With Winter well underway, the next few months are traditionally chilly, drab and punctuated by an assortment of coughs, colds and viruses. This is especially true for those with children as little ones exchange germs at school then bring them home. Air-conditioned workplaces can also play their part in creating the perfect environment for bugs – the airless artificial environment adding to a drained and generally grotty Winter feeling.

In the past, I had a feeble and dysfunctional immune system. This was partly due to an unhealthy hectic lifestyle but also thanks to a lifetime of antibiotic over-prescription. Like many people, I was susceptible to every bug going with little defence. As a result, I have spent years researching herbal ways to both support and rebuild my natural immunity and, having tried a number of remedies with much success, I thought it was time to share some of my discoveries.

Garlic bulbsI should say first that there is no quick fix. If you are serious about gaining a healthy immune system then you have to take remedies for a sustained period. Modern medicine has given us a ‘one pill should cure all’ quick fix mentality which is both lazy and unrealistic. It has taken many years to deplete your resistance and it will take some time and effort to rebuild it.

If you are just interested in warding off the annual round of coughs and colds without buying any pills or potions then there are two popular foods which will not only boost your immune system but your whole body. Garlic and fresh ginger root are a common addition to most kitchens. Both are both super foods in their own right; stimulating, strengthening and cleansing your entire system. Garlic has an extra effect as a powerful but gentle liver cleanser, a welcome bonus after the over indulgence of the festive season.

ElderberriesGrown closer to home are the wild fruit remedies you can make yourself throughout the year. As I have covered in previous articles, the common Elderberry is a wonderful tonic and powerful immune booster. Versions of Elder Rob have persisted throughout the centuries because they work not only at combating colds and flu but as a remedy for speedy recovery once those winter bugs have already bitten. This Autumn I made an experimental batch of Elderberry ketchup which is handy for those of us who prefer savoury or have to avoid sugar entirely. I have been using it instead of tomato ketchup and can testify to its delicious flavour and, so far, its powers of cold prevention (I will share the recipe later in the year when the berries are in season).

Rosehip syrup bears equal merits primarily due to the vast quantities of vitamin C it contains, known to build and support a healthy immune system. There are still some hips on the bushes but if you prefer ready-made it is now available online, including on Amazon.

Two more immune-boosting herbal remedies which build strength and endurance while also giving a sense of wellbeing are Ginseng and Echinacea.

Korean GinsengTraditionally, Korean Ginseng is taken by men and Siberian Ginseng by women. Although prolonged use is not recommended, it is the perfect herb to take over the Winter months. In Chinese medicine, Ginseng is believed to be a cure-all, promoting mental and physical vigour. In western herbalism it is known to be rejuvenating as well as an adaptogen supporting the nervous system and the body’s ability to deal with stress. Ginseng is also used to ease the symptoms of coughs and colds and to act as an anti-inflammatory. By increasing your white blood cell count, it is also a natural immune enhancer.

Echinacea is probably the most well-known immune booster, thought particularly useful for those with a deficient immune system. For my part, Echinacea has been a valuable herb in rebuilding my natural resistance to viruses. While taking it I have noticed a huge difference in my immunity and a marked improvement in my speed of recovery. Research confirms this is because Echinacea possesses both natural antibiotic and antiviral qualities.

Whatever coughs and sneezes come your way this Winter, I think it is worth giving herbal treatments a go and letting your body create its own natural protection. A course of antibiotics should be a last resort for a serious infection, and constantly relying on them for less serious bouts of illness not only weakens your immune system but makes you more susceptible to further viruses. With frequent media reports about superbugs and the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics, now is the time to retrain your body to fight for itself.

Happy Health.

By Claire Fleetneedle



  • Do not consume large quantities of raw ginger root if you are pregnant
  • Avoid Ginseng when pregnant or breast feeding
  • Avoid Ginseng if you have a heart condition or are taking blood clotting medication
  • Ginseng should be avoided by diabetics and those with hormone sensitive complaints
  • Ginseng should be avoided by those taking anti-depressant medication
  • Avoid Echinacea when pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Both Ginseng and Echinacea affect how the body gets rid of caffeine, consequently it is advised to lower caffeine intake while taking either herbs
  • There is some suggestion that Ginseng and Echinacea can, in some cases, exacerbate the symptoms of auto-immune disorders such as MS and Lupus


DISCLAIMER: These are some of my personal experiences of using the above herbs combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate; in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult a herbalist or your GP. Always check if any pharmaceutical medication you are taking is compatible before trying herbs.  If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the herbs mentioned above please stop using them immediately. Always take care when identifying plants.