Natural Ingredients and Herbal Help for Immunity

May 18, 2020

by Pamela Spence


It has never been as important as now to look after ourselves and our immune systems. We need to understand the things that stop our immunity functioning properly when we are otherwise well, and what positive steps we can take to support our immunity when it may be under attack.


Most of the defences we have against any virus are within our own grasp, and that is a very empowering thing. It is frightening to hear that nothing can be done. As of writing this article, there are currently no drug treatments that can resolve the current pandemic situation for us. We each have to do our bit – for our community and for our own bodies – to stop unwanted pathogens from taking hold. But actually, it has always been this way. Our current experience is certainly bringing these necessities to the fore.

Firstly, let’s think about what actively works against our immune function. There are some key things, and stress and poor diet are up there in terms of their influence. We already know a lot of this – but how much are we actually practicing it? Stress negatively impacts our immunity. Stress impacts on our quality of sleep and THAT impacts on our immunity. Stress impacts our ability to digest our food properly and even THAT impacts on our immunity. So dealing with stress is key. Sometimes it’s not about taking more, but about taking things away.


Things you can do to reduce stress

Have a routine in your day. This is particularly important when working from home. Have a clear start and end to your working day. Have non-negotiable downtime. Make time for self-care – that may even just mean a cuppa and your favourite television show. Make time to stop.

Clean up your sleep hygiene. This means that if your sleep is disturbed you need to ban screens from the bedroom, stop caffeine after dinner (or earlier if you need to) and get yourself a bedtime routine.

If you’re really stressed, then drinking caffeinated drinks is like pouring fuel on a fire. Opt for a non-caffeine alternative and explore the great range of calming, relaxing herbal blends available to make your hot drink choice work better for you.

Eat regularly. If you don’t and your blood sugar drops, your adrenals have to release yet more adrenaline into the system so that your liver releases glycogen to raise your blood sugar level. So, don’t add that extra stress. If you don’t feel hungry, eat little and often. A handful of nuts and seeds as a 3 hourly snack is a great way to stop this vicious cycle.

Herbs that can help include drinking chamomile or lemon balm. You can also try herbs in supplement form like ashwagandha that can reduce adrenal stress and lessen feelings of anxiety.

The worst culprit in the diet for reducing immunity is sugar. But before you go sugar-free be aware that many of the sugar alternatives are even worse for you. So try to retrain your palette to crave sugar less and opt for healthier alternatives like honey or stevia. Herbs that can help include cinnamon, which balances blood sugar levels and makes you less likely to crave sugar and make poor food choices.

Make sure you feed your body what it needs including a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables daily. We all need a good source of vitamin C at the moment as it can be very helpful to boost immunity. If you can’t get it from fresh food, consider supplementing. Zinc is also a key mineral that supports immunity, so make sure you either supplement it or eat plenty of natural food sources like cashews, almonds, baked beans, and meat (if you eat it).

Echinacea is by now a well-known herbal remedy that can increase the immune response by promoting the production of white blood cells, and in other ways we are only just beginning to understand. Elderberry is also used frequently as an anti-viral because it can interfere with the replication of some viruses (note that we are yet to find out whether it can help with the novel coronavirus) while delivering vitamin C and other important phytochemicals to support the immune response.


At times like these, remedies we can easily reach for become even more important – so don’t underestimate the power of your kitchen cupboard or small garden as your very own immune-boosting pharmacy! Fire cider is an excellent (and potent) medicine that you can make from ingredients you probably pick up every week. As it is a herbal tradition there is no agreed ecipe, but my usual basic formula goes something like this:



50 g each grated fresh horseradish root (if available) and fresh chopped onions
25g each of chopped garlic and grated ginger
1 -2 chopped fresh or dried chilli. It should be hot to your taste, but not too hot!
Apple cider vinegar (enough to cover your herbs)
Honey (to taste)
Additional (optional) ingredients: ½ a sliced lemon, a teaspoon of peppercorns, 3 sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme, 25g grated turmeric root



Combine the ingredients in a sealable glass jar and seal tightly.
Leave in a cool, dark place for 3–4 weeks. Shake daily.
Strain out the herbs and add enough honey so your Fire Cider tastes hot, spicy and sweet.
Decant into smaller bottles and label.
Adults can take a small shot glass daily as a winter tonic, or by the teaspoon if you feel a cold coming on.


Take care and keep safe,



About the author: 

Pamela Spence is a medical herbalist, writer and educator and runs a clinical practice from her home on Scotland’s beautiful west coast. Pamela has written and presented her own BBC online series on traditional herbal medicine and ethnobotany and has made a documentary on healthcare in rural Uganda. She writes and delivers classes for professional herbal training courses in the US and the UK.
She is the herbal expert for Twinings Tea internationally, consulting on product development and marketing copy and as a herbal ingredients expert she works across industry sectors including herbal supplements, traditional herbal remedies and cosmetics. Pamela has run workshops in her native Scotland, Italy, Russia, Germany and East Africa on topics ranging from local herbs to women’s health. She is currently writing a book on aromatic medicine for publication in 2020.

Posted by: Leah Russell