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Healthy Foods for Cold and Flu Season

Eating well may be the best type of medicine.

female hand crumbling herbs into oils
amy pennington with bag of rhubarb

By Amy Pennington

Amy Pennington is a Seattle freelance writer and author, writing about food, health, agriculture, gardens & more. Visit her website at amy-pennington.com.

As anyone who obsessively washes their hands or doesn’t pass a hand sanitizer without taking a pump during cold and flu season can attest, it’s more important than ever to practice healthy habits. As natural healer students and professionals, your patients may ask which foods they should eat to help stay healthy.

Many plants, in particular, contain properties that may help support your immune system. These easy suggestions for incorporating more plant-based immune powerhouses into your daily diets could play a role in staying well.

For thousands of years, cultures around the world relied solely on plants to stay healthy and fend off infection.

Plants have long been a factor in health care. For thousands of years, cultures around the world relied solely on plants to stay healthy and fend off infection. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the modern pharmaceutical industry began to provide chemical options for medical procedures and treatment. Up until then, plant-based medicine was the only medicine available.

To get the most out of their effective ingredients, herbs and wild plants can be eaten raw, made into teas or tinctures (alcohol-based infusions), or taken as supplements. The best type of medicine, after all, is prevention.

Tea Time

green tea

Many plants can be taken as a tea—the simple act of steeping a plant matter in hot water is, in fact, a medicinal practice. We’ve all come to know echinacea as a prime sickness-fighting bloom, and the power of chamomile to calm and heal, but many other plants are wonderfully supportive to our internal systems.

Oregano, for example, makes a potent, herbal tea that is high in antioxidants and is thought to build a healthy microbial environment in the intestines. Elderberry has an antioxidant effect on our tissues and protects against inflammation in the body by supporting our entire immune system.

Eat Your Veggies


Vegetables and plants can also be anti-bacterial powerhouses when eaten. The allium family, which includes garlic and onions, is particularly potent thanks to its bioavailability of sulfurous compounds.

Vegetables and plants can also be antibacterial powerhouses.

Mushrooms are renowned for their immune-enhancing impacts and have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. “Shiitake and maitake mushrooms contain compounds that can activate immune cells including natural killer cells, macrophages, and T-cells,” says Sarah Cimperman, a New York City-based Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and author of The Prediabetes Detox.

Eat them sautéed or roasted, or take them as a daily supplement.

Tend Your Tummy


Katia Durand, an acupuncturist and owner of the Bodhicitta Healing Center in Seattle, recommends people load up on fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha and natural, sugar-free yogurt. Fermented foods contain probiotics and tend to your microbiome by feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

She also recommends foods that stimulate the immune system, such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. “I enjoy making a cup of golden milk every night. It feels like a sweet self-tending ceremony,” says Durand.

To make golden milk, grate fresh turmeric root into a cup of warmed milk or nut milk and sweeten with a bit of honey or syrup. “It’s nourishing, calming, has anti-inflammatory qualities to support the immune system, and it’s dang yummy.”