formula to activate the immune system at the earliest signs of a cold, flu or cough will not only increase the body's resistance to infection but also reduce the risk of needing antibiotics and minimise the chance of repeat infection. Of course antibiotics have their place during certain acute infections but they attack bacteria only. Herbal immune stimulants activate the body's natural defences against all 'bugs' and speed up recovery during the acute phase of infection. This means that if antibiotics are required they can work together with immune stimulating herbal medicine to more quickly and completely overcome an infection.
Recently, a woman relayed her experience using the above integrated Echinacea-Chinese herb combination. "I usually suffer for at least a week whenever I contract a head cold. This time a friend told me about a Chinese herbal medicine containing Echinacea, so I tried some with immediate results. The fever subsided and didn't return, the clear watery mucus stopped running from my nose and the sore throat also disappeared overnight. I continued taking the combination for 2 days after all symptoms disappeared just to make sure the virus didn't come back."
However, sometimes the immune system does not full recover after an acute infection passes. Common symptoms of this stage in convalescence include recurrent low grade fevers, night sweats, sore throats, mucous cough, exhaustion, weakness and aches and pains. These symptoms require treatment for 2-4 week with immune restorative herbs or immune system tonics. The best immune system tonic to take to restore resistance and vitality during convalescence or chronic infection and illness are Astragalus root, Schisandra berries, Codonopsis root, Atractylodes root, Ganoderma (Reishi mushroom), Ligustrum berries and Liquorice root.
Immune restorative herbs are not recommended during the acute infection but can be taken alone or in conjunction with immune stimulating herbs during the pre- and post-acute phases of infection (overlapping areas). Immune stimulants are only recommended during the acute infection phase.
In summary therefore, always take an Echinacea-based (immune stimulant) formula at the earliest signs or symptoms of a bacterial or viral infection. Follow on this treatment with an Astragalus-based (immune restorative) formula during the recovery or convalescent phase of infection and for long-term protection.
Paul Keogh ND, DMH is a qualified Naturopath and medical herbalist with 20 years combined experience in clinical practice and the development of medicinal-grade, integrated Chinese and western herbal medicines. Paul regularly reviews the benefits of vitamins, supplements and vitamin tablets for different goals and conditions.