I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve often noticed that preventing an illness is not very alluring. People seem to rush towards “cures” or the latest exotic herb that is marketed with lots of promises, but the day in and day out of making healthy choices can get some eye rolls or simply crickets. With that in mind, I set out to create a recipe that makes “prevention” both exciting and delicious! But before we get to the recipe for immunity cookies, I want to look at prevention a bit more as well as a couple of our ingredients.
A Holistic Approach at Prevention
My mentor, Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, often says something like, “Health isn’t the one thing you do, instead it’s the thousand things you do every day.” When I see people searching for that one miracle thing to alleviate all of their health challenges, I often can hear KP’s voice in my head extolling the virtues of those thousand things.
As the 2020 cold and flu season begins, in the midst of a pandemic, prevention has reached a whole new level of importance.
For the past seven months, we’ve heard a lot of about how to prevent the spread of viruses through wearing masks, maintaining physical distances, and washing our hands, but very little from mainstream sources in the ways that we can build our internal immune systems.
Yes, avoidance is important, but so is the resilience of our own immune system.
This article is a bit of a preview of what I’ll be sharing in my brand new webinar, ”The Secrets of Antiviral Herbs: Misunderstood Remedies, Common Myths & The 5 Stages of Winter Wellness.”
Here’s a sampling of things we know are important for building immune system health.
Vitamin D3 is an immunomodulator hormone produced by your skin when it is exposed to sunlight. It can also be obtained in small amounts in some foods, such as fish and fortified foods, or in larger amounts through supplements.
In times past, low vitamin D levels were associated with poor bone health and rickets in children, but we now know that vitamin D is critical to a broader immune system function. Low vitamin D3 levels are associated increased susceptibility to viral infections as well as the risk of recurrent infections.1 I get my own vitamin D3 levels tested regularly and have found that I need to supplement during half of the year (autumn/winter/early spring) in order to maintain healthy levels.
A Flourishing Microbiome
Entire books have been written about the relationship between healthy gut flora and the immune system! It’s estimated that the majority of your immune system cells reside in the gut. While the relationship between a healthy microbiome and the immune system is well established, how to grow and maintain a healthy biome is more controversial.
To loop back to the saying of KP Khalsa, it’s not the one thing you do, but the many! Eating a diverse diet full of nutrient-dense foods (especially fiber), avoiding excessive antibiotic use, eating probiotic foods, and supplementation can all play a role in supporting a flourishing microbiome.
A Balanced Level of Stress
Stress often gets a bad reputation, but there’s a lot more nuance to stress being simply bad or good. Short-term stress prepares your body for challenges that come its way. In this sense stress can be a beneficial and important reaction.
Long-term or pathological stress, however, has been shown to have multiple negative effects including a decreased immune system response. While it’s impossible to remove all stress from life, meditation, going on walks, and spending joyful time with family are all examples of proactive things you can do to regulate the amount of stress in your life.
Herbs can also play a role In supporting your immune system and preventing illness. We know this from information and traditions passed down through centuries, our modern experience with herbs, as well as many scientific studies.
I recently came across this study in a paper by Eric Yarnell titled ”Herbs for Emerging Viral Infectious Diseases.” He reports that during the outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong, 1,063 hospital workers agreed to take two Chinese formulas that are used to prevent illness. None of these hospital workers became ill. Researchers compared that to over 15,000 hospital workers who didn’t take the formulas and found that a statistically relevant number of people did get sick.2 While the methodology in this study wasn’t strong, the statistically significant results show us the potential of immune-supporting herbs.
Let’s look at the two herbs in this recipe for immunity cookies.
Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus, A. membranaceus)
Astragalus root is renowned for its beneficial effects on the immune system. It has been shown to reduce the occurrence of common respiratory illnesses, inhibit tumor growth, and bolster immune system activity in general.
Astragalus has also been shown to have antiviral activity. One in vitro study showed that polysaccharides derived from astragalus may disrupt the Epstein-Barr virus lifecycle and could possibly be beneficial for people with this virus.3 Another in vitro study showed that an extract of astragalus had “potent anti hepatitis B activity.”4
Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)
I know it’s a stretch to call a mushroom an herb, but we herbalists tend to do it all the same! Shiitake mushrooms have a delicious and subtle flavor. They have long been used as a building and nourishing tonic and have received a lot of attention for their ability to support the immune system and improve cardiovascular health.
A study in 2015 showed that eating five to ten grams of shiitake mushrooms per day improved people’s immunity levels and decreased their inflammatory levels.5 With poor immune system health and chronically high inflammation levels being major underlying causes to many illnesses today, shiitake is a great mushroom to add to your diet!
