COVID-19: Herbs That Strengthen Your Immune System
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a lot of interest in ways to strengthen one’s immune system, and thus build a first line of defence against the deadly virus.
Immunity cannot be built up in a day, but the good news is that eating a well-balanced diet and being physically and mentally active is usually enough to keep your immune system in good health.
There are however, many natural ingredients know to help boost your immunity. Since ancient times, herbs and spices were well known for their medicinal properties, with over 80 spices grown in different parts of the world, particularly in Asia. India is home to several spices that are used extensively in traditional medicine.
According to the World Health Organisation, around 80% of the world’s population uses herbal medicines for primary health care, particularly across Europe and South Asia. Research indicates that many of these herbs not only have anti-inflammatory properties, they also help build up the body’s natural immunity. And unlike allopathic medicines like antibiotics, which can have serious side effects, most of these herbs and spices are relatively safe.
Here’s a list of herbs and spices that can help improve immunity:
Holy Basil. The leaves of this easily available plant are rich in phytonutrients (such as antioxidants, flavanol) chlorophyll, vitamins, and minerals, as well as Eugenol, a bioactive compound that has anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and reduces stress and plasma glucose levels. You can chew 4-5 fresh basil leaves every morning (make sure you wash them well in running water) or infuse them with your morning tea. Basil is also an important ingredient of pesto recipes.
Ginger is well known for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and anti-cancer properties. In traditional medicine, ginger has been extensively used for curing colds and coughs, nausea, asthma, travel sickness, morning sickness, arthritis, gastrointestinal complaints and even depression. Consume it as ginger tea, which involves crushing ginger and boiling it with tea leaves and water. Powdered ginger mixed with pulverized cloves, cardamom and caraway has been used for digestive ailments since ancient times.
Fenugreek is a well-known herb in the Ayurvedic system of medicine which acts a natural anti-oxidant and strengthens immune system. It is not only used as an herb (dried or fresh leaves), spice(seeds), vegetable (fresh leaves) but also as a condiment in artificial flavoring of maple syrup or in the production of steroids. You can add fenugreek seeds as preservatives in pickles as they are rich in vitamin E. Dried leaves of fenugreek are used for flavoring vegetable dishes, fish and meat. Herbal tea made with fenugreek, honey and lemon is a traditional remedy to treat fever. Sprouted seeds of fenugreek and microgreens are used in salads, while fenugreek fiber can be used to cure constipation.
Garlic has potent anti-oxidant properties, and helps in reducing stress and high blood pressure. It also helps to enhance thiamine (vitamin B1) absorption in the body and prevents beriberi. It is always best to chop or crush garlic before consuming it, because it works better when in contact with oxygen. Garlic is used to add flavour to almost every form of cuisine across the world.
Turmeric contains a bioactive compound known as curcumin, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Commonly used in India for curries and other dishes, it can also be consumed as a decoction (kadha) made from grated ginger, tulsi and turmeric once daily to improve immunity as recommended by AYUSH.
There is no single food that is a magic pill for a healthy body. Apart from including these herbs and spices in your diet, you must exercise both your body and your mind regularly, make necessary lifestyle changes, and practice gratitude.
(The author is an experienced Nutritionist and freelance writer)