Summary: Ayurveda suggests a range of herbs, spices and herbal preparations that can significantly improve our immune system: Turmeric, black pepper, Amla, Chyawanprash, Amruth, Triphala etc.
If we have an ideal diet (ideal that is for our particular mind-body constitutional type e.g. Vata, Pitta or Kapha), very good digestion and an Ayurvedic lifestyle we will already have a strong immune system, be in very good general health and really don’t need supplements at all! However, Ayurveda recognises that this ideal situation is not always possible and suggests herbs (or combinations of herbs called ‘Rasyanas’) that can help boost our immunity.
It is worth noting that in Ayurveda the main emphasis is on the prevention of disease. So we really need to address any immunity issues before we get ill. Prevention is also much simpler and much cheaper than cure!
In the West we have a tendency to analyse, synthesise and then ‘commercialise’! If any traditional medicine system appears to identify a beneficial herb, we first try to identify the ‘active ingredient’ present in the herb. Then we concentrate it in our capsules, or even try to synthesize the ingredient artificially, before selling it.
Ayurveda takes a more holistic approach. The Vedic viewpoint suggests that the whole universe, all the elements in it, all the plants and every living being are expressions of an all pervading field of intelligence and energy Herbs are part of this field too and are simply used to realign our human physiology with that ‘field of intelligence’. This corrects any ‘mistakes’ in the underlying ‘programming’ (inherent in the operation of our physiological systems) that gave rise to the disease in the first place. To use a modern analogy; Ayurveda sees the use of herbs more like a ‘software update or security-fix’ than a hardware repair job!
Ayurvedic Spices to Boost Immunity
Even readily available commonly used spices, such as ginger, turmeric and black pepper have many health promoting properties. These ‘kitchen spices’ can be really beneficial in improving our digestive abilities and also boosting our immunity.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been regarded as a potent antibiotic and anti-inflammatory in Ayurveda for thousands of years. It is usually taken as a teaspoon of turmeric powder stirred into hot milk. Very simple! Very cheap! Cooking with turmeric in the Indian style (i.e. herbs cooked first in ghee before adding to lentils or a curry) is also good.
If this is not practicable, then turmeric can be taken in capsule form, but be sure to include something like Lecithin (a phospholipid) with the turmeric. This greatly increases its bioavailability. Some people say that the addition of pepper  to turmeric increases its bioavailability. This is perfectly true, but the latest research suggests taking phospholipids, such as lecithin, with turmeric is even more effective than using pepper. Lecithin granules (from soya) can be obtained from most health food stores.
An American database of medical and physiological research now shows over 12,000 citations for turmeric alone. Recent research also points to its anti-viral properties. So, investigating turmeric further could be useful in our current pandemic situation!
What about other commonly available spices in our ‘kitchen pharmacy’? Well, both pepper and ginger are both used in Ayurvedic medicine. Although not directly having antibiotic properties, they are useful in that they stimulate the internal digestive fire or Agni which can then burn off toxins (Ama) and disease in the form of bacteria etc. Pepper itself is also useful when mixed with other herbs as it can increase their bioavailability. Ginger is often described as ‘the universal medicine’ in Ayurveda as it is so valuable for igniting the internal digestive fire (Agni) which then destroys toxins.
Pepper and ginger are so valuable that they form the basis of an Ayurvedic powder or churna called ‘Trikatu’. This powder is a mixture of dry ginger, black pepper and Indian long pepper – its use is covered more fully in the article on ‘improving digestion to boost immunity’.
Ayurvedic Herbs to Boost Immunity
Specialised Ayurvedic herbs have now become readily available in the West. Certain herbs and herbal formulations have strong anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Many have been shown to improve our immunity and the way our bodies respond to infection i.e. the immunomodulatory response. Some also improve our digestion – which in Ayurveda is also linked to our ability to ‘burn-off’ disease. The following section looks at a few of these Ayurvedic ‘super-herbs’.
Ayurvedic products containing the fruit of Amla are major boosters of our immune system! Amla is also known as: ‘Amalaki’ – ‘Amla Berry’ – ‘Emblic Myrobalan’ – ‘Indian Gooseberry’ – Emblica officinalis – Phyllanthus emblica. There is a huge amount of positive research into the effectiveness of this herb!
A well-regarded preparation which contains Amla is called ‘Chyawanprash’ (pronounced Cha-van-prash). This has withstood the long test of time as the knowledge of how to prepare it has been around for thousands of years. Although its main ingredient is Amla, it contains a multitude of other herbs which work synergistically. Chyawanprash is readily available in the West and it is a ‘must have’ product for anyone wishing to strengthen their immune system in a natural way. It is also regarded as a great restorative. Another key benefit of Chyawanprash is that it boosts Ojas in our system. The higher the level of Ojas – the higher is our immunity.
