I'll never forget Christmas Eve in 2006.
My husband's entire family — almost 15 people — were all under one roof for our Christmas festivities. My brother-in-law, father-in-law, and I woke up in the middle of the night vomiting all over the place.
The next day, my sister-in-law and one of my nephews had it. A few days later, my mother-in-law was sick too. That stomach bug made the rounds through almost everyone before New Year's Eve! No fun!
Sometimes it's impossible to avoid the bugs that travel from person to person during the fall and winter months. But sometimes, thankfully, it is possible.
And that's where immune-boosting foods, natural immune boosters, and common sense come in. Today, I will share what I'm doing in my home to strengthen our immune systems and (fingers crossed 😉 ) keep us well during the sick season this year.
Food is always my first stop when I consider any health issues we might be facing.
The longer I've eaten a whole foods-based diet, the less susceptible my family and I are to illness. Before I ever knew anything about diffusing essential oils, drinking herbal teas, or making my own cleaning products, I knew that food was the most important step I could take to improve our health and immunity against common sicknesses.
I love to tell the story about how drastically Real Food changed my immune system — how I used to lose my voice, have a very sore throat, and end up with some sort of respiratory infection at the same time each year. This started when I was in high school and continued until 2008, when I began to dabble in changing our diet.
That year, I didn't lose my voice, have even a tickle in my throat, or get a respiratory infection! It's now 6 years later, and I have continued to enjoy my winters without respiratory distress. I attribute this 100% to the fact that I changed my ways and started taking better care of my body simply by cutting out *most of the processed junk food. 😉
So, what are my favorite immune-boosting foods?
#1 — Bone Broth
You knew that was coming, didn't you? Bone broth is an age-old remedy for both treating and preventing illness. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon states,
In folk wisdom — the famous Jewish penicillin [bone broth] — is a valued remedy for the flu. The 12th-century physician Moses Maimonides prescribed chicken broth as a treatment for colds and asthma. Modern research has confirmed that broth helps prevent and mitigate infectious diseases. The wise food provider, who uses gelatin-rich broth on a daily or frequent basis, provides continuous protection from many health problems (page 117).
I have utilized Wardee's Perpetual Stock Method in my kitchen for a few years now, and you can be sure my crockpot isn't going to get much rest this season.
Each member of our family gets at least 1 mug of broth a day because of its many benefits. It heals and seals the gut wall which in turn boosts the immune system. We know that gut health plays a huge role in immune system function (source).
I will also be diligent to use broth in as many of my recipes as possible, including nourishing soups, stews, and sauces.
#2 — Fermented Foods
In addition to bone broth for gut health, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha, and pickles add beneficial bacteria to our digestive tract. This in turn strengthens our immune systems and contributes to overall good health.
Sometimes it's hard to get fermented foods into my family, either because I don't have the time to actually make them or because there are a couple of us who haven't acclimated the flavors of fermented foods. For those times, I rely heavily on a good probiotic, like this one or this one.
How can you get more immune-boosting fermented foods into your family's diet?
- Pack them in your child's lunch box.
- Mix them into a smoothie.
- Add 1 fermented food to every meal.
- Enroll in the Lacto-Fermentation eCourse to learn how to prepare a variety of fermented foods.
Want even more immune-boosting food suggestions? Try eating these throughout the week, all season long:
- garlic and onions
- grass-fed meats, especially red meat which is rich in zinc
- grass-fed raw milk, cream, and butter
- green veggies like kale, broccoli, spinach, and collard greens — make sure you eat them with good fat to absorb all those vitamins!
- antioxidant-rich fruits such as pomegranate, blueberries, raspberries, and goji berries
- fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, cilantro, and rosemary
- fermented cod liver oil
Natural Immune-Boosters & Essential Oils
Used in folk medicine for centuries, elderberries pack a potent punch of antioxidants and immune supportive vitamins such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and iron. The immune-boosting capability of elderberries is found in more than just the vitamin content, however. “Elderberry anthocyanins enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines. These unique proteins act as messengers in the body to help regulate immune response, thus helping to defend the body against disease” (source).
This time of year, I like to mix up a quart or so of elderberry syrup. My husband and I take about a teaspoon and a half daily, while our children take one teaspoon daily. Oftentimes, we just mix our syrup with our liquid probiotic and shoot it down. The taste is so great that no one minds their daily spoonful, and we often have children asking for more. 😉
I feel I am just beginning to get my feet wet when it comes to essential oils, and I've been using them for several years! Essential oils play a key role in the prevention and treatment of illness in our home. I like to employ essential oils in three ways for the prevention of illness and to give our immune systems a little extra advantage.
