Understanding Herbalist & Alchemist Immune Formulas

Understanding Herbalist & Alchemist Immune Formulas

According to clinical herbalist, author, and educator David Winston RH(AHG), people who know little about herbs often incorrectly assume that any immune support herb stimulates immune function, but that is not at all accurate or helpful. As our knowledge of the immune system and herbs grows, we gain a greater understanding of how herbs can affect and enhance immune activity.

There are multiple categories of herbs that affect the immune system, and many (if not all) herbs affect more than one aspect of it. Research has shown that botanicals can work via multiple mechanisms. In the herbal literature the term immune modulator is often used; this term is unfortunately so broad that is has little meaning because it applies to any herb that has any effect on the immune system. I find it better to use terms with greater specificity that give a more precise sense of an herb’s actual actions and effects, which helps us to use the appropriate herbs and herbal formulas to address immune issues with greater efficacy and safety.

For simplicity’s sake, we can say some herbs stimulate the surface immune system (what in TCM is called the Wei Qi. Herbs that primarily work in this way include Echinacea, Elderberry or Flower, Hyssop, Andrographis, Isatis and Yarrow, among others. These herbs are primarily used to treat what is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as blood heat or damp heat.

The Internal (Specific) immune response has two main components, cell mediated which includes the T lymphocytes (Th1 T lymphocytes, T helper cells, T suppressor cells, T cytotoxic cells and Lymphokines).  Herbs that support cell mediated immune response include Reishi (Ganoderma), Usnea, Myrrh, Garlic, Lomatium, and Chinese Honeysuckle flower.  

The second part of the Specific immune response is the humoral (immune globulin) mediated response. This includes the B lymphocytes as well as the Th2 T lymphocytes.  Herbs that support humoral immunity include Elderberry, Echinacea, Basil, Thyme. Herbs that balance excess normal immune response without being immuno-suppressive include Turmeric, Gotu Kola, Dan Shen, Baikal Skullcap, Bupleurum, Boswellia. 

The endocrine immune response works via the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and is an interface between the nervous system, the gut and immune system. Adaptogens have a significant effect here and include Ashwagandha, Asian or American Ginseng, Schisandra, Eleuthero, and Rhodiola. Some herbs such as Maitake, Reishi, Astragalus, Schisandra, Ashwagandha, Licorice, and Cat’s Claw act as immune amphoterics. These herbs help to nourish and strengthen the immune system, promoting immune competence and effective self-regulatory capacity. 

The immune reservoir is a concept I created based on the TCM idea of the body’s ability to mount an appropriate response to immunological challenges. While there is not an actual “immune reservoir,” the bone marrow, gut immune system and intestinal microbiome correlate most closely as an anatomical “immune reservoir.” Immune supporters such as Reishi, Astragalus, Maitake, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, Codonopsis, Chaga, and Licorice are useful for strengthening overall immune response.  

Many herbs that effect the immune reservoir also act as immune amphoterics, which are herbs that balance normal imumne response whether it is hypoactive, hyperactive, or both. Immune amphoterics include Licorice, Ashwagandha, Asian and American Ginseng, Reishi, Maitake, Astragalus, Cordyceps, etc.

And although herbs can be very helpful in supporting the immune function, there are other components I recommend:

Essentials for a healthy Immune System:

