Your immune system is an incredibly complex interaction between organs, glands, body systems, surfaces, cells and chemicals in the body. This symphonic concert of processes requires proper nourishment in order to function optimally. And in today’s world, we want the best possible immunity from the multitude of diseases we are facing, many of which have been, until now, unknown. The threat of bio-terrorism is now very real, and these germs of warfare are particularly virulent.
Many herbs and other substances are used by cultures around the world to nourish and support immunity and protect us from a multitude of disease causing micro-organisms, including bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), the Herpes simplex virus, or fungal growths such as Candida. I know a few of these protective and immune strengthening herbs on an intimate level, and would like to introduce you to some of them here. We’ll cover astragalus, usnea, sage, garlic, honey, shitake and reishi mushrooms, hyssop, and St. John’s wort.
Astragalus has been growing in our gardens for over ten years now. It is quite hardy, and withstands even the coldest Maine winter. It grows into a large bush, quite feathery, bright green and very pretty looking, with dainty, fan-like yellow flowers in mid to late summer.
Oftentimes in nature you will find that the gifts of a plant make themselves known to you in the manner in which the plant grows, the conditions it requires, and its degree of hardiness. When a plant thrives no matter what, take a deeper look, and you may find that it will help you to do the same. Astragalus strikes me as such a plant. Rugged, resiliant, strong, powerful, long-lived, graceful, and elegant.
Astragalus is a tonic and restorative food and a potent medicine plant. The Chinese have been using this plant to strengthen immunity for centuries. They say it “strengthens the exterior”, or protects against illness. Known as Huang-qi, astragalus is written about in the 2,000 year old Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, and is still considered to be one of the superior tonic roots in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s name literally means yellow, referring to the inside of the root, and leader, referring to its medicinal potency.
Mildly sweet, and slightly warm, astragalus invigorates vital energy, is restorative, strengthens resistance, restores damaged immunity, promotes tissue regeneration, is cancer inhibiting, antiviral, adaptogenic, protects and strengthens the heart and the liver, is tonic to the lungs and enhances digestion.
Many scientific studies have verified its immune enhancing action. Astragalus is a powerful “non-specific” immune system stimulant. Instead of activating our defense system against a specific disease organism, astragalus nourishes immunity by increasing the numbers and activity of roving white blood cells, the macrophages.
As an immunostimulant, astragalus engages and activates every phase of of our immune system into heightened activity. In one study, the activity of macrophages was significantly enhanced within six hours of treatment with astragalus, and remained so for the next seventy-two hours.
In Chinese medicine astragalus roots are said to tonify the Spleen, Blood, and Chi. They are used as a tonic for the lungs, for those with pulmonary disease, frequent colds, shortness of breath, and palpatations. Astragalus is also prescribed for those who suffer from fatigue, from any source, chronic nephritis, night sweats, uterine prolapse, or prolapse of the rectum.
It’s tissue regenerating and anti-inflammatory abilities make astragalus an excellent ally to heal chronic ulcerations and persistent external infections, as well as to heal hard-to-heal sores and wounds, and to drain boils and draw out pus. Astragalus processed in honey is a specific against fatique, used to boost vital energy, to nourish the blood, and also against incontinence, bloody urine or diarrhea.
In a study conducted by the University of Texas Medical Center, in Houston, researchers compared damaged immune cells from cancer patients to healthy cells. Astragalus extracts were found to completely restore the function of the cancer patients’ damaged immune cells, in some cases surpassing the health and activity of the cells from healthy individuals.
The extract of astragalus was also shown to significantly inhibit the growth of tumor cells in mice, especially when combined with lovage Ligustrum lucidum. According to a study reported in Phytotherapy Research, astragalus appears to restore immunocompetence and is potentially beneficial for cancer patients as well as those suffering with AIDS. It increases the number of stem cells present in the bone marrow and lymph tissue and stimulates their differentiation into immune competent cells, which are then released into the tissues, according to one study reported in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Astragalus also stimulates the production of Interferon, increases its effectiveness in treating disease, and was also found to increase the life span of human cells in culture.