Other immune system strengthening products containing Amla are ‘Amla Rasyana’ or ‘Amalaki Rasyana’. A Rasayana is just a life-supporting mixture of herbs made to a specific formula. Like Chyawanprash these also contain other herbs which work synergistically to produce a super-effective Ayurvedic supplement. Both Chyawanprash and Amalaki Rasyana are available as a paste or ‘herbal jam’ so are real easy to take.
Once again, there is an increasing amount of research into the anti-ageing aspects (e.g. effects on telomerase activity in cells) of these Ayurvedic preparations. In the West we might say that these products boost our immunity because they are a great natural source of Vitamin C. Perfectly true, but as Chyawanprash is a mixture of many herbs, its healing and restorative properties are probably due to far more complex mechanisms than just its Vitamin C content!
Another herbal preparation of great benefit to our immune system contains Amruth (‘Giloy’ – ‘Guduchi’ – Tinospora cordifolia). It is one of the most valued of all Ayurvedic super-herbs! Amruth is acknowledged for its anti-inflammatory properties and its use in the treatment of fever and flu. It also improves the way our bodies respond to infection i.e. the immunomodulatory response. Amruth can be taken in capsule form. There is a growing body of scientific research into Amruth.
Other potent, but less well known Ayurvedic ‘power’ herbal mixtures are: Tulsi Arka (aka Tulasi Ark) – said to be anti-viral and an immune system booster, and the powder or churna Kabasura Kudineer – said to be good for the respiratory system. Arka type products are liquids made from a distillation process. Kudineers are solutions we can make at home from a powder (a bit like herbal teas).
Triphala is a mixture of three key Ayurvedic herbs. It is a superb supplement for getting rid of toxins in the colon and helping regular elimination. This in turn helps strengthen our immunity. Triphala also contains Amla; alongside Bibhitaki and Haritaki. This herbal product (available as tablets) is covered in more depth in the article on detoxification.
On a slightly more esoteric note, there is a new product linked to Ayurveda which a long term Sadhak (spiritual seeker) recently remarked is a bit like ‘Homeopathic Holy Water’! I am referring to the ‘Shakti Drops’ produced by Sri Sri Tattva Ayurvedic Products. The drops contain the essence of six key Ayurvedic super herbs. The stated dosage taken is very small – only five or six drops are needed in a glass of water.
Purchasing Ayurvedic Herbs
This site has no commercial links, so the advice given here is unbiased and based on the experiences of the author.
Fortunately, Ayurvedic herbs have become much easier to obtain over the past twenty years. In part this is due to the growing awareness of Ayurveda in the West and partly due to the online market place availability (e.g. Amazon and eBay). There are now many good, quality suppliers.
When buying Ayurvedic herbal supplements I usually prefer to get products (particularly Rasayanas i.e. complex herbal mixtures) from suppliers involved in people’s spiritual development (often Ashram based). There are a number of these organisations around and, although often little known outside India, many are surprisingly large scale operations. This means they have access to the top Ayurvedic experts, have strict Quality Assurance procedures in place and have access to the best laboratories for testing their products. Many of them also support local farmers who grow and harvest the herbs to their specifications.
A number of suppliers, particularly ‘Health Food’ type shops, tend to fall into the Western mind-set trap of selling capsules incorporating just the ‘active ingredient’ (e.g. curcumin in turmeric). Another processing error is to produce lighter tablets with a ‘concentrate’ of the herb. If you really can’t find anything else then these are, in my opinion, just on the limits of acceptability – because they ignore the true Ayurvedic principles relating to herbal preparations.
A Few Recommended Suppliers
- Maharishi Ayurvedic Products – relatively expensive, but high quality products available in USA, UK and Europe. Their website usually carries some Ayurvedic health tips too
- Products from the Swami Ram Dev organisation. An extensive range of quality Ayurvedic products available in USA, UK and Europe under the ‘Patanjali’ brand.
- Products from the Art of Living under the ‘Sri Sri Tattva’ brand (a large NGO founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) – another high quality supplier
- Products from smaller (but good) suppliers which usually sell a small range of Ayurvedic herbs: Essential Ayurveda: Swansons : Planetary Herbals : Pukka
 The best pepper to increase bioavailability is actually Indian Long Pepper (Piper longum). This is not to be confused with the cheaper Indonesian Long Pepper (Piper retrofactum). It is different from the ordinary Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) too!
Other Key strategies used by Ayurveda to help us build a strong immune system
- Increasing Ojas to improve immunity
- Better immunity through meditation
- Strengthening our digestive fire to help prevent disease
- Ayurvedic lifestyle to strengthen our immune system
- Ayurvedic diet to increase our resistance to disease
- Detoxification to strengthen our immune system
- Improving immunity through Yoga and Pranayama
or, return to Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – an Overview article