By Dr. Teri Goetz, DACM, LAc

Astragalus (Huang qi) – Astragalus is an adaptogen—a substance that helps the body deal with stresses (mental, emotional or physical). It is most often used to build your natural immune system, so you can use it daily. Astragalus is a root which can be boiled and drunk as a tea, and it’s slightly sweet. You can also add the tea to soups as the base stock (ideally, along with some mushrooms, see below). It is also available in tincture or capsules.

Mushrooms and fungus:
Mushrooms are often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to build your natural immune system. They help the respiratory system get rid of excess mucus and have antibiotic and anti-viral properties. They have an impressive nutritional profile, containing compounds such as anti-antioxidants, polysaccharides/beta glucans, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids making them one of the best things on the planet to boost and balance the immune system. They also lessen inflammation, have anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects and even lower cholesterol. They are believed to help increase white blood cell count to bolster immunity by increasing interferons (a group of signaling proteins in case of viral exposure, to heighten the body’s anti viral defenses). They also increase cellular oxygenation, increase NK (natural killer) cells. I can’t say enough about the value of mushrooms.

Another side benefit of mushrooms is that they treat the side effects of chemotherapy, as well. Please consult a health practitioner to find out more.

Mushrooms can be eaten fresh or dried and added to foods or beverages. There are many good companies out there selling them powdered. I add them to my coffee every morning. Please do your best to buy organic and well-sourced mushrooms.

For the sake of simplicity, I have listed them below in order of my personal preference. However, remember in Chinese medicine, we treat the individual, so some may be better than others for a you. Having said that, I encourage you to do your own research (readily available online—read several sources to make your best judgment) and I feel comfortable saying that most edible mushrooms have immune building qualities (we say Qi tonics) which can be exceptionally helpful.

Reishi (língzhī) – In TCM, this is thought to tonify immunity best. It is the king of mushrooms.

Shiitake (xiānggū) – These are said to be a very good source of interferons.

Maitake (hui shu hua)—Besides immune building, it also helps with diabetes as it helps to increase tissue sensitivity to insulin and appears to be protective of the pancreas.

Chaga: (bai hua rong) – Known as a super adaptogen, this slow growing mushroom helps form beneficial cytokines to stimulate white blood cells. It’s also good for cognitive function and very rich in antioxidants.

Lion’s Mane (hóutóugū)—Studies show lion’s mane can improve immunity by increasing the activity of the intestinal immune system, in part due to changes in gut bacteria. It is shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies show it could also prevent dementia and relieve mild symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Turkey Tail (yun zhi)—This ‘shroom also helps stop coughing in chronic cough and asthma. Also used for hepatitis. Good for general weakness.

Cordyceps (dong chong xia cao)—Besides the immune enhancing effects, cordyceps also treats coughs and respiratory infections.

Oyster (háogū)—Studies indicate it enhances immune function and may reduce cholesterol.

Schizandra Berries (Wu wei zi) – This berry is an adaptogen, and very high in antioxidants. Research indicates that it increases glutathione levels, reduces inflammatory cytokines, and improves liver function. It’s used for chronic cough and asthma and, if you’re in menopause, it can also help with hot flashes and calming the spirit. Throw them in smoothies or steep as a tea.

Many of these natural immune system building products (if not in your kitchen or garden) are available in your local health food store (yay, for supporting local shops!) or online. Try to buy organic when you can because you don’t want to burden your system with extra pesticides. I don’t ever recommend wasting money on bargain-priced or drug store supplements as these tend to sit on shelves too long, often are improperly prepared and/or sourced, and tend to be inferior products and thus not very effective. Do your research or ask a professional.

In traditional Chinese medicine, one size does not fit all and we put colds, flu, and other viruses into slightly different categories, depending on symptoms. I’d much prefer you talk to your doctor of Chinese medicine, but in lieu of that, I feel comfortable making these suggestions to improve your natural immune system. I hope to encourage and empower you to take charge of your own health.

Obviously, use best practices and do not go into public if you think you are infectious or were exposed to someone who was. If you’re well, consider getting some acupuncture to keep you balanced and strengthen your natural immune system. Because they are powerful, complicated and not a one size fits all, Chinese herbal formulas were not discussed here. However, if you do get sick, consult your practitioner immediately if you’d like to add that to your regime of treatment.

As always, please check herb-drug interactions. Plant medicine is very safe when used properly but can interact with medicines you may be taking. Please check with your healthcare provider. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor. It is always best to consult with a knowledgeable health care provider for your specific needs.

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