Immune-Boosting Herbs and Spices from Your Spice Rack

By Dr. Kira Schmid

Just like us, plants have to fight off microorganisms. Most of the vegetables we enjoy, in particular herbs and spices, have natural infection-fighting properties.

Cooking with herbs and spices not only helps with flavor, but also imparts immune-boosting effects. Let’s take a look at a few spices that are probably in your spice rack right now.

Ginger Kills Bacteria & Reduces Fever

This versatile spice is derived from the root of the plant, and a variety of amazing phytochemicals have been isolated from ginger and found to possess antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing, and pain-relieving properties.

Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine utilizes ginger root as a digestive aid for young infants with colic and for adults with indigestion. Ginger is a natural remedy for nausea and vomiting due to seasickness and morning sickness of pregnancy.

For example, a study involving morning sickness of pregnancy found that one gram of ginger taken by mouth significantly reduced the frequency and severity of nausea episodes1. Be aware that if you take the drug warfarin, a well-known blood thinner, there is the potential for interaction with ginger, so avoid ingesting large amounts of ginger while taking warfarin.

Fungi Hate Rosemary

The leaves of the herb rosemary are used fresh as well as dried in traditional Mediterranean dishes to impart fragrant aromas of evergreen. Rosemary has strong antioxidant properties, and research shows that rosemary extract has both antibacterial2,3 and antifungal properties4.

Furthermore, exciting preliminary research suggests that rosemary’s relatively high level of carnosic acid may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Four to six grams of ground, fresh rosemary leaves is a typical therapeutic dose for boosting immunity during winter months.

Garlic Prevents Cold & Flu Symptoms

This remarkable culinary herb has a wide array of health benefits ranging from cardiovascular protection to immune stimulation. The chemistry of garlic is complex, with over 100 different substances that contribute to its effects.

The most significant feature is garlic’s high concentration of sulfur compounds, which are responsible for both the aroma of garlic and its effectiveness against bacteria, viruses and fungi. During the cold and flu season it is advantageous to take either a clove of fresh garlic or a supplement daily since it has been demonstrated to significantly reduce both the number and duration of colds5.

Numerous studies have established garlic’s antibacterial properties as well.6,7,8,9 For example, garlic is effective at killing the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, a virulent organism that grows in the stomach and is associated with stomach ulcers and stomach cancer10. In laboratory studies, compounds found in garlic were effective at killing even drug resistant H. pylori.10

Since most people infected with H. pylori show resistance to antibiotic treatment, and because garlic is known to act synergistically with antibiotics, treatment with garlic may be an effective approach.

Oregano Preserves Immune Function

The leaves of this nutrient-dense herb contain calcium, vitamin C, beta carotene and omega-3 fatty acids. The oil of this herb has antimicrobial and antiviral activity and may be most promising in fighting yeast infections11.

Oregano oil in combination with clove oil has been tested against the yeast Candida. In a study on immunosuppressed animals, oregano and clove oil reduced candida growth in samples of oral tissue.

In another study12, the active components in oregano and clove oil were shown to reduce fungal load and decrease candida infection in animal models of vaginal candida infection12. The authors concluded that these oils could be a promising product for the treatment of vaginal yeast infections.

Cloves Reduce Pain & Fight Bacteria

The oil from this warm, aromatic spice is approved in Germany as a topical analgesic and antiseptic. Not only do compounds in this spice confer antibacterial and antifungal benefits they also help fight the aging process.

The high amounts of phenols found in cloves are associated with the ability to block the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs)13. AGEs are non-functioning compounds that are associated with many age-related conditions like wrinkling of our skin or cataracts.

Basil is a Natural Cancer Fighter

The fragrant leaves of this plant are the main ingredient in pesto. The oils derived from basil have been shown effective against various bacteria in a laboratory setting. Basil also contains apigenin, a bioflavonoid which is presented in leafy plants and vegetables (e.g., parsley, artichoke, basil, celery) and may help the immune system fight cancer.

Current research trials indicate that apigenin may reduce DNA oxidative damage, inhibit the growth of human leukemia cells, induce cancer cell death, act as an anti-inflammatory, and as a muscle relaxer14.

Thyme is a Natural Cough Remedy

This popular Mediterranean herb is a common ingredient in cuisine and has a strong, savory flavor. Thyme is a traditional cough remedy and continues to be used widely in Europe for this purpose.

Thyme in the form of a tea, a syrup or a steam inhalation may be beneficial for bronchitis15. The active component of thyme, thymol, is also found in a variety of mouthwashes to reduce oral bacteria and plaque buildup16.

Turmeric is an Immune Magic Bullet

Curries and other South Asian and Middle Eastern delicacies typically include the spice turmeric. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, and scientific support involving curcumin includes anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Since curcumin inhibits the inflammatory pathways in the body, it can be effective against the aches associated with arthritis or even relieving a head cold. Curcumin is known as an immune modulator and can improve the ability of specialized immune cells to engulf and destroy germs17.