First, diffusing purifying oils is very effective at removing germs and other airborne toxins from the air in our home. I choose oils such as frankincense, melaleuca (tea tree), and peppermint to purify and freshen our indoor air. I also have a few purifying and protecting blends of oil that take the guesswork out of figuring out which oils will be most effective at cleansing our air. Several brands of essential oils manufacture these blends. Two that I have used are Spark Naturals' Shield Blend and NOW Brand's Clear the Air blend. Other brands make similar blends which I have heard are excellent.
Second, I also utilize essential oils in my homemade cleaning products. Oils such as lavender, tea tree, and lemon, and the Shield blend are wonderful additions to my cleaning products because of their anti-microbial properties. In addition to these oils, several others, including citronella, lemongrass, geranium, and eucalyptus were tested and found to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi (source).
Here is my favorite all-purpose cleaner:
- 1/4 cup Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap, any scent (I use peppermint)
- 20 drops of the antimicrobial essential oil of your choice (I use *either lavender or tea tree or a pre-made blend)
- standard size cleaning spray bottle, such as an old Windex bottle, well-cleaned
- water to fill
Combine the soap and essential oil in the empty cleaning bottle. Fill with water. Use on countertops, sinks, door handles, toilets, bathtubs, showers, and floors. This is a completely non-toxic all-purpose cleaner that helps kill the germs around your home all year long. (Or here's Wardee's recipe that also includes rubbing alcohol.)
*The common assumption “more is better” is not true with essential oils. Although many oils can be combined safely, the combination of oils does alter their chemical makeup as well as their efficacy, in some cases.
The third way I put essential oils to work this season is by carrying a homemade, germ-killing spray in my purse. Because we're not always confined to the safe and clean environment of our home, I want to be extra prepared for our visits to places outside our home where we will certainly come into contact with hundreds of pathogens — from the cart handle at the grocery store to the sweet elderly hands we hold at our weekly visit to a local nursing home. I avoid anti-bacterial hand soaps and gels for a variety of reasons, and I feel much better about using proven, plant-based, anti-microbial essential oils instead for my family.
There are hundreds of recipes for anti-microbial sprays and gels out there, so here are a couple of great options:
Essential oils are extremely potent and concentrated substances and should be used with the greatest of care. Thankfully, there is a wide margin of safety with most essential oils, but it is always best to educate yourself so that you can make the best choices for your family. For this reason, I am currently enrolled in the Essential Oils & Natural Health class from Vintage Remedies. This class has really given me confidence when it comes to choosing and using essential oils in our home.
Immune-Boosting Common Sense
While syrups and superfoods certainly have their rightful place in our prevention of illness, common sense goes a long way. Often in the busyness of life, especially during the holidays, you can neglect your supplement regime or forget to diffuse a purifying essential oil. We're only human, after all! You probably know all of these tips already, but I'm reminding all of us because even the simplest, everyday actions can help us to be the best, healthiest versions of ourselves.
Drink plenty of fluids. Whether you prefer mineral-rich bone broth, fresh spring water, kombucha, or another concoction, just make sure you're getting enough liquids for your body. Dehydration weakens our immune systems, so let's avoid that and drink up! (You might want to start your day with this.)
Get enough rest. I know it's hard, especially during the holidays, but all the right supplements, essential oils, and foods in the world don't outweigh the importance of a good night's sleep. Although nourishing foods and exercise definitely have a positive influence on your immune system, they aren't nearly as crucial as getting enough sleep (source).
Keep your diet as clean as possible. It is such a blessing to be invited to eat a meal that someone else has prepared, but sometimes you're at the mercy of how that family cooks and eats — which may be vastly different from what you're used to. It's also not helpful that this time of year is typically filled with lots of extra sugar. Nourishing foods keep our bodies healthy and strong, while sugar, processed foods, and other junk make us weak. Have lots of fun this holiday season, but try to eat as closely as you can to your normal, nutritious diet. You may just make it through January without sickness or those extra five pounds. 😉
Let stress and anxiety go. Though fall and winter are favorite times of year, the holidays are stressful times for many. Strained or awkward familial relationships and financial stress related to gift-giving during the holidays are pressures your body has to physiologically deal with. According to the American Psychological Association, the holidays can be more stressful for women who often bear alone the burden to plan, shop, and prepare food for large crowds, and then clean up after everyone (source). All that extra stress and anxiety, coupled with the fact that this time of year is naturally a time when more people are becoming ill, can really take a toll on your immune system. Slow down, breathe, and don't try to do it all alone this year. Your immune system will thank you.
I won't make any guarantees that these tips will keep your family completely free of those pesky colds, tummy bugs, or even the flu, so here's a peek into my medicine cabinet just in case! I can tell you that you'll be giving your bodies the best advantages possible against illness this year. Stay well!
What are you doing to boost your family's immune systems during the sick season? Share your natural immune boosters, superfoods, and tips in the comments below!
*Disclaimer: I am just a mom, not a medical professional. You are responsible for your own health and for the use of any remedies, treatments, or medications you use at home.
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