Building The Blood: The Immune System, How It Works And How To Best Support It Part 3
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
In part 1 and two of this series on the immune system and viral support protocols, we discussed the immune system and how it works, and have covered how to support your lungs, heart and liver with natural herbs and remedies while going through a viral attack. As we discussed, supporting any weak organs or systems in your body that you have previously had issues is key to coming out of a viral attack such as Covid and other novel viruses without (or with minimum) long term negative effects. Viruses are highly intelligent beings, and naturally migrate to any area of the body that is weaker or malnourished, so as we discussed, supporting such areas is very valuable.
Here in part 3 we are going to discuss blood building and how to support your blood, and nourish weak or anemic blood.
Building up the blood is key for anyone who struggles with anemia, any type of blood cancer, anyone who struggles with being under-weight or struggles with malnutrition, and anyone who has been chronically deficient in certain nutrients as a result of genetic mutations. (such as the MTHFR gene mutation) It’s also important to note here that even seemingly healthy individuals can often benefit from building up their blood, especially during a viral attack, as our modern American diets are extremely void of nutrition, and often leave people (who may not even show symptoms yet) quite deficient in iron and other key nutrients that help compromise healthy blood, and allow our red blood cells in particular to do what they are supposed to.
Blood provides many things in the body. It provides protection, energy, nutrition, and vitality to the entire human system. In Chinese medicine blood is considered a Yin fluid. This feminine quality of Yin provides nourishment, moisture and support to the vital organs, and all other systems in the body. Typically when blood deficiencies are present, there is a need to also support the vital organs that help make the blood, such as the stomach, spleen, and lungs. These organs help take what we eat and turn it into the blood that courses through our veins and keeps us alive. Supporting these organs is also vital for healthy blood. In addition to physical support, emotional and spiritual support is also necessary for reviving anemic blood, or blood that is lacking in any way. The spleen, for example is highly connected to worry, and excessive or obsessive thoughts and worries can drastically affect the spleens function, and thus the quality of the blood. The lungs are very energetically connected to the emotion of grief. Unresolved grief; ie. grief that has not been felt and walked through all the way, but was short circuited in some way and not allowed to move through all its stages, can wreak havoc on the lungs and their ability to help the body make new, healthy blood. So while I am mainly focusing on herbs and plants that physically support the blood in this article, I would be remiss if I did not at least touch on the topic of emotional and spiritual wellness when discussing the blood. Herbal medicine, while it can be somewhat effective when used as a pharmaceutical substitute, (aka a natural drug) is FAR more effective when used holistically. Truly holistic medicine always includes the mind, body and the spirit, and rarely singles any one of those out to be treated independently. One cannot indulge in worry (for example) on a regular basis, and hope that simply taking an herbal tincture, or altering their diet will be able to effectively eliminate the negative effects of this poor mental habit. Just like you can’t have a continuous drip of roundup on a plant and expect that merely feeding it kelp will mitigate the poison that is continuously bombarding the plants system, so too the negative impacts of poor mental and spiritual habits will eventually overpower any positive nutritional input in the body. Poor mental habits and spiritual beliefs are like a continuous drip of poison in our system, and this is more than just a fanciful belief, it’s a fact. Science has proven over and over that our thoughts directly affect the output of stress hormones and chemicals inside our bodies, and those hormones greatly impact the ability our body has to preform very basic functions. “Taking every thought captive” as the Bible would put it, is paramount if we wish to keep our bodies in a place of homeostasis. Doing the mental and spiritual work to integrate and heal our childhood and adult traumas, taking the time to do a mental inventory of our thought patterns and habits to see if our thought patterns are actually serving us or are something we are enslaved to, is vital for long term health and wellbeing. Once we are actively on the path to creating healthy mental habits, plant medicine can come alongside us in ways that using it merely as a chemical substitute or drug would never be possible. So if weak blood is something you or a loved on struggles with, prioritize the mental and spiritual just as highly as the physical needs. Perhaps at another time I will write more about what healthy mental and spiritual work looks like and how working though our emotions can unlock and heal things that would otherwise be un-healable, but for now I will just mention it briefly and move on to the herbs and plants that can be helpful for physical nourishment of the blood.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) is an amazing blood building plant. Not only does it contain high levels of iron, it also contains chemicals that increase the uptake of other iron rich foods in the body, which means that it helps you absorb iron from other sources better as well. It also helps liberate iron that has been stored in the liver, and make it bio-available in the body, as well as acting as a blood purifier, helping stimulate the liver to detox the blood effectively, and it acts as a prebiotic, digestive bitter, and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. You can take yellow dock alone, or use it in combination with other herbs such as stinging nettle, or take it with molasses (highly recommended) or beef liver, or other high iron foods as an extremely powerful ally in building up weak blood. According to studies, 40% of the iron in yellow dock is bioavailable, which is pretty dang impressive for a plant. You can make teas, tinctures, syrups, or tonics out of yellow dock root. The root is the part of the plant you want to reach for when blood building, both because it contains the highest concentration of iron and other desired constituents, and also because it does not contain high levels of oxalate like the leaves do, which can bind up calcium and other minerals in the body.