Mushrooms are Immune Support Powerhouses

Several species of edible mushroom have been found to provide powerful immune support, including the popular maitake and shiitake.18,19,20 There is ample evidence to suggest that the specific phytonutrients in these mushrooms optimize the immune response to cancer and pathogenic microorganisms.

Chief among these are beta glucan and other polysaccharides. These natural compounds stimulate a system-wide immune response — activating macrophages, interferon, T cells, and natural killer cells — to prevent the proliferation and spread of cancer cells21.

Beta glucan also reinforces the body’s resistance to infectious disease by increasing the activity of phagocytes (specialized immune cells that engulf and destroy germs).22 In animal models, it has also been shown to boost resistance to viral infections23.

The Spice of Life

If health and wellness are your top priorities, don’t neglect the immune system. It fights bacteria, viruses, fungi, molds and even cancer cells. Simply put, if you want to expand your healthy life span, boost your immune system with herbs and spices.

How many of these herbs and spices do you have in your cabinet?


  1. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2003 Apr;43(2):139-44.
  2. Chem Biodivers. 2010 Jul;7(7):1835-40.
  3. Phytochemistry. 2004 Dec;65(24):3249-54.
  4. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jun 2;52(11):3530-5.
  5. Adv Ther. 2001 Jul-Aug;18(4):189-93.
  6. Ethiop Med J. 2006 Oct;44(4):385-9.
  7. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2009 Sep;73(9):1948-55. Epub 2009 Sep 7.
  8. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2011 Jan;24(1):81-5.
  9. J Med Microbiol. 2010 Sep;59(Pt 9):1044-9. Epub 2010 Jun 10.
  10. J Nutr. 2001 Mar;131(3s):1106S-8S.
  11. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jun 2;52(11):3309-12.
  12. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2004 Nov;54(5):909-14. Epub 2004 Sep 29.
  13. J Med Food. 2008 Jun;11(2):275-81.
  14. Cardiovasc Hematol Agents Med Chem. 2011 Apr 1;9(2):62-77.
  15. MMW Fortschr Med. 2007 Jun 28;149(27-28 Suppl):69-74.
  16. J Altern Complement Med. 2001 Oct;7(5):523-7.
  17. Malar J. 2011 Mar 15;10 Suppl 1:S10. [Epub ahead of print]
  18. Food Tech Biotech. 2006;44(3):303-11.
  19. Phytomed. 2008 Jun;15(6-7):512-9.
  20. J Altern Complement Med. 1998 Winter;4(4):429-57.
  21. Int Immunopharmacol. 2007 Jun;7(6):701-24.
  22. FEMS Immun Med Microbiol. 2003;35(1):67-75.
  23. Med Sci Spt Ex. 2004;36(8):1321-7.


Gluten free said...

Everyone should make a better planning like this. Herbs and spices does a lot of help to all of us.

Unknown said...

I like this article. Now I have to get online for this article so I can print this information so I can get them. I am already taking garlic.

Life Extension said...

Sue Collins- Thanks! We’re really glad you liked it. ;-)

Penny said...

Nice article with lots of information. I am intrigued by the properties in basil and also the connection between the immune system and cancer. I need to find a way to add basil to my diet.

LifeExtension said...

Penny - Basil can be added to soups, salads, sauces, pasta dishes, and even sandwiches. Thanks for reading!

Unknown said...

I have all of these spices in my cabinet, now I want to start growing them!! =)

This is an excellent article with the right balance of photos and relevant information; I am impressed with you listing the references, thanks for posting.

Here’s a unique use of Tumeric:

Powdered Tumeric combined with fine himalayan salt and powdered mustard to taste over a head of chopped cauliflower florets. Spread in a dehydrator and viola! Crunchy yummy goodness to put on salads or in soups like croutons or just eat straight like popcorn!

I stay away from corn and wheat products for health reasons, so if you want an easy to make, healthy gluten free goody you’ve got to try it. =)

I just ordered more Tumeric from as I stick to organic companies and live in a remote area so online shopping is my method of choice to get my spices.

I also just followed you on Twitter and liked on FB. Looking forward to learning more from you as time goes on.

Thanks for creating such a useful blog!

LifeExtension said...

Andrea Lee - We appreciate your kind words and support! Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Thanks LEF

Patrick said...

Great post, we also just released a new blog post about how artichoke extract can lower LDL cholesterol naturally.

LifeExtension said...

Patrick - Nice! We'll check out your blog.

How to Tell If You Have A Yeast Infection said...

Yeast infection no more system teaches you how to treat yeast infection naturally and offers a more holistic approach.

Ankita said...

Your post is amazing. Thanks for sharing. I definitely add these herbs like garlic, ginger, etc. But the immunity herbal supplements also important and good for immunity boosting.

Ankita said...

Thanks for sharing natural foods for immunity. Along with healthy foods herbal dietary supplements for immunity can gives helps to fight against infections.

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