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Immune - Herbs that promote general resistance

by Paul Bergner

From The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal (Prima Publishing 1997)

Many of these herbs are superior to echinacea for prevention, rather than treatment, of illnesses. Some are classified as adaptogens, plants that increase your ability to respond to any form of stress. They are all used in traditional Asian medicine. Several of them, or constituents isolated from them, are used by conventional physicians today in China, Japan, and the U.S. to treat cancer, AIDS, and autoimmune diseases.

The Asian herbs are now beginning to appear in health food stores in a variety of forms. Some appear as alcohol tinctures, which is not the way the Asians use them, and not the way I recommend. They should be made into teas, tonic “soups,” or eaten as foods, just the way the Asians consume them.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

Contraindications: heat signs

Dose: 9-30 grams

Astragalus is an herb from traditional Chinese medicine that has been successfully transplanted to North American herbal practice. In a survey of the top fifty herbs used by clinical herbalists in the U.S., astragalus placed sixteenth. It is one of the best herbs worldwide for building resistance to colds and infections. It also figures prominently in the herbal treatment of cancer, AIDS, and autoimmune diseases. It builds overall immunity, strengthens the lungs, and improves the digestion. It increases endurance and body weight in animals. American varieties of astragalus are known as “locoweed” because of their overstimulating effects on cattle that eat too much of them.

In Chinese medical terms, astragalus builds up the protective chi. Imagine that there is a protective shield around your body, just below the surface of the skin, that keep out cold and other external influences. It vitalizes the non-specific immune defenses and wards off infections. This is the protective chi, and astragalus is the premier herb in Chinese herbalism to strengthen it.

Astragalus, in combination with another tonic herb ligustrum, gained fame as a possible immune-stimulating and anti-cancer herb in scientific circles in the 1980s. In one trial with nineteen cancer patients, water extracts of astragalus restored the function of the T-cells in 90% of the patients. In another trial, these two herbs in a broader formula increased the survival time of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Formulas based on these two herbs are used today in AIDS clinics at the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the Qwan Yin Clinic in San Francisco.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    184


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies    

Astragalus is warming, and is especially beneficial when cool or cold weather comes on, or if you work or play for long periods outdoors and are exposed to cold wind. It has no known toxicity, but can cause discomfort if you have a tendency to feel hot. It is available as a long yellow-colored sliced root that looks something like a tongue depressor. It is also widely available in health foods stores as encapsulated powders, teas, and tinctures. I recommend that you buy the whole root and make your own tea. Simmer it in a pot of water for a half hour, or add it to soups. Remove the root from the soup before eating.

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Ginseng is one of the most famous herbs worldwide, and in Chinese medicine is the king of the tonic herbs. It is one of the most potent adaptogens we have. It is unparalleled for building up the energy if you are depleted. It has to be taken with care, however, because it can be overstimulating, causing insomnia, tension, and discomfort. Most Americans who feel “wiped out” will find American or Siberian ginsengs more suitable for their constitutions. Asian ginseng is not specifically an immune stimulant, but greatly improves your ability to handle stresses of any sort, and thus helps you to adapt to the conditions that might promote illness. There are many forms of ginseng available in health food stores, drug stores, and supermarkets. Many of these products have so little ginseng in them that they won’t do you mich good. See my book the Healing Power of Ginseng for a detailed description of products and forms. I recommend that you buy either whole root and make a tea, or purchase a product from one of the companies in Appendix A. take ginseng for six to eight weeks at a time, and then take a two week break.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium)

Although American and Asian ginseng share the same name, they are quite different in their overall effects on the system. whereas Asian ginseng is considered warming in traditional Chinese medical terms, American ginseng is cooling. Asian ginseng is usually contraindicated during summer weather or when you are hot and sweating from other causes, but American ginseng is perfect for this. It can help cool, calm, moisten and strengthen a run down system. It is very well suited to stressed, overworked and over overly-active Americans who have injured their yin function. It also specifically strengthens the lungs. It has to be taken for three to six weeks to get its full benefit. American ginseng is quite expensive, and products are of variable quality in the U.S. marketplace. You might find the other herbs in this section gentler on your pocketbook.

Siberian ginseng, eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Siberian ginseng is not really “ginseng” at all. That name was added to it by American marketing companies hoping to capitalize on the popularity of ginseng. It was researched and perfected as a medicine by Russian researchers. A large volume of research shows that it is an excellent adaptogen, without as much tendency to overstimulate as Asian ginseng, although when overused it can cause tension and insomnia. It also has more immediate tonic effects than ginseng. It is widely used today in Russia to increase resistance to stress, colds, and flu, and is very effective for those purposes.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    185


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies

The Siberian ginseng products in the North American marketplace are generally of poor quality. A Canadian regulatory commission examined three lots of this herb coming into that country from Asia, and found that two of them contained other herbs that eleutherococcus, and that the other lot was laced with 5% caffeine. The Russian product that was so extensively researched is highly concentrated, with one part of the herb to each part of solvent, extracted in 33% alcohol. Many American products use only one part of the herb to five parts of a solvent with much higher alcohol content. the two forms are not equivalent. The only company I am aware of that markets a product made to the Russian specifications is HerbPharm in Williams, Oregon. They then use vacuum concentration to make it double strength. If you want the same benefits that the Russians receive from eleuthero root during their long winter, I suggest you use the same preparation that they do.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice is famous in the West as a candy, but most licorice candy is made from anise flavorings rather than from real licorice. This herb is much more than a candy, however. It is in the same general category of herbs in Chinese medicine as ginseng. It is probably the most versatile herb in either Eastern or Western pharmacopoeias, and can benefit respiratory illnesses, digestive problems, menstrual disorders, inflammatory conditions, auto-immune diseases, and chronic liver disease. Its chief benefit for building the resistance is that it can enhance the function of the adrenal glands, helping to cope with many forms of stress.

Licorice root can cause side effects when taken in large doses and for long periods. It stimulates the adrenal glands and adds to the effect of steroid hormones, and the effect it to cause high blood pressure, edema, headache, and potassium loss. These effects were first observed in people who ate large amounts of concentrated licorice extracts in candy. Later they were observed in the long term clinical use of licorice for the treatment of ulcers and hepatitis. They do not appear with normal use, but if you have a tendency to high blood pressure and edema, try another of the herbs here.

Make a licorice tea by itself, or add licorice to your other teas.

Ganoderma, reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

The ganoderma mushroom, sometimes called by the Japanese name reishi in the U.S., is an immune-stimulating sedative. It is one of the prized medicines in traditional Chinese medicine. A large amount of scientific research has been conducted into ganoderma, especially in Japan. It is an immune-stimulant, building resistance to infection and tumors. It also has cardiotonic properties, lowering serum cholesterol and increasing blood circulation through the coronary arteries. It is my personal number one herb for treating autoimmune diseases. A number of clinical trials have shown it to be effective for chronic bronchitis. Ganoderma is especially useful as a sedative for nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia that often accompanies general deficiency.

There are two types of ganoderma available in the U.S. as whole dried mushrooms. A red one is round and dense, with a slightly bitter flavor. The black one larger and more fibrous or fleshy, and tastes salty. The one you want is the red one. Get the whole dried mushrooms, make a tea, and drink it daily during times of weakness or stress.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    186


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Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    187