Boost immune system

Growing your own medicine chest has proved, through the centuries, to be of such value that medicinal gardens – first created by the monks in the early centuries in their cloister gardens – later were part of every citizen’s way of life. Medicinal herbs were grown in every cottage garden and often landlords and city fathers distributed seeds. Doctors planted what were then known as ’physic gardens’. One of the most famous, the Chelsea physic garden, still is maintained in London today.

Of even more importance is for us to grow our own medicinal foods and medicinal herbs now, and to make these remedies part of boosting our daily health. I consider the following plants to be vital:

Medicinal foods

Make adaily salad the rule, and include in it all or any of the following:


Grow your own lettuce. There are such stunning varieties of Lettuce that flourish in the winter months and that look exquisite as borders everywhere – for example I alternate the Red Oak Leaf with a Green Oak Leaf variety along a path. You pick only the outer leaves every time and they thrive with the picking. Butter lettuce, the curly bronze lettuces, all the varieties, are at your nearest garden centre or nursery now. Add pineapple, avocado, grated carrot and finely chopped chillis and peppers. Even though these are summer annuals, in the warmer areas you may be lucky enough to find some.


Sprouts are essential, specially Alfalfa (Lucerne) and buckwheat and, although they will take longer to grow in the cold months, they are still the most important things you can eat as a health booster, and they are delicious in the daily salad.


The tender tips, picked fresh and finely chopped in the salad with a few flowers, are packed with vitamins and minerals. Try growing one or two Lucerne plants in the garden – it is not only an interesting and attractive plant to grow but it is perennial and if it is cut back 2 or 3 times in the year it will offer you such energy packed sprigs that you’ll have enough energy to feel full of life, and the butterflies love it too!


Green spring onions, garlic and chives – this whole family is vital in fighting ‘flu, colds and bronchitis. It was once the first treatment given at the first sign of a sore throat – fresh onion slices were placed in a saucer, sprinkled with brown sugar and covered by another inverted saucer for the night. Next morning, the pungent juice was drained off and taken as a medicine. This was repeated night after night until the patient was fully recovered. Medical science has proved that the whole onion family is a natural antibiotic and the more you take during the winter the better the immune boost.


Garlic is, quite literally, an incredible immune booster and if you can’t stand the smell, be sure to include lots of fresh chopped parsley in your diet, as parsley is a natural deodorizer. Fresh garlic is always best, but if you really can’t bear it fresh, then consider garlic capsules from your chemist – deodorised garlic capsules are readily available.

Red Cayenne Pepper

Substitute red cayenne pepper for your much loved freshly ground black pepper. It’s a well known fact that chilli lovers, who include hot chillis and cayenne pepper and Tabasco in their diet, have fewer coughs, colds and ‘flu attacks than those of us who can’t take the heat! Better still, in summer grow your own, then dry the ripened cayenne peppers and mill them in a pepper grinder with a little coarse salt. The growing of chillis is fascinating. The new Helmet chilli – a pretty bell-shaped chilli – is a good way to begin. The ripened red flesh is sweet, crunchy and very mild but the seeds are pure fire!

Our grandmothers made a special sandwich to ’open up that blocked nose’. Made of fresh brown bread, spread with butter, topped with thinly sliced onion, a little salt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of cayenne pepper, it was eaten while sipping a hot cup of lemon tea that was sweetened with honey – no milk and no sugar.


Grow a lemon tree! Fresh lemons are one of the world’s most loved fruits and are so full of health boosting vitamin C and a host of minerals that a lemon should be part of our cooking every day. I have lemon with virtually everything. I can’t cook without it! I grow Cape rough skin lemons in abundance and Eureka lemons, smooth skinned and beautiful and Meyer lemons in big pots, and in this way I have fresh lemons all year round. Fresh lemon juice with chopped sage (SALVIA offinalis) and honey in equal quantities and mixed well in a small jar, is one of the old fashioned recipes for a cough mixture that is loved and respected the world over.

Medicinal herbs


Sage is a hardy perennial that loves full sun and well-drained soil; do not over water it. I grow it for sage tea which is excellent for sore throats, coughs, colds and ‘flu (it is also an excellent companion plant for grapes, to ensure a sweeter crop, and for tomatoes for a superb flavour). Sage has antibacterial, antiseptic and antiviral properties. Make sage tea by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over ¼ cup freshly chopped sage leaves, let it stand 5 minutes, strain, add lemon juice and honey and sip slowly.


