Immune boosting foods are a part of traditional knowledge which is passed down from generation to generation in every culture. Everyone’s grandmother seems to know a few recipes that can boost our immune system naturally. We might feel a bit sceptical about preventing health problems with simple garlic and cabbage, but nowadays the effectiveness of many home remedies is backed by science.
We asked top culinary experts from 10 countries around the world to share their traditional wisdom. Some of them will surprise you:
1. Iran: root vegetables, turnip
“The root vegetables are the natural source of many vital nutrients including vitamins C and A, which boost the immune system by lowering inflammation. Root vegetables such as turnips are loaded with antioxidants, fiber and complex carbohydrates and promote satiety with low levels of sugar. Persian cuisine is famous for a variety of wholesome thick soups that are called ‘aash’ and are traditionally cooked during cold months in Iran; one in particular is called, ‘aash e shalgham,’ or turnip soup. This soup is made with turnips, carrots, beetroot greens and herbs and it’s the go-to recipe in most Iranian households as a home remedy for colds and coughs.”
2. Spain: gazpacho
“The ultimate Spanish immune booster is called gazpacho. It’s a delicious (and nutrient packed) cold vegetable soup, that we usually drink out of a glass. A traditional glass of gazpacho contains tomato, pepper, onion, garlic, cucumber, extra virgin olive oil, and sherry vinegar. Not only is this combination delicious, it’s filled with numerous heath benefits, and is said to help cure everything from hangovers to the common cold!”
3. Lebanon: garlic, fresh mint, chickpeas, olive oil
“The Lebanese diet is considered among the best you can eat for its health benefits and, of course, its incredible flavor. Our recipes are jam-packed with superfoods and immunity-boosting ingredients. Garlic plays a powerful role with its antioxidant properties . . . we can’t eat our shawarma without the Lebanese vegan aoli toum (which means “garlic” in Arabic). We use tons of fresh mint and other herbs to boost flavor and immunity nutrients in many recipes, and herbs like mint and parsley are the star of the show in Lebanese tabbouleh salad. It may be surprising to learn that chickpeas, loaded with natural zinc and copper, play a great role in the development and function of immune cells. And you know what that means: hummus galore! Hummus is the ubiquitous puree of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic. Extra virgin olive oil is also an essential component to Lebanese cuisine and the Mediterranean diet, a healthy fat with anti-inflammatory qualities. Oh, and it’s so delicious!”
4. Russia, Ukraine: Sauerkraut
“One of the best immune boosting foods in the Slavik cuisine is sauerkraut. The probiotic qualities of sauerkraut are fantastic for gut health which leads to stronger immunity. There are many recipes in the Slavik cuisine that utilize sauerkraut. It was an inexpensive dish to make, so much of the lower class enjoyed sauerkraut frequently, while improving their gut Flora.”
5. Italy: cherry pits and liquorice
“Cherries, are packed with unique anthocyanin, an anti inflammatory compound similar to Ibuprofen. My mom and grandmother used to collect all the pits from the cherries, wash them and let them dry in the sun. Then they store them in jars and use them to make herbal teas that are good to relieve inflammation due to arthritis and gout.
Liquorice is another powerful immune booster. Some of the best licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) in the world is grown in Calabria, along the Ionian coast, where the mild climate enhances the content in glycyrrhizin, the substance that gives licorice its delectable flavor. The roots of licorice plants that are three or four years old are harvested during the fall, washed and dried, and, after removing the fibers, they are ground, pressed and placed in contact with boiling hot water in order to extract the juice.This juice is then clarified and boiled to obtain a concentrated, black paste that’s dense, fragrant and slightly sweet, and that, once solidified, is sold broken down in small pieces called “licorice drops”. The most important active ingredient of pure licorice is glycyrrhizin, which is known for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, and for its aid in preventing autoimmune issues.
*It’s better to consume pure licorice from time to time, making sure not to exceed the dosage of half a gram of glycyrrhizin a day. Glycyrrhizin, in fact, could have side effects on the balance of minerals in the body; and people predisposed to hypertension (high blood pressure), edema, diabetes and pregnant women or nursing, should avoid prolonged use of licorice extracts.
6. South Africa: rooibos, sutherlandia, moringa, buchu
“I come from a family of strong believers of natural herbs. My mom and aunts have always used the following herbs and they continue doing so as they get older. I would recommend them to anyone and that people should not wait until they are sick to use them. Make them part of your daily routine. The herbs are as follows: (*) Rooibos – I have a friend who uses it religiously on a daily basis 2 to 3 times a day. She looks absolutely amazing, her skin is flawless with a magnificent glow. Other than that, rooibos tea is great for lowering blood pressure and controlling diabetes. (*) Sutherlandia – it is used for the treatment of many ailments including fever, poor appetite, indigestion, ulcers, dysentery, cancer, diabetes, colds and flu, coughs, asthma, urinary tract infections, anxiety, the list is endless. (*) Moringa Leaves – it helps with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, it helps improve healing of sores etc. (*) Buchu – my mom loves drinking buchu water every morning, I kid you not, after all it is known as the elixir of youth so go figure.”
7. Switzerland: sea buckthorn juice, elderberries syrup, raw garlic, probiotic foods
“In Switzerland, most seasonal illnesses occur during the cold winter months. To keep these illnesses at bay, some people eat raw garlic. Foods containing beneficial probiotics are popular too, such as Bifidus joghurt or Sauerkraut, a kind of fermented white cabbage prevalent in Switzerland and Germany. Seatbuckthorn juice is used to increase one’s vitamin C intake as seatbuckthorn berries contain ten times as much vitamin C as lemons. Adding fresh herbs such as parsley to meals is also being used for a vitamin boost. Last but not least, a syrup made of elderberries has been used to fight bacteria and viruses for generations.”
8. Bosnia: fermented vegetables
“As it relates to healthy foods made in Bosnia, fermented delicacies are attributed with all kinds of healing properties. During fall almost every family ferments a batch of (at the very least) cabbage in preparation for the winter. Cabbage in particular is said to have great amounts of Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and iron. It’s used to prevent and help heal colds and the flu. It’s also believed to aid digestion and help with anemia. Cabbage leaves are often used as compresses to pull out inflammations. Some also drink the water it’s fermented in, called rasol as it’s believed to be a body cleansing agent and cough. Not bad for one very simple vegetable!!”
9. Portugal: olive oil, fish
“The Portuguese diet is basically the same as the Mediterranean Diet consisting of fresh farm to table ingredients. Fish, seafood, grains, cheeses, fruits and vegetables and of course wines are all produced in the various regions of the country. The most used ingredient in the diet for health, is heart healthy olive oil grown in the north and in the southern Alentejo regions. The country also ranks in the top 3 countries of having the most consumption of fish and seafood around the world. So olive oil and fish is the healthy way in the Portuguese diets. “
10. India, Malaysia: turmeric
“I’m from India and turmeric is extensively used to boost immunity in our country and culture. It has many uses and is consumed as a drink with milk or warm water to help beat a cold for example; and is also applied externally to heal wounds. It’s used extensive in India cuisine because of its immune boosting properties.”
“Here is my favourite healthy recipe with turmeric, it’s not really a Malaysian recipe, but we use it a lot in our cooking:
Turmeric and Apple Cider Vinegar Detox Tea:
2 green tea bags
2 cups boiling water
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric powder
2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Lemon slices, for garnishing
Add each green tea bag into a drinking glass. Pour the boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes.
Add 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder into each glass, follow by 1 tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar and 1 tablespoon of honey. Stir to mix well. Garnish with lemon slices and serve warm.”
Cherry Pit image credit: Ken Owen