Astragalus protects adrenal cortical function while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, and helps modify the gastrointestinal toxicity in patients recieving these therapies. Chinese doctors use astragalus against chronic hepatitis, and many studies have demonstrated that astragalus protects the liver against liver-toxic drugs and anti-cancer compounds commonly used in chemotherapy, such as stilbenemide. When used as an adjunct to conventional cancer treatments, astragalus appears to increase survival rates, to increase endurance, and to be strongly liver protective.
Astragalus helps lower blood pressure, due to its ability to dilate blood vessels, and protects the heart. Scientists in the Soviet Union have shown that astragalus protects the heart muscle from damage caused by oxygen deprivation and heart attack.
According to reports in the Chinese Medical Journal, doctors at the Shanghai Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases found that astragalus showed significant activity against Coxsackie B virus, which can cause an infection of the heart called Coxsackie B viral myocarditis, and for which there is no effective treatment. In a follow-up study, researchers found that astragalus helped maintain regular heart rhythms, and beating frequency, and that Coxsackie B patients showed far less damage from the viral infection (as much as 85%).
In Chinese medicine, astragalus is often combined with codonopsis. This compound is said to strengthen the heart and increase the vital energy, while invigorating the circulation of blood throughout the body. It is also traditionally combined with ginseng, and used as a tonic against fatique, chronic tiredness, lack of energy, enthusiasm, or appetite, and to ease “spontaneous perpiration” or hot flashes.
Japanese physicians use astragalus in combination with other herbs in the treatment of cerebral vascular disease. According to a research paper published by Zhang in 1990, adolescent brain dysfunction improved more with a Traditional Chinese Medicine formula containing astragalus in combination with codonopsis, bupleurum chinense, Scutellaria baicalensis, Ligustrum lucidum, Lophantherum and ivory thread, than with Ritilin.
Integrating astragalus roots into your winter-time diet, as the Asians have been doing for years, turns out to be a very good idea. Scientists have demonstrated that astragalus will not only prevent colds, but cut their duration in half. Astragalus possesses strong antiviral properties, and in one study regenerated the bronchial cells of virus-infected mice.
Astragalus has been safely used throughout Asia for thousands of years. The Chinese typically slice astragalus roots and add them, along with other vegetables, to chicken broth to create a nourishing and tonic soup. Discard the root after cooking, and consume the broth. No toxicity from the use of astragalus has ever been shown in the millenia of its use in China.
The genus Astragalus is the largest group of flowering plants, with over 2,000 different species, most of which are found in the northern temperate regions. Plants in this genus are amazingly diverse, some are nourishing and medicinal, some useful as raw materials, and others, such as the locoweeds, are toxic. Astragalus membranaceus grows in the wild along the edges of woodlands, in thickets, open woods and grasslands. It is native to the Northeastern regions of China, but grows excellently in Maine soils and temperatures, as do most Chinese medicinal plants we’ve attempted to grow thus far. Astragalus appreciates deep, well drained, somewhat alkaline soil.
Seeds are easily gathered and when planted in the fall require no prior soaking. They will germinate the following spring as soon as conditions are right. The seeds have a hard seed coat, and some people nick the covering with a file, or soak the seed overnight to hasten germination. Give each plant plenty of room, as much as a foot all around, and harvest after the fourth or fifth year of growth. Use whole or sliced, fresh or dried root for tinctures, honey, infusions, syrup, or in soups.
St. John’swort contains numerous compounds that possess documented biological actions, and are the focus of much study. Those constituents that have generated the most interest thus far, include the naphthodianthrones, hypericin and pseudohypericin, a wide range of flavonoids, including quercetin, quercitrin, amentoflavone and hyperin, and the phloroglucinols, hyperforin and adhyperforin. Also of interest to researchers are the essential oils, and xanthones.
Wise herbalists have always used the whole herb, and researchers agree, that it is an interaction between the many constituents in St. John’s wort, rather than any one active ingredient, that is responsible for the wide range of beneficial actions this healing herb offers.
All parts of the herb are used medicinally, with hypericin content concentrated in the buds and flowers, and also present in top and bottom leaves, as well as the stem, though to a lesser degree.
