Immune boosts for winter: herbs and yoga  

Immune boosting herbs for winter 

My favorite winter immune booster is Astragalus Complex, from Mediherb. This is a strong tonic blend containing Astragalus, Echinacea purpurea root and Siberian Ginseng. Personally, I take this at the first sign of a sniffle or sore throat, and on most occasions this nips the infection in the bud. Many clients, who used to be prone to winter colds, take it all through winter and find it provides good protection. 


Astragalus, also known as milk vetch, Huang qi (TCM) and ogi (Japan).

Offcially it's Astragalus membranaceus, (var mongholicus). Family Fabaceae (pea)

This plant looks quite familiar to farmers and gardeners who use hay or lucerne mulch, and is in the same nitrogen-fixing pea family as lucerne/Alfalfa (Medicago sativa). The same plant is called alfalfa in North America and lucerne in Australia, and New Zealand. Astragalus (with cream coloured flowers) is often grown with lucerne (with pink flowers) in Australia as the Astragalus is more drought tolerant.

Astragalus is a native of China, and is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a tonic and treatment for asthma, fevers and chills. Clinical studies have shown that it boosts immune function, particularly resistance to viral infections. In Western herbal medicine it is also used to treat post -viral syndrome and to aid in the recovery from cancer chemotherapy. (Bone and Mills 2013 p381-387 [1].)

The dried roots (Radix) of the plant are used to make alcohol extracts. The powdered dried roots of the herb or the extract can be used as therapy.


(Echinacea angustifolia, and E. purpurea), 

Often grown as colourful perennials in our gardens, and known as purple coneflowers, these plants are natives of southern USA. A few years ago echinacea was a favourite cure-all, but science has since shown that it is a useful immune modulator. 

Extracts of the roots were used in traditional medicine by North American Indians and came to Europe in the 1930’s as a treatment for both viral and bacterial respiratory tract infection and for treating children with chronic respiratory infections [2].

Use of Echinacea for children has proved controversial, with a large study showing no effect on the severity or duration of infection [3], but further analysis of the same study showing a significant decrease in recurrent infections [4]. A Cochrane review of multiple clinical trials found that  E. purpurea was effective for early treatment of colds in adults.[5].

Root extracts rather than flower extracts are recommended as the flower preparations, containing pollen antigens,  may cause rashes in sensitive people [3]. 


Eleutherococcus (Siberian Ginseng)  

Eleutherococcus senticosus,(Acanthropanax senticosus) Family Araliaceae

This is a woody shrub with prickly stems,  small inconspicuous flowers and black-berry like fruit. It comes from eastern Siberia, but is well known in TCM. In Russia, it’s use was promoted by studies in the 1950s that showed that it increased athletic performance. It was used by the Russian Olympic teams in the 1970s and 80s, although this may not have been the only therapy used to enhance performance! ( Bone and Mills 2013, p818 [1].)

Early Russian studies showed an increased work capacity and ability to adapt to changing environments [1]. Later clinical studies have however shown that Eleutherococcus improves  short term memory, endurance and immune function [6,7] . An extensive review listed six active compounds with a range of functions, including anti-oxidant, immune-modulation, anti-hypercholesterolemic, anti-inflammatory and blood glucose modulation [6].

It used in TCM to improve energy, calm the nerves and  treat fatigue and general weakness, particularly in elderly people. Powdered dried roots, or extracts of the roots, are used. (Bone and Mills 2013p818 [1])

From the Mediherb catalogue 2014

Astragalus Complex 

This is a strong tonic blend containing Astragalus, Echinacea purpurea root and Siberian Ginseng. This combination of herbs contains many compounds including triterpenoid saponins, flavonoids, sterols, caffeic acid derivatives (especially cichoric acid), alkylamides, and a diverse group of constituents called eleutherosides. The Siberian Ginseng component of this tablet is standardised to contain 600 mcg per tablet of eleutheroside E to ensure optimal strength and quality.

Mode of Action  

The combined effect of these herbs makes this a predominantly adaptogenic and tonic formula providing support for the immune system. Astragalus Complex is well suited to long-term use. The best effects are most often seen after 3 months of use.


•Temporary relief of coughs. 

•Relief of mucous congestion. 

•Assists in the maintenance or improvement of general well-being. 

•Beneficial during times of stress. 

•Astragalus is used traditionally to build up vitality.

Contraindications and Cautions

Discontinue during any acute infectious illness or fever, since the tonic and warming properties of Astragalus and Siberian Ginseng may aggravate the illness. Echinacea is contraindicated in patients taking immunosuppressant medication (eg transplant patients). Discontinue 7 days prior to general anaesthesia. Always tell your doctor that you are taking herbs when consulting about other medications.

Each tablet contains:

Astragalus membranaceus (Astragalus) extract equivalent to dry root850 mg 

Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng) extract equivalent to dry root 

standardised to contain eleutheroside E 600 mcg750 mg 

Echinacea purpurea (Echinacea) extract equivalent to dry root650 mg  

Dosage and Administration  

Adults: 1 tablet 2-4 times daily. 

Children 6-12 years: 1 tablet 1-2 times daily.


Winter warming yoga

Yoga boosts immunity by improving blood circulation and oxygen uptake. It also improves our mood, lifting winter blues and this also boosts immunity [8]. For those of us who like to practice our asanas in the morning, winter can be challenging. It’s cold out there on the yoga mat and nice and warm in bed. Our joints are stiffer and the air is cool to breath and can irritate throat and lungs. Here are some hints for winter yoga.

1.Leap out of bed and turn on heating near your yoga mat

2.Sip a cup of hot water, lemon juice and honey

3.Have a warm shower and put on your warm leggings, socks and jumper

4.Do warm-up stretches with deep slow breathing to open the heart 

5.Start with slow motion sun salutes (see picture) and gradually increase the pace before you move into other poses. Use vinyasa sequences to keep moving

6.At the end of the practice, try a walking meditation, just up and down your mat or round the room (while chanting om, or any other chant you like). Shavasana (lying on the floor) can cool you too much and not be so relaxing if the floor is too cold.   


1.Bone, K. and S. Mills, Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. second ed. 2013, Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone.

2.Vogel, H.C.A., The Nature Doctor. 50th (1989) ed. 1952, Melbourne, Australia: Bookman Press.

3.Taylor, J.A., et al., Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial. Jama, 2003. 290(21): p. 2824-30.

4.Weber, W., et al., Echinacea purpurea for prevention of upper respiratory tract infections in children. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2005. 11(6): p. 1021-6.

5.Linde, K., et al., Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. , 2009b. 2.

6.Davydov, M. and A.D. Krikorian, Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. & Maxim.) Maxim. (Araliaceae) as an adaptogen: a closer look. J Ethnopharmacol, 2000. 72(3): p. 345-93.

7.van Wyk, B.-E. and M. Wink, Medicinal Plants of the World. 2004, Portland, Oregon, USA: Timber press.

8.McCall, T., Yoga as medicine. The yogic prescription for health and healing. 2007: Bantam Books.





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