I don't know when it officially starts, but it seems like here as soon as the temperature drops below 15 degrees it's cold and flu season. Its exacerbated at my home since I have a 3 year old in daycare; and as any parent will tell you, kids bring home EVERY germ. I am currently feeling a bit under the weather and decided to make a soup that could both help my current symptoms and also support my immune system, since this is only just the beginning of a long cold and flu season.
I think there are two categories for the foods which support our immune systems. First you have the "go to's" the foods we all know and turn to when we are sick and the ones our moms and their moms moms moms have been making to help us feel better for years. In this category I include the powerful antibiotic and antiviral garlic. The powerful anti-inflammatory (aka swelling reducer inside and out - think Advil but actually good for you) and great nausea suppressant ginger. In this category I would also include bone broth. The millions of grandmas who have been making big bowls of chicken noodle soup for years were on to something. But it wasn't the actual chicken or the noodles that was making you feel better, it was the broth. Bone broth has so many benefits its essentially a multivitamin specifically helpful for the immune system however is glycine and glucosamine which helps reduce inflammation and electrolytes for rehydration. it contains amino acids (the building blocks of protein) - one important one being proline which can help our bodies repair tissue. And it also contains collage a protein important for the health of all arteries, connective tissue, bones and skin. There is a South American proverb that states "good bone broth can resurrect the dead" and from the times I've been really sick I'm pretty sure it was bone broth that resurrected me.
The other category of foods which support the immune system are the "lesser knowns". The ones we don't often think of for their benefits when we are sick. Herbs are often thought of as an ingredient to add flavour and we forget that for thousands of years they have been medicinal. Thyme is a great source of immune supporting vitamin C, 1oz contains 50% of the recommended amount. Vitamin C helps to make antibodies, destroy viruses and bacteria and clear infected cells; it is water-soluble and therefore released via sweat and urine so it is essential we get enough when we are sick. Two other lesser known ingredient are butternut squash and olive oil which are both excellent sources of vitamin E a powerful antioxidant. My favorite lesser known immune supporting food is shiitake mushrooms. Now if you reading this and of East Asian decent you are probably thinking I'm an idiot and everyone knowns about the medicinal benefits of shiitake mushrooms; but here in North America I don't think many people have tried them for their medicinal yet alone culinary benefits. A number of studies have demonstrated some interesting effects of shiitakes on the immune system. They contain a type of sugar called a polysaccharides these polysaccharides contain a molecule called glucans (are you currently thinking blah blah blah science?). Well these glucans have been shown to bind to receptors on our immune cells and help support immune function and shiitake mushroom are particularly exciting because they contain a large amount of these glucans. Finally an ingredient we don't often think of as supporting the immune system is beans. However beans contain an significant amount of the immune boosting nutrient zinc and are an excellent source of fiber. Our digestive systems are the gateway to our health. Healthy digestion allows toxins to be removed from the body and allows everything else to work so by supporting our digestion we are helping to ensure our overall health and immunity.
If you want to support your immune system for the coming cold and flu season try incorporating some of these food items into your day to day. If you are currently feeling ill scroll below for the soup i created where i use all of these beneficial ingredients and more.
Immune Boosting Soup
1L bone broth
0.5 L water
5 leaves of tuscan kale chopped
4 medium sized carrots sliced into rounds
1 potato chopped into cubes
1/2 butternut squash chopped into cubes
1 can cannellini beans
6 large shiitake mushrooms sliced
1/2 leek white part only sliced
2 large cloves of garlic minced
2 inch piece of ginger chopped small
1 tbsp olive oil
1 piece of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pinch each of dried basil and dried oregano
about 1 tsp salt
In a large pot on medium heat add oil and leeks sautee until soft. add garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or 2 until aromatic.
Add mushrooms and basil and oregano and cook for 5 minutes
Add broth, water, thyme, salt, squash and potatoes and cook for 5 minutes, covered. Then add carrots and beans and cook for 10 minutes, covered.
Add Kale and cook for about 5 minutes, until squash, potatoes and carrots are at desired softness. serve hot.