Activity of Constituents:
Amentoflavone is antiinflammatory and antiulcer.
GABA is a sedative.
Hyperforin is an antibacterial agent active against gram-positive bacteria, is wound healing, a potential anticarcinogenic, and a neurotransmitter inhibitor.
Hypericin is strongly antiviral
Proanthocyanidins are antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and vasorelaxant.
Pseudohypericin is antiviral and
Quercitrin is a MAO inhibitor, as are the Xanthones.
Xanthones are antidepressant, antimicrobial, antiviral, diuretic, and cardiotonic.
St. John’swort is an excellent wound healer. It possesses strong antimicrobial properties, is a significant antifungal and antibacterial agent, and is especially effective against gram-positive bacteria. It inactivates Escherichia coli at dilutions of 1:400 or 1:200, and is also active against Staphloccus aureus.
Two constituents of the herb, hyperforin and adhyperforin possess antibiotic effects stronger than that of sulfonilamide.
Burns heal rapidly with the application of St. John’swort. In one study using St. Johns’wort oil, first, second, and third degree burns healed at least three times as rapidly than those treated with conventional treatments, and scaring was minimal. Orally administered St. John’swort tincture demonstrated a remarkable healing of incisions, excision and dead space wounds, and has also been shown to inhibit keloid formation.
Studies indicate St. John’swort may enhance coronary blood flow as well as hawthorne, due to the activity of the procyanidins. It significantly increases the production of nocturnal melatonin, which means taking it will help you sleep better, and feel better.
St. John’s wort has also shown promise in the treatment of chronic tension headaches, and also appears to be liver-protective. It is a proven antidepressant, best used by those who are mildly to moderately depressed. It is also historically used to treat neurological conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, neuralgia, trigeminal neuralgia. neuroses, migraines, fibrosis, dyspepsia, and sciatica.
St. John’swort is an ally when dealing with any fungal problem, such as candida (infusion as sitz bath), thrush (infusion as mouth wash), or an infection on the skin or nails(frequent soaks in infusion). Frequent applications of St. John’swort oil will also help in healing these infections.
Use the oil to rub on to tired, sore, achey, painful, overworked muscles. St. John’swort oil is legendary for relieving the pain and inflammation of back-ache, stiff neck, sore shoulders, bad knees, tennis elbow, and anything else that hurts.
St. Johns’wort has shown to be of considerable benefit to patients with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. (AIDS)
In one study, 16 out of 18 patients stabilized or improved during a 40 month period during which they were treated with St. John’swort. Only 2 of the 16 experienced an opportunistic infection during the time they took the herb.
Many studies have proven that St. John’swort inhibits a variety of viruses, including herpes simplex types 1 and 2, and HIV-1 viruses associated with AIDS. Researchers have concluded that both hypericin and pseudohypericin are uncommonly effective antiviral agents.
St. John’s wort is also active against murine cytomegalovirus, para-influenza 3 virus, Sindbis virus, vesicular stomatitis virus, and equine infectious anemia virus.
The antiviral activity of St. John’s wort appears to be somewhat photodynamic, involving a photoactivation process to become more intensely effective.
The ancients used aromatic sage to bring the virtues of wisdom, strength and clear thinking. Modern day researchers in Great Britain found that sage inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, and so helps to preserve the compound used to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s.
Sage is loaded with antioxidants, so is anti-aging, and also offers lots of calcium, magnesium, the essential oil, thujone, flavonoids and phytosterols. It is sedating and soothing, and has a tonic effect on the nerves.
Sage is a potent broad spectrum antibiotic, and immune stimulant. It possesses antibacterial, and antiseptic properties and is active against Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. E. coli, Candida albicans, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Salmonella spp.
Some native tribes like the Mohican, commonly chewed the leaves of sage as a strengthening tonic, and people all over the world use sage to build strength and enhance vitality.
