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Natural defence

Top remedies for keeping your family bug-free this winter

It’s a rare family that survives the Irish winter without someone catching a cold or being exposed to something more serious. In fact our medicine cabinets probably get more use at this time of year than any other. But don’t forget the host of natural remedies available that have been proven to support your immunity.


Echinacea is a traditional herbal remedy from eastern and central North America. Medicine made from its leaves, flowers and roots is well known for its ability to prevent infection, lessen the duration of a virus, support and strengthen a weakened immune system over time. Available in teas and capsules.


Eucalyptus from Australia has antibacterial actions that can help you to breathe more easily. A good way to take eucalyptus is to inhale it – pour hot water into a bowl, add a few drop of eucalyptus oil, drape a towel over your head and the bowl and breathe in the steam. Eucalyptus oil made from the leaves can also be used as an antiseptic, for deodorising, and in cough drops, toothpaste and decongestants.


The dark purple berry from the European elder tree, elderberry is packed with vitamin C. It can play a role in preventing colds and flu and shorten the duration of a cold once you have one due to its immune-boosting properties. It can help reduce swelling in the mucous membranes and relieve nasal congestion. Available as a syrup.


The original wonder food that is a relative of the humble onion, garlic has antifungal and antibacterial properties. Allicin is the active compound in garlic that fights infections and bacteria. It forms when garlic is chopped or crushed. Include in your cooking.


Ginger is a warming root that can be grated into food as it cooks or made into tea. It helps to break down the accumulation of toxins in our organs and boosts the immune system with anti-bacterial and antiviral benefits.


Ginseng is a perennial plant that grows in the mountains of Eastern Asia. Tinctures and medicines made from its roots, stems and leaves can boost the immune system and fight infections. It is a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation and increases energy levels.

Matcha green tea

This frothy tea made with a whisk is a great source of antioxidants, and helps the body produce T cells which are a natural defence against bugs. Matcha green tea is packed with antioxidants, detoxes the body and is rich in chlorophyll and vitamins.

Medicinal mushrooms

Mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and maitake contain beta glucans which have immune enhancing properties and very high levels of vitamin C.

Essential oils from fish

Omega-3 essential oils are essential in the body to promote an immune response at this time of year. Natural sources are oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, herrings and pilchards, but if you don’t eat these two or three times a week it’s best to take a supplement.

Prebiotics and probiotics

Prebiotics are a form of fibre which serves as fertiliser for good bacteria in the gut. Beans, legumes, lentils, vegetables, grains, ripe bananas, garlic and onions are all prebiotics. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that inhabit your gut. They are important for keeping the immune system up and running, stimulating the immune system and lining the intestines with a protective layer of friendly bacteria that stops nasty bugs from harming the body.


Turmeric, and its active ingredient curcumin, is a wonderful anti-inflammatory that can help the body in numerous ways including fighting and reducing the symptoms of colds and viruses in the winter. It is high in antioxidants and strengthens the immune system. Use this bright yellow powder in cooking or take a supplement.

Immune boosting supplements

  • Aloe vera – has immune-boosting and antiviral properties.
  • Bee propolis – has reputed antiviral properties and is rich in bioflavonoids
  • Beta glucans – derived from mushrooms, can boost a weakened immune system
  • Camu camu – has amazingly high levels of vitamin C
  • Olive leaf extract – an antioxidant-rich immune supporter. An olive leaf and elderberry tincture can be really effective for colds too
  • Manuka honey – look for the UMF logo to guarantee the ones with anti-inflammatory properties
  • Selenium – the antioxidants in selenium can help the body fight a cold
  • Slippery elm – good for relieving a cough and coating the throat to reduce a soreness. Available as a herbal tea or you can buy lozenges

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