Herbalist, Acupuncturist and Alchemist, Minka Robinson Stevens shares tips on how to boost your immunity this summer, which is especially important during this time. Di Tao herb Astragalus to the rescue! This tonic herb has a variety of benefits and centuries of use, more recently studied for its beneficial immune-modulatory effects, which may help us strengthen our protective Qi life force!
Summer is upon us! The kids are out of school and did you know that now is the best time to strengthen your immune system?
We do what we can during the cold and flu season, emphasizing treatments to prevent secondary infections (such as ear and sinus infections) and respiratory diseases, but in the summer we have more time to make profound changes. There are always things we can do if we feel a cold coming on like taking extra vitamin C and drinking ginger tea, but building our immune system and doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like working out, we can’t expect that if we work really hard for a week that we will suddenly be physically fit. When we are building or rebuilding our immune reserve it works best when we do little bits regularly over time, like any good habit. For me, as a mother of two, the summer provides a bit of a break from what can feel like a chaotic schedule of rushing from school, to work, to meetings, play dates, chores, meal prep, and hopefully some fun, but the routine can be pretty tight.
This summer will be very different for all of us, but I hope we will set aside some time to nourish ourselves, our families, and those we love. The practices we create now when our contact with others is reduced will support us as contact increases. When we routinely supply our cells with the essential nutrients they need we create a buffer between ourselves and pathogens (viral or bacterial).
Herbs work on many different aspects of our immune function, from the increased production of T cells and the activation of B cells, to the suppression of viral cells. These systems are incredibly complex and truly awe inspiring.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) much of our immune function falls under what we call the “Wei Qi” or “Protective Qi.” When our Wei Qi is strong it acts like an invisible shield protecting us from infections such as viruses. The Wei Qi controls the opening of the pores and we can understand this as metaphor. When our Wei Qi is weak, the pores are more open and our bodies are more open to an attack, and when closed they become a shield. So how do we strengthen our Wei Qi so that we can withstand a pathogenic attack?
We know intuitively getting good sleep, consuming nutrient-rich foods, and moving our bodies help us stay balanced. However, there are more ways to stay healthy and keep our immunity up. In TCM the Wei Qi is related to the Lung organ system, so anything we do to strengthen the lungs will strengthen the Wei Qi. For example, practicing breathing meditation, stimulating acupuncture points along the Lung meridian, and using essential oils will all benefit the lungs and the Wei Qi. I am trained in TCM so in my practice I primarily use Chinese Herbal Medicine, which has been used for thousands of years and is incredibly effective.
One of my very favorite formulas to strengthen the Wei Qi is called “Yu Ping Feng San,” translated as “Jade Windscreen,” first described by Zhu Danxi approximately 700 years ago. It is used to treat colds and flus and has been shown to produce beneficial immune-modulatory effects preventing bacterial and viral infections. Studies have demonstrated this formulas antiviral effects against influenza virus, human respiratory syncytial virus, and SARS*. The King herb of this formula, Astragalus, was classified in the foundational text of Chinese Medicinals, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing written in the second century (200-250 C.E.). Today, this herb is more important than ever as we all work to support immune function. In addition to tonifying (strengthening) the protective qi, Astragalus benefits the digestion, reduces allergies, rhinitis and inflammation. Its gentle upward action lightens the body and limbs and helps us feel more energetic, and less fatigued. It also lifts the mind, improving focus and memory. Astragalus achieves all of this while also being beautifying, antihypertensive, hematopoietic, hepatoprotective, metabolic, anti-aging, and so much more. This herb offers us clarity, strength and protection. Its sweet nature lends itself well to chai, lattes nut and seed milks, oatmeal, granola and baked goods.
While Yu Ping Feng San and Astragalus are both very beneficial formulas with very low toxicity, there are some contraindications. It is essential to speak with a licensed herbalist to determine which herbs or formulas will be the safest and most effective for you.
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