Expectorant and diaphoretic, sage is especially effective against sore throat and upper respiratory illness, and infections where there is an excess of mucous. Sage dries up secretions. Sage is also traditionally used, and effective against, dysentery. Its astringent tannins make it an ally for healing mouth sores, canker sores, bleeding gums, and gingivitis, when used as a mouth rinse. A study done in Germany showed that drinking sage infusion on an empty stomach, reduced the blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
Garlic is not only antibacterial, but antiviral, antiseptic, antiparasitic, immune-stimulating, antispasmodic, hypotensive, diaphoretic, antiprotozoan, antifungal, anthelmintic, and cholagogue.
You can rely on the regular use of this spice to keep your body toned and functioning optimally. It will help keep that all-important and vital organ, the heart toned, help keep blood pressure down, as well as help lower cholesterol. Repeated studies have shown that garlic has a beneficial effect on the heart and circulatory system. Chop some into your salad, throw it, simmered in olive oil, over noodles and sprinkle with parsley.
Garlic is rich in antibiotic powers and strengthens the immune system. It is active against both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, including Shigella dysenteriae, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus spp., Salmonella spp., Camphylobacter spp., Proteus mirablis, and Bacillius anthraxis. Garlic is also active against herpes simplex, influenza B, HIV and many other serious illnesses. Note that it is active against the food-borne pathogens so often found in commercial foods, Shigella, E. coli, and Salmonella. Garlic kills bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract immediately on contact. To treat an active intestinal bacterial infection, consume lots of raw or cooked garlic, or take garlic capsules.
Garlic in the diet has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on those dealing with cancer, stress, and fatigue. Garlic stimulates the isles of langerhans, increases insulin production, and lowers blood sugar levels, thus aids diabetics in the control of this debilitating disease.
Garlic also helps increase the senovial fluids, and so is an ally for those dealing with arthritis. The sulfur in garlic helps break up the crystallization of uric acid in the joints, and so aids in the relief of gout. Garlic stimulates the brain and has a positive effect on brain functioning, helping to keep us alert and energized. Scientists have found that garlic’s anti-aging properties not only slowed the destruction of brain cells, but also caused new brain neurons to branch out. An old Ukranian recipe to keep the mind sharp includes one pound of garlic, ground and added to a jar with the juice of 24 lemons. Leave covered for one moon cycle, then take one teaspoon each night.
Honey is, an ancient Islamic saying goes, the food of foods, the drink of drinks, and the remedy of remedies. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all kept honeybees, and extolled the virtues of honey. Some call honey a sweet medicine of heaven, others, elixir of long life. I use honey everyday and you probably should too. Here’s why:
Honey is a rejuvenating, revitalizing, invigorating, natural antibiotic substance created by those magical insects, bees. Bees have been called messengers of the gods, and were associated with Great Goddess since the most ancient times. Many legends hint that bees, and their special creation, honey, played a very important role in our human development. It is said that the gifts of honey are long life, good health, and reverence for spirit. Honey has an ancient reputation as a life force increasing, immune strengthening, potency promoting, aphrodisiac elixir.
Honey consists of invert sugar (fructose, dextroglucose) and other sugars (irreduced raw sugar, maltose). It also contains a complex assortment of enzymes, antibiotic and antimicrobial compounds, organic acids, minerals such as iron, copper, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, manganese, magnesium, sodium, silicon, calcium, iodine, chlorine, zinc, formic acid, and high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. Honey also contains varying degrees (it depends on what flowers and herbs the bees are taking their nectar from) of vitamin C, the entire B complex, vitamins D, E, and K, pantothenic acid, niacin, and folic acid, amino acids, hormones, alcohols, and essential oils.
Honey can, and should be, thought of as a super food. It is a live food, stores its vitamins and minerals indefinitely, and is very easily digested by the body. Honey is an all around health and vitality enhancing substance. Wildflower honey, the concentrated nectar of wildflowers, the essence of all the combined medicinal qualities of all the diverse and abundant wild herbs, is thought to be the most medicinal. All natural, unheated honey is antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, expectorant, antiallergenic, laxative, antianemic, tonic, immune stimulating, and cell regenerating.