Thoughts on Dosage
Dosage, or how much herbs you take, is a crucial part of herbalism that often gets overlooked or is simply misunderstood. Like most things in herbalism, there is no one way to do dosage, but rather a variety of things to consider.
One important consideration is why you are taking a particular herb. Both astragalus root and shiitake mushrooms are wonderful herbs for building the immune system. However, their therapeutic dose is fairly high. That means if someone is showing signs of a weakened immune system, then they would most likely need to take large amounts to see a beneficial and noticeable effect.
But we don’t just take herbs when we are sick. Both of these herbs can also be used regularly in your life to maintain health.They have long been added to foods as a way to enjoy their benefits daily. The following recipe contains a fair amount of both herbs, but if you were wanting a large therapeutic dose, you would need to eat the whole batch to get the ideal dosage.
These immunity cookies are really good! But I am not suggesting you eat the whole batch!
Instead, think of these as a fun treat to add to you and your family’s life. Another way to think of it is these aren’t the one thing you’re doing for immune system health but rather one of the many. You might also serve these with my Astragalus Chai or Wellness Tea as a way to get more immune-supporting herbs in your life.
Astragalus, Shiitake, and Chocolate Chip Immunity Cookies
Brew up your favorite tea and cozy up with these herb-filled immunity cookies. I recently gave these cookies to a friend who said he loved these “rooty, mushroomy, chocolaty cookies.” Another friend didn’t say much because they were savoring each and every bite. Whatever you call them and however you eat them, this is a delicious treat to bring immune-supporting herbs into your life. This recipe makes large cookies. You can make smaller cookies, but cooking times may vary.
What you’ll need…
- 1/2 cup white flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup oat bran
- 1/4 cup astragalus powder
- 1/4 cup shiitake mushroom powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups oats
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, oat bran, herb powders, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, use a handheld mixer to combine the butter, honey, and vanilla until it is light and fluffy. (Takes about 1 minute.)
- Add the eggs, one by one, to the butter mixture, mixing them in well.
- Little by little, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Once well combined, fold in the oats and chocolate chips.
- Using your hands, mold the mixture into a ball within the bowl. Put this in the freezer for 30 minutes. (This will help keep the cookies from spreading out too thin.)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Using a greased cookie sheet (or a sheet lined with parchment paper), drop the cookie dough out in 1/4 cup amounts.
- Bake for 22 minutes or until the edges are softly browned. Do not overbake.
- Once cooled, store the cookies a tightly sealed container. They are best within 3 days. They can be frozen for future use.
Yield: 17 large cookies
Notes on substitutions:
- You can use gluten-free flours and oats in this recipe.
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil can be substituted for butter.
- I’ve made this with lion’s mane mushroom, which was yummy. Avoid using mushrooms that have strong bitter flavors (like reishi).
Now I’d love to hear from you!
How do you like to bring immune-supporting herbs into your life?
Please share in the comments below.
- Siddiqui, Maheen, Judhell S. Manansala, Hana A. Abdulrahman, Gheyath K. Nasrallah, Maria K. Smatti, Nadin Younes, Asmaa A. Althani, and Hadi M. Yassine. “Immune Modulatory Effects of Vitamin D on Viral Infections.” Nutrients 12, no. 9 (September 2020): 2879. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092879. ↩
- Yarnell, Eric. “Herbs for Emerging Viral Infectious Diseases.” Alternative and Complementary Therapies 22, no. 4 (n.d.): 164–74. ↩
- Guo, Q., X. Sun, Z. Zhang, L. Zhang, G. Yao, F. Li, X. Yang, L. Song, and G. Jiang. “The Effect of Astragalus Polysaccharide on the Epstein-Barr Virus Lytic Cycle.” Acta Virologica 58, no. 1 (2014): 76–80. https://doi.org/10.4149/av_2014_01_76. ↩
- Wang, Shuguang, Jiyang Li, Hai Huang, Wen Gao, Changlong Zhuang, Bo Li, Pei Zhou, and Deyun Kong. “Anti-Hepatitis B Virus Activities of Astragaloside IV Isolated from Radix Astragali.” Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 32, no. 1 (January 2009): 132–35. https://doi.org/10.1248/bpb.32.132. ↩
- Dai, Xiaoshuang, et al. “Consuming Lentinula Edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, vol. 34, no. 6, 2015, pp. 478–87. PubMed, doi:10.1080/07315724.2014.950391. ↩