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of the most nutrient dense plants that we have been blessed with here on planet earth. Like any other plant, mass farmed stinging nettle that has been grown on nutrient deficient soil and sold in bulk at herb stores is not going to be high in key nutrients. But wild, mountain grown stinging nettle is a true powerhouse of nutrition and healing. Stinging nettle grows easily in almost all northern climates, and can be grown in southern hemispheres as well in the correct conditions. It is a must have for any homestead in my opinion, as it’s blood building qualities (while impressive) are only one small area of it’s expertise. It is invaluable as an anti-histamine for bites and stings or during allergy season, it’s mineral density makes it a fantastic resource for leg cramps and muscle spasm, and the list goes on and on. Because of these and many other amazing properties, I recommend everyone have a patch of stinging nettle that they can access, either on their own property, or close by. Stinging nettle is in the mint family, and will take over an area under ideal conditions, so plant stinging nettle wisely, in an out of the way place where small children and pets aren’t likely to venture and get stung. Getting stung with nettles can be quite unpleasant, but the stings themselves aren’t actually harmful, and in fact historically the stings of stinging nettles have been used to treat many conditions, specifically painful inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and gout. I myself have used the stings of stinging nettles to treat various conditions successfully, and have recommend them with great success to others as well. So while it is valuable to have stinging nettles in an out of the way place where people aren’t likely to accidentally get stung, there is no need to be afraid of the plant or it’s stings, as they are valuable medicine in the right circumstances too.
For blood building though, we don’t need the stinging part, we simply want the leaves of the plant, particularly the young leaves which are the most nutritionally dense. Nettle has a very high iron content, and also boasts a high vitamin C content as well which helps the body absorb and metabolize iron. Studies have also shown nettles builds blood by significantly boosting antioxidant levels in the blood, and providing nutrients such as vitamin B, C, iron, potassium, magnesium and others, which help build hemoglobin in the blood. Those who suffer with anemia can particularly benefit from consuming stinging nettle.
Stinging nettle tea is a great and simple way to ingest stinging nettles. Some people find the tea causes nausea because of it’s nutrient dense nature, and so nettle is often mixed with other herbs such as oat grass which is very high in minerals, peppermint for flavor and it’s digestion boosting properties, and chamomile for it’s sweet flavor and soothing qualities. Also, if nausea is present at all when consuming the tea, try drinking it as an iced beverage instead of hot, as this slows down the digestive systems absorption of the nutrients, and creates a sort of “sustained release” effect in the body, which effectively eliminates any nausea for most people.
One of our favorite ways to consume nettles is in food, particularly things like mac and cheese. I make a garlic stinging nettle mac and cheese that everyone, including the kiddos loves. You can substitute steamed nettles in any dish that calls for dark leafy greens such as spinach, just keep in mind because nettles are so nutrient dense, they have a stronger “green” flavor than many greens, so either mix them with other lighter flavored greens like spinach, or add less nettles than you would of other greens for the best flavor in your dishes. When using stinging nettles in cooking, simply blanch or skillet wilt the greens to remove all the “sting” and then use as desired. Do not attempt to eat stinging nettles raw, as the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat do not take kindly to the sting of nettles. Wilting the leaves in boiling water or sautéing them lightly in oil (even in the direct sun for an hour or tow will do the trick if it is a hot enough day) will effectively remove all of the sting, and render them safe for consumption.
Adding stinging nettles to your diet in some fashion if you suffer from weak, thin, or anemic blood is an excellent and effective choice, and can have many other bonus health benefits as well. Another great way to utilize nettles, is by doing an infused vinegar. Vinegar, unlike alcohol and glycerine is a fantastic extractor of minerals, and nettle infused vinegar is a great way to add some extra nutrition to salad dressings, and anything that you’d normally put a dash of vinegar in. Simply take the vinegar of your choice (apple cider vinegar is the most nutritious, but use whatever vinegar you like and will actually use) and add it to a glass jar that has been packed 1/3 full of fresh nettle leaves, or 1/4 filled with dried nettle leaves. I also add some fresh onion, garlic, and a dash of smoked salt to my nettle vinegar for flavor, but it’s great plain as well. Put a lid on your vinegar, and let it infuse with your nettles for 6 weeks or longer. Then when you are ready to use it, simply strain out the nettles and other additives, and bottle up your strained vinegar and use as you would any other vinegar. I personally never use plain vinegar my cooking, as one of my main goals in our diet is to pack as many nutrients in as possible. Infused vinegars are a way I do that regularly. I have an entire shelf of herb, green, and berry infused vinegars that we use instead of plain vinegar in any recipe that calls for it. And out of all the infused vinegars I make, nettle and thistle infused vinegars are my two favorites! They are delicious, and add great nutrition as well!