Bees gather the nectar from flowers and store it in their stomach while transporting it back to the hive. During their transport, the dew-laden nectars become concentrated by evaporation. The nectars also combine, in some as yet unexplained way, with the bees’ digestive enzymes, producing entirely unique compounds. Scientists have measured over 75 different compounds in honey, some of them so complex they have yet to be identified. One thing we can identify however, is the fact that when used as a consistent additive to food and drink, honey increases vitality, energy, immunity, libido, and life force.
Honey is proven more effective than any pharmaceutical antibiotic in the treatment of stomach ulceration, gangrene, surgical wound infections, and speedy healing of surgical incisions. Honey is unsurpassed for the protection of skin grafts, corneas, blood vessels, and bones during storage and transport. In fact, honey is such an excellent preservative of living tissue that it was commonly used to keep dead bodies from decomposing while being transported back to their homeland for burial. After his death in a foreign land, Napoleon was sent home in a huge vat of honey.
The fact that fist size ulcers and third degree burns heal beautifully with frequent applications of pure raw honey is clinically proven, and something I can personally attest to. A few years ago, I got a large third degree burn on my heel during a misstep on a motorcycle tailpipe. It was a deep wound and definitely hampered my ability to get around all that summer. I soaked my burned foot morning and night in lavender and rose salts and after each soaking applied a bandage liberally smeared with pure honey directly over the burn. I kept a thick layer of honey over that burn for a couple of months, and tried as much as possible not to walk on it. Today there is barely a trace of that huge burn hole on the heel of my foot. Since that time, honey is my first treatment of choice for any burn, first, second or third degree, any wounds, no matter how deep, skin ulcers, impetigo, and infections. I just keep whatever it is covered with a thick layer of pure honey. And keep eating it by the spoonful, or drinking it in water, or as mead, depending on what you are trying to nourish and heal.
Honey is active against staph Staphylococcus aureus, strep Streptococcus spp., and Helicobacter pylori, responsible for stomach ulcers, and enterococcus. Honey is also one of my top choices for treating any respiratory condition, whether a cold, flu, or respiratory infection. Honey will be your ally against bronchitis, chronic bronchial and asthmatic problems, rhinitis and sinusitis. Those dealing with chronic fatigue, any wasting disease, a depressed immune system, will all feel the benefits of integrating this sweet medicine of the bees into their daily diets.
Usnea, or old man’s beard as it is commonly called, is a common lichen found hanging from trees around the world. It possesses strong antibacterial and antifungal agents and is a potent immune stimulant.
Usnea has been shown to be more effective than penicillin against some bacterial strains. It completely inhibits the growth of staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus spp., and pneumonococcus organisms. Usnea is effective against tuberculosis, triconomas, candida spp., enterococcus, and various fungal strains, and has also been reported active against Salmonella typhimurium and E.coli.
Usnea is actually two plants in one. The inner plant looks like a thin white stretchy thread or rubber band, especially when wet. The outer plant gives usnea its color and grows around the inner plant. The inner part is a potent immune stimulant, the outer part strongly antibacterial.
Among the known constituents of usnea are usnic acid, protolichesterinic acid, and oreinol derivatives. Usnea is traditionally used around the world against skin infections, upper respiratory and lung infections, and vaginal infections.
It can be dusted as a powder, drank as tea or infusion, used as a wash, bath, soak, douche, or spray. Usnea is also effective in tincture form, 30-60 drops, 4 times daily to boost immunity, 6 times daily to treat an active infection. Drink 2-4 cups of infusion for acute illness. Use 10 drops in an ounce of water and use as a nasal spray to treat sinus infections.
Usnea can sometimes be irritating to delicate mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and throat, so the tincture should always be diluted in water before using. We walk way out into the woods to a big old spruce tree beautifully decorated with long strands of this unique and potent lichen which we gather to make our medicine. Usnea easily absorbs heavy toxic metals and can be potentially toxic, so gather in a clean place.
Shiitake Mushroom Lentinus edodes
Reishi Ganoderma lucidum,
Western reishi/artists conk
Immune activating fungi have been used as allies against disease for millenia. Mysterious mushrooms and fungi are classed in a kingdom all their own. They cannot be called plants, as they are much more primitive, nor are they animal. Fungi actually possess some characteristics of both plant and animal.
