22 September 2020

Flavour your Way to a Stronger Immune System: The Best Herbs & Spices for Cold and Flu Season

Read our fascinating guest blog from Mel, aka Dopamine Chef, on how to eat to boost your immune system

Flavour your Way to a Stronger Immune System: The Best Herbs & Spices for Cold and Flu Season

There is something about the way a gust of wind sweeps yellowing leaves off their branches that makes one suddenly crave comfort food. The seasons are changing, and so must the menu. For me, this switch into autumn comes with a renewed desire for oven-roasted butternut squash, cinnamon-infused apple crumble, and heavily spiced curries.

Herbs & Spices - The Original Superfoods

Herbs and spices are the original superfoods, because their concentrated phytonutrients provide powerful therapeutic benefits. This is evidenced by the fact they’ve been used for millennia as healing tools.

When Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”, I believe he was nodding in particular to aromatic plants, those whose powerful healing properties are matched by their piquant flavours - perhaps he was a bit of a foodie as well as a savant. Science now confirms what he knew thousands of years ago: they strengthen the body and its defences, helping to keep disease at bay.

So, without further ado, let me share my top herbs and spices for cold and flu season, why they’re helpful to your immune system, and some simple ways you can add them to your meals.

Top 5 Herbs and Spices for a Stronger Immune System


What to love about curcumin:

Earthy, citrussy flavour notes; adds a touch of sunshine when the real thing goes on holiday for the winter.

How curcumin boosts immunity:

In vitro studies on curcumin find that it deactivates the influenza virus, stops it from being absorbed and stops it from spreading to other cells.[i]

Curcumin also halts oxidative damage, an immune-stressor caused by hectic, throw-a-ready-meal-in-the-microwave lifestyles.

In other studies, curcumin reduces inflammation and provides natural pain relief - it is well worth adding to your pantry!

Add curcumin to your diet:

Grate 1-inch of fresh turmeric, mix with 1/2 cup coconut milk, add a dash of nutmeg, cardamom, and a pinch of black pepper (or replace the fresh turmeric with 1/2 tbsp powdered turmeric); enjoy this golden mylk as an afternoon pick-me-up.

Chop fresh turmeric and fresh ginger, add hot water and a teaspoon of maple syrup or honey.

Add an immune-boosting kick to home-made granola.


What to love about oregano:

Those tiny leaves hold the taste of Italy. Peppery and aromatic, oregano turns pizza and pasta into gourmet dishes. This herb always brings back memories of Sicily and my nan throwing bunches of oregano she’d dried over the summer into huge bubbling cauldrons of tomato sauce.

How oregano boosts immunity:

In vitro studies reveal that oregano reduces the activity of norovirus (the primary cause of stomach flu) within 15 minutes. It owes this anti-viral property to its primary active component, carvacrol.[ii]

Add oregano to your diet:

Used on its own, dried oregano adds an authentic Italian flavour to your dishes - especially good with pizza, minestrone, and tomato sauce (which you can use in lasagne and other pasta bakes).

For a more complex flavour profile, try Steenberg’s Italian Herb Mix - a Mediterranean-inspired blend of oregano with other powerful herbs like thyme, basil and rosemary.


What to love about fennel:

Sweet, herbaceous, anise flavour profile. Fennel seeds balance out more pungent flavours with a subtle aroma, which is why you’ll often find them in curry spice blends. Fresh fennel bulbs have a lively anise flavour that mellows and sweetens when roasted, making them a perfect autumnal side dish.

How fennel boosts immunity:

In animal studies, fennel blocks the inflammation processes induced by acute lung injury, by regulating the immune system’s production of pro-inflammatory molecules.[iii]

Fresh fennel also contains plenty of dietary fibre, which supports a healthy gut and helps to manage appetite - very helpful at a time of year when we are all tempted to eat a little more!

Add fennel to your diet:

Toss pieces of fresh fennel in your favourite spice blend (my current favourites are chermoula with a drizzle of olive oil, or malay curry powder with a teaspoon of coconut oil), and bake in the oven until soft and almost caramelized - around 15-20 minutes at 180c.

Crush fennel seeds and add to home-made flatbreads and loaves. These also add a subtle anise twist to cakes and biscuits.