  • A sense of purpose/goals
  • Love/friendship/community
  • Healthy spirituality
  • Relatively clean environment – air, water, home, work
  • Early exposure to normal dirt, bacteria, breast feeding, pets
  • Healthy diet including fermented foods, food sources of Vitamin A and D, zinc
  • Berries, dark green leafy vegetables, omega 3 fatty acids
  • Have fun/play
  • Adequate good quality sleep
  • A healthy gut microbiome
David Winston RH(AHG) Immune Formulas:
Immune Adapt™ - supports healthy immune function. Based on traditional Chinese Fu Zheng Pei Ben therapy, this formula restores vital energy and balance to the body so that it is better equipped to deal with stress and challenges to the immune system.
ACTIVITY: It is a blend of
  • Immune amphoterics to help normalize immune function, including Schisandra, Eleuthero, Red and Black Reishi mushrooms, Reishi mycelium, Licorice, Astragalus
  • The restorative tonic: Codonopsis.
  • The tonic herb Bai-Zhu Atractylodes supports the stomach and spleen, relieves dampness, and promotes healthy immune system activity 
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use if you have mushroom allergies.
Ultimate Echinacea™ - is a superior Echinacea product rich in all the active constituents (isobutylamides/alkamides, echinacoside, polyacetylenes, polyenes, chicoric acid) naturally found in the fresh root, flower, and seed of the three most commonly used species of Purple Coneflower. Echinacea is used to support surface immune response; research has shown that it can increase normal activity in macrophages, NK and T-4 cells, as well as interferon and interleukin production.
ACTIVITY: It contains the immune system supporting extracts of
  • Fresh Echinacea angustifolia root,
  • Fresh Echinacea purpurea root & flower, and
  • Fresh Echinacea pallida root
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use if you have severe ragweed allergies.
VX Immune Support™ - supports healthy immune function in its specific immune response.
ACTIVITY: this formula combines immune system supporting herbs
  • Elderberry,
  • Fresh Hyssop herb,
  • Isatis root
  • Japanese Honeysuckle flowers
  • Lomatium root
  • Fresh Lemon Balm herb and
  • St. John’s wort flowering tops
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use during pregnancy or lactation. Discontinue use if a skin rash or light sensitivity develops. Do not take this product while taking any prescription drugs unless otherwise directed by a qualified expert. Avoid excessive exposure to UV irradiation (sunlight, tanning) while using this product.
Healthy Kid's Compound™ - combines alcohol-free extracts. Echinacea is a safe and gentle first line support of the surface immune response. Although there are conflicting studies, the better studies show that Echinacea has the ability to increase normal immune response. Contrary to what some books state, Echinacea does not lose effectiveness if taken more than 7-14 days. Lemon Balm is a pleasant tasting member of the mint family that has a long history of use. It is rich in volatile oils as well as rosmarinic and caffeic acids which are powerful antioxidants. 
ACTIVITY: It combines the alcohol-free extracts of immune system supporting herbs with pleasant tasting orange extract
  • Echinacea root
  • Elderberry fruit,
  • Lemon Balm herb
CONTRAINDICATIONS: For serious viral or bacterial infections consult a physician.
Herbal Relief™ Botanical Throat Spray - provides relief and can be useful for a scratchy throat. The volatile oils and resins found in Sage, Cinnamon, Propolis, Myrrh and Osha, as well as the three essential oils (Cinnamon, Lemon and Peppermint) reduce throat discomfort. Licorice soothes tissue and relieves dry coughs. Collinsonia is specific for “minister’s throat,” which results from chronic use of the vocal cords. Goldenseal is appropriate for soothing mucous membranes of the throat, mouth or tongue. Echinacea’s isobutylamides support the surface immune system of the throat.  
ACTIVITY: It blends
  • Extracts of
    • Fresh Echinacea angustifolia root,
    • Goldenseal root,
    • Licorice root,
    • Fresh Collinsonia whole plant,
    • Osha root,
    • Sage herb
    • Cinnamon bark
    • Propolis &
    • Myrr resins
  • Adding in pleasant tasting
    • essential oils of Cinnamon, Lemon and Peppermint, and 
    • vegetable glycerin
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use during pregnancy, lactation or in children under 4 years of age. Do not use if you are allergic to bees or if you are sensitive to bee-based products.
Echinacea Goldenseal Compound™ - is a blend of two high quality extracts that support the surface immune system. The combination of the herbs echinacea and goldenseal formed the basis for many of the early immune support formulas when Herbalist & Alchemist first began selling products in health food stores.
ACTIVITY: The formula blends immune system supporting 
  • Goldenseal root, 
  • Echinacea purpurea flower and
  • Echinacea purpurea root
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use during pregnancy unless otherwise directed by a qualified expert.
Immune Balance Compound™ - helps to balance the immune system. It is a blend of adaptogens and immune amphoterics. This combination of immuno-supportive herbs is more specific in supporting balance when a normal inflammatory response condition is present. 
ACTIVITY: This formula contains
  • Immune amphoterics: Black and Red Reishi mushrooms and Reishi mycelium
  • Immune balancers: Turmeric rhizome, Huang Qin root and Unprocessed Rehmannia root
  • Adaptogens: Ashwagandha root and Licorice root
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use during pregnancy unless otherwise directed by a qualified expert. Do not use if you have mushroom allergies.
Astragalus/Echinacea Compound™ - This formula supports healthy immune function. It combines herbs that support the immune system in its surface, specific, and endocrine immune responses. 
ACTIVITY: This formula contains herbal extracts of
  • Immune supporting Echinacea purpurea root, Andrographis and Oregon Grape root
  • Adaptogenic Eleuthero
  • Restorative, lung soothing Astragalus and
  • Throat Soothing: Myrrh resin
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use during pregnancy.
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This blog is intended as an informational guide. The remedies, approaches and techniques described herein are meant to supplement, not be a substitute for, professional medical care or treatment. They should not be used to treat a serious ailment without prior consultation with a qualified health care professional.

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