There are many common medicinal mushrooms with immune enhancing properties, including maitake, the abundant birch polypores, turkey tails, honey mushrooms, and hens of the woods.
The polypores are commonly given to chemotherapy and radiation patients in Japan, and have been shown to increase survival rates. The body receives deep nourishment from medicinal fungi, as the nutrients and medicinal properties of mushrooms penetrates deep into the bone marrow. So much so, that some have referred to using medicinal mushrooms as herbal bone marrow transplants!
We’ll take a deeper look at two of the most widely used medicinal mushrooms, shiitake and reishi.
Shiitake mushrooms have been used in China for thousands of years to mobilize the immune system to fight off disease. An immunostimulant, shitake increases the activity of the human immune system against any invading organism.
Antiviral, antitumor shitake has been effectively used to treat viral infections, parasites, and cancer. One of its most important consituents, lintinan, has been shown to stimulate immune competent cells, stimulate T-cell production, and increase macrophage activity.
In one study of 23 people with low killer cell activity, and associated fever and fatique for over 6 months, all responded well to taking lintinan, despite not having responded to conventional therapies, including antibiotics and antipyretics.
Studies have shown shitake to be active against viral encephalitis. It also possesses potent anti-tumor activities, and has been shown to prevent metastisis of cancer to the lungs.
Shitake mushrooms are usually added to soups and stews, cooked for about two hours, and then allowed to sit for an additional two hours. Remove the mushrooms before consuming the broth.
Called reishi in Japan, and Ling zhe in China, all the Ganodermas are powerfully immune enhancing, and adaptogens with potent anti cancer properties.
Both sweet and bitter, the ganodermas are powerful free radical scavengers, eliminating these highly reactive chemicals from the blood stream before they can damage the DNA of healthy cells. Ganodermas are strongly cancer protective, and have been shown to actually help break down and dissolve tumors.
Ganodermas are an excellent addition to the diet of any one who is run down, has been suffering from long term stress, and has low immune function. Either of the ganodermas effectively increases leukocyte production, promotes lymphatic health, promotes phagocytosis, stimulates T-cells, induces the generation of immunoglobulins, and promotes the multiplication of antibodies.
Scientists from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University demonstrated that the ganoderic acid in these fungi could reduce the cholesterol production in the liver by as much as 95%.
The Ganodermas are heart warming, heart opening, promote serenity, and are said to enhance spiritual powers.
Reishi and artists conk are hard and woody, and are often referred to as shelf mushrooms. They grow on the side of either dead or living trees, and are often found on birch and other hardwoods, or hemlock. Sometimes you will find them growing on the fresh stump of a recently cut or fallen tree, and sometimes on an old stump.
Slice pieces off the mushroom while it is fresh and dry the slices on screens or shallow baskets. Put several pieces into any soups and stews you make, remembering to remove the mushroom pieces before eating the soup.
Alcohol destroys the active ingredients in the medicinal mushrooms, according to Christopher Hobbs. He recommends cooking the mushrooms in water for a day or two to make a concentrate, then adding 1/4 the volume in 190 proof alcohol to preserve it.
You might try making a syrup instead, substituting honey for the alcohol. Try 1 whole reishi, or artists conk, in two gallons of water, adding one half the volumn of honey, after boiling, as a preservative. Drink 1/4 cup of this liquid morning and night.
Hyssop has been around a long time. It’s written about in the Bible as a cleanser and protector, and it was widely used by the ancients to clear away “evil spirits”. What the ancients referred to as “evil spirits”, today we call infectious bacteria, virus, fungi, and bad vibes. Hyssop will come to your aid when dealing with any of these.
Hyssop is a blood nourisher, an immune system strenghtener, and possesses potent antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial activity. Cornell/NCI researchers think that hyssop may be useful in the treatment of patients with AIDS.
