A Phyto-Therapeutic Approach to the Immune System

From all that has been discussed, it is clear that the plant kingdom hasa major impact upon human immunity, an impact that can be worked with by the competent practitioner. There are many ideas about how this should be best approached. In the following sections I shall present ideas and theory based upon a bridging between a traditional Western European approach and insights offered by oriental medicine and pharmacological research. It is too soon in this process of cross-cultural synergy to say that the theory presented here is `the way it is’, but the therapeutic suggestions are based upon clinical experience and historical precedent.



Within the context of immunity as a homeostatic whole system function, attention must also be given to general de-toxification and elimination. This in turn illuminates an herbal approach to preventive medicine and `wellness’.



One approach is that based upon the important work of ChristopherHobbs, his insights being an inspiration to this author and many other herbalist’s. It identifies three relevant levels of herbal activity.


  • Deep Immune Activation
  • Surface Immune Activation
  • ‘Adaptogens’ or Hormonal Modulators
Deep Immune Activation

Increasing interest is being shown in plants that impact the immunological process within the tissue that mediates its work. This can be termed `Deep immune activators. As discussed above, pharmacology points to saponins and complex polysaccharides as key components in the immunological role of plants, but please remember that herbs act as biological wholes, not simply vehicles for `active ingredients’. Important immuno-modulators being introduced into western herbal practice include:

  • Astragalus membranaceous
  • Ligustrum lucidum
  • Lentinus edodes
  • Schizandra chinensis
  • Ganoderma lucidum
  • Codonopsis tangshen


In addition to specific remedies for immuno-modulation, support of bodily well being through systemic support will help homeostasis and thus the immune system. Actions and processes to take into account include:

  • Bitter tonics.
  • Alteratives/Tonics.
  • Support of elimination and detoxification through the use of appropriate actions as discussed below.


Surface Immune Activation

These are the many plants known as anti-microbials. The closer attention given to them by researchers, the greater the range of mechanism found to explain their activity. Examples include :

  • Echinacea spp.– Echinacea or Cone Flower
  • Baptisia tinctoria – Wild Indigo
  • Commiphora mol-mol – Myrrh
  • Usnea spp.– Old Man’s Beard
  • Thuja occidentalis – Western Hemlock
  • Calendula officinalis – Calendula
  • Allium spp. – Garlic & Onion


Hormonal Modulators

Remedies in this group work though some hormonal modulation of immune response.



– Adaptogens working via the adrenals & the general adaptation syndrome.

  • Eleutherococcus senticosus – Siberian Ginseng
  • Panax spp. – Korean & American Ginseng


– Other Endocrinological herbs (see below)

David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

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