Grandma’s cold remedy — chicken noodle soup — may be warming and nourishing, but it’s not the best soup for a cold. An even better soup for colds is one that is actually therapeutic in the medicinal sense. This means it contains proven, immune-boosting foods like medicinal mushrooms (such as maitake and reishi) and astragalus root.
Astragalus membranaceus is one of the most extensively studied herbal medicines and has been used as part of traditional Chinese medicine to treat infections and other ailments for thousands of years. The dried roots of Astragalus contain compounds that possess immune-modulating, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties, among others.[2,3] Astragalus and herbal formulas that contain it can prevent upper respiratory infections in people whose immune systems aren’t functioning optimally. (Read more about astragalus at the Natural Health Advisory website.)
Astragalus has firm, fibrous roots that are light yellow in color and have a sweet, pleasant taste. Dried astragalus root can be purchased in long slices, small pieces, or as a powder. The type most often used in soups is the sliced, dried root which is typically added to soups during cooking and then removed before eating. Since the bioactive compounds in astragalus are soluble in water, they are extracted into the broth while the soup is cooking.
Of the approximately 130 healing actions of medicinal mushrooms, they are perhaps best known for their ability to boost immune function. Even white button mushrooms, the most commonly eaten variety, enhance immune function.
But certain mushrooms have more potent immune-modulating activities.[4,6] The medicinal mushrooms with the most powerful effects on immune function include:
• Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
• Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
• Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
• Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)
• Turkey tail (Coriolus versicolor)
In addition to improving a number of aspects of immune function, some of these medicinal mushrooms, like reishi, have antimicrobial actions, especially against viruses.[7,8]
Both fresh and dried mushrooms can be used for soups. Some medicinal mushrooms, like reishi, are difficult to find fresh (unless you grow them yourself). Plus, reishi are tough and therefore you’ll likely want to take them out of the soup before you eat it. Others, like shiitake, are more widely available in their fresh form for culinary use and are delicious to eat as part of the soup.
You can find dried mushrooms and organically-grown, dried, sliced astragalus root for sale online. Many western herbalists, acupuncturists, and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners carry dried astragalus root in their dispensaries.
The best soup for a cold is one that contains fresh or dried versions of these mushrooms along with astragalus and other immune boosting foods like garlic and ginger. Try the chicken soup recipe below, and feel free to add or adapt it to your liking.
• 5 pounds organic chicken (If using a whole chicken, remove chicken meat just after stock is brought to boil and reserve.)
• 12 cups fresh water
• 3 carrots, cut into thirds
• 2 parsnips, quartered
• 2 celery stalks, cut into thirds
• 2 onions, quartered
• 1 oz astragalus root
• 2 oz dried medicinal mushrooms of choice
• 3 bay leaves
• 1 to 2 tsp sea salt
1. Bring all ingredients to a boil. Skim the top layer of the stock and discard. Then cover and simmer for at least 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Strain and keep stock. Discard veggies, astragalus, mushrooms, and chicken carcass.
2. To the homemade chicken broth, add:
• 2 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms (or fresh, if available)
• 2 inches grated ginger root
• 6 to 8 cloves garlic, crushed
• Additional vegetables and grains as desired
3. Simmer 15 to 30 minutes, or until all ingredients are tender. Serve immediately. Eat throughout the cold and flu season and up to three times per day during active upper respiratory infections. (If you like this recipe, find more at the Natural Health Advisory website.)
4. Another key element of preventing and treating colds is keeping your immune system in top shape by following healthy living practices. For a quick look at basic Natural Health 101 principles, download a free report from the Natural Health Advisory.
1. Evid Bas Comp Alt Med. 2013; 352130.
2. Phytother Res. 2014 Sep;28(9):1275-83.
3. Int J Biol Macromol. 2014 Mar;64:257-66.
4. Biomed J. 2014 Sep 2. [Epub ahead of print]
5. Nutrition. 2012 May;28(5):527-31.
6. Trends Biotechnol. 2013 Dec;31(12):668-77.
7. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(2):127-43.
8. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nded;Ch.9.
9. BACHA News. 2006 Winter;1(4). Adapted from a recipe by Kara Sigler.
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