What to love about garlic:

What’s not to love? It provides a solid flavour foundation to curries, stews and stir-fries. It lifts the humble piece of bread to new heights. If you haven’t yet experienced the simple pleasure of a toasted slice of sourdough rubbed in garlic and drizzled in olive oil, you really must!

Dried garlic offers all the benefits with a subtler flavour, while roasted garlic provides a mellow, almost sweet pungency to dips and soups.

How garlic boosts immunity:

Studies show garlic enhances the immune system’s response by stimulating protective immune cells that fight external pathogens, like viruses.[iv] In vitro studies have shown garlic is an effective antiviral agent against the rhinovirus (common cold) and influenza viruses.[v]

Garlic also contains sulphur, which supports liver function. The liver is responsible for eliminating toxins and producing hormones - both essential for good health. It also produces glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and supports the immune system. For more easy detox strategies (no green smoothies, I promise!), check out my e-book Gentle Daily Detox.

Add garlic to your diet:

Minced and added to soups, curries, stews, stir-fries.

Roasted and blended with chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice to make hummus.

Crushed and added to olive oil and fresh herbs to make a salad dressing or herby pesto.

Or you can save yourself the hassle of peeling and chopping garlic by using Steenberg’s garlic powder.


What to love about ginger:

Fresh, ginger can be used in sweet and savoury dishes for an Asian twist. Dried, it adds a pleasant heat to your baking. From a health perspective, ginger is a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and can even help diabetics manage their blood-sugar levels.[vi]

How ginger boosts immunity:

When tested in vitro, the active compounds in ginger, gingerols and zingerone, stop the H1N1 virus from replicating and prevent the virus from entering host cells.[vii]

Researchers also found that fresh ginger has antiviral effects against feline calicivirus (a virus similar to norovirus); it prevents the virus from attaching to host cells.[viii]

Add ginger your diet:

Crush or mince 1-inch of fresh ginger, mix with lemon juice, a little maple syrup, honey or blackstrap molasses, and hot water for an energizing mid-morning infusion.

Grate 1-inch of fresh ginger, mix with 1 tbsp of maple syrup and 2-3 tbsp tamari sauce - use as a dip for steamed broccoli or a marinade for tofu.

Use Steenberg’s ginger powder in home-made ginger-snaps, cookies and muffins.

Herbs & Spices: Mother Nature’s Medicine Cupboard

There’s a reason we crave spiced comfort foods when cold & flu season approaches. I believe this is the body’s way of requesting that we delve into Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet at a time when it needs it most. The immune system is about to be challenged, it needs new tools to combat the viruses it will come into contact with as we approach winter. This is when herbs and spices come to the rescue.

The list above is just a tiny sample. There are hundreds of other herbs and spices, each with their unique blends of health-boosting phytonutrients. The more variety you add into your diet, the bigger the tool-kit your immune system has to work with.

Here are a few ways you can add more natural superfoods to your day:

  1. Mixing some Ras al Hanout into cooked quinoa, flaked almonds and cranberries.
  2. Roasting cauliflower or other vegetables in chermoula spice or mild curry spice.
  3. Adding a pinch of cinnamon to your morning coffee.
  4. Sprinkling some chai spice blend on stewed apples and berries.
  5. Adding smoked paprika or turmeric to tahini (or cashew nut butter), lemon juice and olive oil to make a creamy dressing.

Pleasure is so often the missing ingredient when it comes to healthy eating. The beauty of herbs and spices is that they deliver delicious flavours alongside their immune-boosting benefits.

So, which spices will you add to your day?


Mel, aka Dopamine Chef, is a wellness author, naturopathic plant-based chef, and certified detox specialist. She supports women to take back control of their health through intuitive eating and a balanced relationship with food. When she’s not in the kitchen making guilt-free cakes & chocolate, she’s on the laptop researching the latest in nutrition (or in nature, enjoying some time away from the screen). Discover detox tips and more at https://dopaminechef.com


[i] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29153953/

[ii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24779581/

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4342739/

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417560/

[v] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103721/

[vi] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4277626/

[vii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957173/

[viii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23123794/