3 Herbal Allies That Can Support Your Sleep & Immune Health

Emma Loewe

mbg Senior Sustainability EditorBy Emma Loewe

3 Herbal Allies That Do Double Duty To Support Sleep & Immunity

Image by Noemi Hauser / Stocksy

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February 10, 2022 — 0:04 AM

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It’s no secret that sleep and immunity go hand in hand. If you want to support your body’s natural defenses, giving yourself proper rest and recovery is key. Every time we snooze, we help our T-cells, key players in the immune response, successfully fight off foreign invaders. On the other side of the equation, many things that we can do to support strong immunity—such as exercising and reducing stress—can also benefit our sleep.

It makes sense, then, that a number of herbal helpers we use to support immunity may also aid sleep, and vice versa. Here are three plants that show promise in preparing our bodies to fight when they need to and rest when they don’t:*

1. Elderberry.

Humans have been calling on elderberries for immune support for centuries. “Elderberries contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants. These antioxidants work to keep the immune system strong and resilient. They are also believed to have antiviral properties,” explains Seema Bonney, M.D., the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia. Rachelle Robinett, R.H., herbalist and founder of Supernatural, adds that elderflowers, which are safe to eat raw, have also long been used as a traditional herbal strategy.

Today, the berries are often turned into tinctures or syrups, while the flowers are popular in children’s immune support remedies.

You’ll also find elderberries incorporated into a number of sleep supplements thanks to their ability to support rest and recovery. Bonney notes that historically, Pagans also believed elderberries could even induce vivid dreams—the kind that tends to greet us when we’re in deep sleep.

Try it in: An after-dinner tincture. You can buy one premade or DIY your own with this recipe.


2. Lavender.

The lush smell of lavender is often associated with calm and relaxation. And compared to other essential oils used in aromatherapy, lavender has some pretty robust research behind it: One 2015 randomized controlled trial found that smelling lavender promoted sleep and reduced stress in a group of 60 people. Another found that when incorporated into a healthy sleep hygiene routine, lavender aromatherapy improved overall sleep quality based on Fitbit readings and sleep journals. And in a meta-analysis on 34 studies that looked into how various smells affect rest, lavender was shown to be the most effective at improving sleep quantity and quality.

Beyond its ability to promote sleep, lavender oil was also associated with enhanced immune function in one 2017 trial on pregnant women who received aromatherapy massages. Compared to a control group, those who lathered up with lavender had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and higher levels of IgA, an antibody blood protein, following their massages.

Lavender oil can also be taken orally in supplements, like mindbodygreen’s calm+, which contains a trio of EU organic hemp oil, ashwagandha, and of course, lavender oil. This interacts with the nervous system in a neuroprotective way and is clinically shown to provide mood stabilizing and calming effects.*

Try it in: A nighttime diffuser blendcandlefacial steam, or calming supplement.

3. Chamomile.

Another herb with a long history, Bonney notes that chamomile can support muscle relaxation and sleep due to its calming effects. It’s best known for helping to soothe the nervous system and ease the stress and anxiousness that tends to keep us up at night. Thanks to its antioxidants, chamomile may also help support immunity and all-around health.

“Chamomile is calming, relaxing, and soothing,” herbal educator Kami McBride previously told mbg. “[It] is one of the great teas to drink after dinner to help you unwind from the day.”

Try it in: Take a cue from herbalist Christine Buckley and keep a bedtime blend of equal parts dried linden, rose, and chamomile in your pantry and steep a teaspoon into a cup of hot water each evening. Sip a few hours before bed to prepare yourself for deep sleep—and the immunity benefits that come with it.

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