Several years ago, a young woman was admitted to a hospital with severe AIDS symptoms. She was not expected to live. Her story, interwoven with that of hyssop follows: She had “disseminated Kaposi’s sarcoma, was partially blind from disseminated CMV, and suffered from extensive oral and vaginal candidiasis, oral herpes infection, and chronic draining ulcers on her lower extremities.” Her blood was found to have MAI (Mycobacterium avium intracellularae) and her urine tested positive for CMV. Doctors expected that she would soon die so they sent her home. However, follow-up of the patient 6 months later showed that her lesions had “improved significantly,” her blood tests were negative for MAI, she could walk and move around more, and in general, she felt much better. Upon questioning, the patient’s mother revealed that “for the previous month, the patient had been given an old Jamaican herbal remedy which was prepared in the form of a tea by boiling a mixture of leaves from hyssop officinalis, blessed thistle, and cassia augustifolia.”
Researchers tested the herbs and found that crude extracts of Cassia augustifolia had minimal or no anti-HIV activity, blessed thistle extracts had only “minimal” antiviral effects, but crude extracts of hyssop inhibited HIV replication by 77 to 100%. Further analysis revealed that one of the antiviral compounds in hyssop was caffeic acid, a compound that showed strong antiviral activity.
Treatment of HIV-infected cells with caffeic acid resulted in reduced levels of p24 and p17 antigens, reduced the formation of giant clumps of infected cells, and impaired the activity of the essential retroviral enzyme RT (reverse transcriptase). Caffeic acid was previously shown to have anti-herpes activity in laboratory tests. When caffeic acid reacts with oxygen and becomes oxidized, several beneficial products may form. Resarchers think that the action between oxygen and other compounds found in hyssop may also play a role in this plant’s strong anti-viral activity.
Hyssop contains a number of camphor-like constituents that help to loosen phlegm. Another constituent, marrubium, is a powerful expectorant. Hyssop has traditionally been used as a remedy against colds, flu, coughs, bronchial congestion, pulmonary distress, asthma, sinus congestion, and sore throats. A syrup made from the flowering tops of hyssop is especially soothing. Wise ones the world over, knowledgeable in the use of medicine plants, including American Indians, used hyssop in these ways.
Hyssop is well known as a digestive tonic, stomach soother, and an aid to alleviate gas. It also has a long history of use as a nervous system nourisher, possesses mild sedative properties, and can be taken regularly as a nerve-strengthening tonic. Use hyssop to calm and steady your nerves and help balance the emotional swings so common during the mid-life transition.
All above ground parts of hyssop offer an essential oil that has a clearing effect on the mind, helps rid you of confusion, and imparts a feeling of alertness and focus. Keep some fresh, or dried, in a chest pocket where you can smell it the next time you have to give a presentation or take a test.
According to some texts, long-term use of hyssop is associated with reports of toxicity, while according to others there is no toxicity whatsoever. There is also no association of toxicity with hyssop in the empirical evidence passed down through the ages. This discrepancy may be a result of the way in which the herb is prepared. Some think that the compound responsible for any toxicity resides in lipid molecules in the leaves of hyssop. So, using hyssop as a strong tea, or preferably an infusion, or as a syrup, honey, tincture, or vinegar, should all be fine. But to be on the safe side, don’t extract it into a fat base like oil, or butter. It may be possible that the combination of herbs in the Jamaican recipe moderated any possible toxic effects of the herb.
Other herbs that contain specific HIV inhibitors include burdock, Coptis chinensis, prunella vulgaris, and viola yedoensis. Other herbs containing viricides (antiviral properties) include lemon balm, rose, cinnamon, dong gui/angelica, and licorice.
Time Atlas Of The Body, Rand McNally and Company, N.Y., 1980
A Report on Herbs for Immunity, Longevity, and AIDS, Herb Research Foundation, Rob McCaleb
On the Treatment of AIDS with Chinese Herbal Medicines, R.S. Chang
Herbal Emissaries, Steven Foster and Yue Chongxi, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vt., 1992
Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Storey Publications, Vt. 1998
Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, Gail Faith Edwards, Ash Tree Publishing 2000
Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause, Gail Faith Edwards, Bertha Canterbury Press, 2003
Copyright 2001 Gail Faith Edwards
Do not copy without author’s permission
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