Its winter abundance is in the shops now and it is simply delicious in salads and on sandwiches, and if you are not lucky enough to have a gently flowing river at the bottom of the garden where watercress flourishes, then grow Landcress (LEPIDUM sativum) in the garden in spring.

Mustard and Cress

Trays of mustard and cress grown on cotton wool are loved by children and are packed with health boosting vitamins and minerals. The little sprouts are delicious sprinkled on soups, stews, cold meats and salads. All the cresses are natural expectorants and will clear catarrh, sinus, excessive mucous, coughs and bronchitis. They are also superb immune boosters. Rich in vitamins A and C, we should seriously pay more attention to the cress family.

Echinacea (ECHINACEA purpurescens)

Easy to grow, Echinacea or purple coneflower, is a spectacular garden perennial that dies down in winter, and huge research worldwide is proving what the American Red Indians knew since the earliest times. Echinacea boosts the immune system so decisively it is currently being used in the treatment of pneumonia, AIDS and other autoimmune system diseases. Make a plan to plant some Echinacea soon – seeds are readily available at most nurseries, and they’re easy to grow.

Sutherlandia or Cancer Bush (SUTHERLANDIA frutescens)

An indigenous plant that, through the centuries, has been used to treat everything from TB to cancer. Recent research has found it has excellent immune boosting properties and the potential for beating depression, boosting energy, treating arthritis and diabetes and many more ailments. Grow it in the garden as a feathery, airy, little shrubby plant, with orange flowers in midsummer followed by balloon seedpods in autumn. Short lived and fascinating to grow, as
it is so unspectacular yet so very important as a medicinal herb. Every leaf is packed with health boosting benefits – so find a space for it. Interestingly Sutherlandia is classified now as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a herb that assists the body to adapt to the environment through an increased ability to fight viral and bacterial invasions and to handle stress better, be it physical, biological or a bombardment of chemicals, so that energy, endurance and the immune system functions are increased.

Make a tea of ¼ cup fresh leaves, pour over this 1 cup of boiling water, stand 5 minutes, strain. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little honey, if liked. Sip slowly, 1 cup a day only. Capsules and tablets are available from pharmacies.

Elder (SAMBUCUS nigra)

This is one of nature’s wonder herbs. The precious ripe berries of the Elder tree are one of the most incredible cough mixtures. Boil 2 cups of the berries (discard the stems) with ¾ cup of honey and ¼ cup water with a thumb length piece of cinnamon and 6 cloves for 15-20 minutes in a double boiler. Then stand aside and when cool, strain and take a teaspoon of the dark and precious juice frequently to ease the cough. It is safe, gently soothing and children love it.

Growing an Elder tree is an experience. The exquisite white flowers can be eaten and the black berries can also be made into jam, syrup and wine, and as they are high in vitamin C and a mass of minerals, they are superb for coughs, colds, ‘flu, bronchitis, sore throats, insomnia and anxiety, and these are only a few of the uses. An attractive large multi-stemmed shrub – no garden should be without an Elder. t is called the ‘medicine chest tree’ in its native Europe, and an old saying was: “When all else fails, remember the Elder”, and that is most definitely so with coughs that take forever to clear. Elderberry juice is like gold!

Tissue salts

I cannot live without these easy to take little health boosters. Every pharmacy and health shop has them. The ‘flu, coughs and colds salts are:
No. 1: Calc fluor
No. 4: Ferrum phos
No. 5: Kali sulph
No. 9: Nat mur
No. 11: Nat sulph

Take 2 tablets of each, 1 for children, and suck them under the tongue often, at least 6 times during the day, at the first sign of a sore throat. Get to know the tissue salts and the foods and herbs they are present in.

NB. Always consult your doctor before starting a home treatment.

For further reading:
* The Essential Margaret Roberts: My 100 Favourite Herbs
* Tissue Salts for Healthy Living by Margaret Roberts
Both published by Spearhead.

Seeds mentioned in this article are produced by BallStraathofs and available at leading garden centres and retailers.

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