Chlorella is a genus of single-celled green algae, belonging to the phylum Chlorophyta of which there are over 30 different species. Chlorella vulgaris and Chlorella pyrenoidosa are the two most commonly used in research. Chlorella is a power house of aid for both blood building, and detoxing. Chlorella has been shown to effectively help the body eliminate all types of heavy metal toxins including mercury, cadmium, nickel, and others. Heavy metals wreak havoc in the nervous system and disrupt proper communication in the body which can negatively impact the entire system, including the blood. In addition to it’s detoxing prowess, chlorella is packed full of protein, in fact it is 50%-60% protein, and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also packed full of iron and vitamin C which helps the iron absorb, various vitamins and minerals, and Omega 3’s. Chlorella has been shown in numerous studies to enhance immune response in both animals and humans, and in one study it was shown to stimulate production of antibodies in men. Chlorella has been shown to improve blood sugar levels, help lower cholesterol, help manage COPD, and other respiratory conditions, and reduce inflammation. One study showed chlorella significantly improved ability to saturate the lungs with oxygen after prolonged use of the extract. All in all, chlorella is a fantastic plant to help detoxify, nourish, and tonify the body. Because chlorella is not able to be broken down by the digestive system in is raw form, an extract of the plant is what is readily available on the market, and can be much more easily absorbed. You can get tablet, powder, and liquid forms of chlorella. All of which can be useful and effective, although the liquid seems to be the most easily absorbable. As with all herbal supplements that you aren’t growing and harvesting yourself; sourcing matters. Make sure you research the company you are purchasing from, and are actually receiving a quality product that will be nutritionally dense, and provide you the desired effects. Chlorella is best taken for longer periods of time rather than off and on, especially when you are attempting to detox, nourish the blood, or support the lungs. a 3-6 week daily regimen of chlorella repeated twice a year, can provide an excellent heavy metal detox and nourish the body and blood.
Persulane (Portulaca oleracea) is a beautiful plant that is native to the Indian sub continent, but now grows all over the United States and much of Canada and many other parts of the world as well. Purslane's fatty acid content makes it quite unique in the plant world as it has a desirable 1:3 omega-6 fatty acid to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. This particular fatty acid ratio is associated with amplified anti-inflammatory effects, and healthier fat interactions in the blood. Just for reference, this unassuming little “weed” contains more omega fatty acids than many types of fish! Omega-3 and omega-6 are both responsible for reducing blood triglyceride levels and helps raise good cholesterol levels and lower unhealthy cholesterol levels in the blood. Purslane is also very high in vitamin A, and B complex, as well as iron, magnesium, phosphate, calcium, potassium and manganese. These and many other nutrients make purslane an excellent choice when nourishment and blood building is a priority. Purslane has a delicious flavor that is reminiscent or a lemon flavored spinach. Eating the plant fresh, in salads, or on top of soups or chili is my #1 recommendation for how to incorporate this fantastic little plant into your diet, but if you need to preserve it for later use, a preserved succus is my recommendation. A succus is a medicinal juice, that can be preserved in alcohol or glycerine and taken as a tincture. Simply take freshly harvested purslane and juice it, and then preserve that juice with alcohol or glycerine for later use. This will result in a shelf stable medicine, that can be taken when fresh purslane is not available.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungi that grows mostly on birch trees, and while not traditionally considered a blood building herb, it is a fantastic recourse for helping promote overall health and healthy blood. The primary bioactive compounds in chaga are beta-glucan polysaccharides, terpenoids, phenolics, and melanin. In addition, chaga contains amino acids, B vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are immune boosting, antioxidant, and extremely nutritive. Chaga's compounds also lower cholesterol, balance blood pressure, help lower inflammation, and balance cytokine production. (which is extremely helpful in dealing with viral attacks that are prone to cause overproduction of cytokines which can be highly dangerous.) All of these qualities help make chaga and excellent choice when weak blood is a concern or issue.
Hot tea is my favorite way to enjoy chaga. It makes a delightful rich, mildly sweet drink that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. People often grimace when they think of “drinking mushrooms” but I can assure you, even my mushroom hating hubby Jesse James thoroughly enjoys a good cup of chaga. It is a very mild, and un-assaulting flavor that very few people object to. You can also make tinctures and tonics out of chaga as well, but since alcohol and glycerine are very poor extractors of minerals and many nutrients, (and this will cause your extract to be imbalanced) I recommend making a decoction, and then preserving that decoction with alcohol instead of making a traditional tincture. A decoction is a concentrated slow simmer of herbs, that can then be preserved with alcohol or glycerine and taken in the same manner as a tincture. Daily consumption (for at least 4-6 weeks) of a tea or properly made chaga extract is an excellent addition to an immune boosting and/or blood building protocol.
Teasel (L. Dipsacus) is another plant that may not be traditionally thought of as a blood building herb, but has a very valuable place nonetheless in any herbal arsenal for blood health. The root of the teasel plant, which is a common and prolific weed through much of North America and the world, has many amazing qualities which sadly I do not have time in this article to expound on in any way that will properly do this plant justice. However, there is one exceptionally special property that teasel possesses that makes it extremely valuable for blood health and dealing with viral attacks. Teasel has the ability to “uncover” and draw the body’s attention to unwanted organisms such as spirochetes, viruses, and bacteria that have been “hidden” in the body by burrowing into cell walls or tissue, or due to being covered in bio-films. Bio-films are a substance that many viruses and bacteria use to camouflage themselves and prevent the immune system from recognizing them as an invader. Teasel is not an antibiotic or anti-viral directly, in that it does not kill these invaders, rather it pulls them out of tissue like a magnet, and exposes them to other anti-viral supplements, or just the body’s own fighter cells, and allows them dealt with instead of hidden. This action of drawing out viruses, bacteria and spirochetes makes teasel an incredibly valuable ally when treating infections of all types, and it’s ability to dissolve bio-films makes it very valuable in achieving healthy blood. Bio-films can group together in the blood and form plaques, which can then create blood clots that can cause harm in the body as well as being a main cause mini strokes, (TIA’s) and full strokes. Bio-films in the blood “gunk up” the blood stream and can prevent the proper absorption of nutrients, and can facilitate improper chemical response and reception in the blood as well, so eliminating bio-films can be extremely helpful in maintaining and achieving healthy blood. A tincture or tea made from fresh teasel root is an excellent way to use teasel root. Typically a daily regimen of at least 4-6 weeks of teasel root is recommended for helping deal with bio-films, or drawing out unwanted infections. Many times longer is required, but a minimum of 4-6 weeks is needed for efficacy. Exact dosage recommendations depend on multiple factors, including weight, health history, etc. Because of it’s powerful nature, teasel root can be too effective in some cases at drawing out infections, and if proper detox pathways have not been opened and established, the body can have a die off crisis, also known as a Herxheimer reaction. This is something we want to avoid, so use teasel wisely, do your research, and use it in combination with other detoxifying substances such as clays, and other binders if you are prone to have problems detoxing.
Despite this warning, I have used teasel effectively for both myself and my clients for years, and have never actually SEEN it overload someone (even someone quite sick with lyme disease and struggling with detoxing) but I do know it has the potential to cause problems if used without proper education and preperation, so I wanted to mention it here so that everyone can be aware. Don’t let this scare you off though, as you can also overload your system with garlic, elderberry, and many other extremely safe plants. Educate yourself, then proceed with gratitude and confidence!
So to summarize, teasel is helpful for the blood both by helping expose unwanted intruders, and by helping dissolve bio-films which can wreak havoc in the blood stream and body.
In conclusion, supporting the blood by detoxing, nourishing it, building up iron stores, encouraging hemoglobin production, and dissolving bio-films, is a fantastic practice for everyone, regardless of whether they struggle with weak blood or not. But for anyone who has known anemia issues or low hemoglobin production, supporting your blood in the ways listed above can greatly help boost your resilience when dealing with any viral attack. And as an added benefit, healthy blood nourishes and creates healthy organs which in turn support your whole body. The life is indeed “in the blood” as the Bible says, and supporting that life and our blood via these amazing plant allies along with healthy mental and spiritual habits, can change your health in profound ways!
Bio: Ashley is a long-standing herbalist, aromatherapist, and wild-crafter dating back to her ancestors. Her passion is living in harmony with Mother Nature and the Creator, and helping teach and assist others in using nature’s tools and medicines to effectively and safely heal and thrive.