Lyme disease bacteria disable and disrupt the immune system, making it difficult for the body’s natural defense system to recognize pathogens. They also create inflammatory immune responses that inhibit healing long term. Many prominent herbalists have put together herbal protocols or tinctures of pre-combined herbs that support the restoration of proper immune system function for people recovering from Lyme disease symptoms. The following is a list of herbs for natural immune support in Lyme disease, all easily available online. Make sure to choose organic herbs from a reputable source.
Natural Immune Support
1. Cat’s Claw
Herbalist Stephen Buhner has published several acclaimed books on herbs for Lyme disease and treatment of Lyme co-infections. His herbal protocols are extensive, involving combinations of many herbs drawn from Indigenous and modern medicinal practices worldwide.
Buhner suggests using cat’s claw, a South American variety of the herb, for natural immune support in Lyme disease treatment. The inner bark of the cat’s claw vine is used medicinally. You can purchase the bark itself (in strips or as a powder) for making teas or tinctures at home. If you prefer less labor, you can buy capsules of powdered bark or pre-made tinctures.
According to Buhner, cat’s claw has been proven to stimulate a normalization of the immune response in people affected with viral and bacterial infections. Studies show that cat’s claw increases IgG serum concentration (the number of antibodies present in blood), white blood cell counts, and phagocytosis (the process by which white blood cells engulf and eliminate pathogens). Cat’s claw is also anti-inflammatory and antiviral. Though it does not directly kill Lyme bacteria, it helps your immune system do the job itself.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help to normalize and improve the stress response across different systems in the body, including by improving immune system function. Adaptogenic herbs have been used for thousands of years in herbal traditions such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. They are called adaptogens because they help your body adapt to stress more effectively — improving adrenal function and immune response, calming the central nervous system, and increasing energy. Adaptogens have very low toxicity and almost no unwanted side effects, though, some are contraindicated in pregnancy. Here are three that are useful for natural immune support in Lyme disease:
The roots of ashwagandha have been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is called “strength of the stallion,” and is used to boost energy levels and heal the immune system after illness. Ashwagandha is soothing and calming for the central nervous system, and it helps with the anxiety and depression that can accompany Lyme disease. It lowers cortisol levels and even helps to balance thyroid hormones. Many people manage Lyme Herxheimer reactions with ashwagandha. The roots can be used to make tea or tinctures or can be taken directly as a powder or in capsules.
The roots of the astragalus plant have been used in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years for their adaptogenic and immune building properties. According to Stephen Buhner, taking astragalus regularly may prevent Lyme disease even if you are exposed. Astragalus stimulates the immune response, is anti-inflammatory and mildly boosts energy levels. The roots can be used to make teas and tinctures.
4. Siberian Ginseng
Siberian ginseng is another adaptogenic root used in TCM. Siberian ginseng gives quite the energy boost — it is more stimulating than either ashwagandha or astragalus. (American ginseng even more so.) Some people drink ginseng tea instead of coffee for this reason. Stephen Buhner suggests going slow with Siberian ginseng in Lyme disease treatment to avoid overstimulation. However, as your tolerance builds, it offers excellent immune support, and it’s anti-inflammatory, too.
The next four plants are medicinal mushrooms, all of which support immune function as well as containing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Mushroom powders are becoming more popular and are readily available online. The powders are quite delicious when added to coffee, hot chocolate, soups, or sautees. My favorite is to mix mushroom powder with raw cacao powder, unsweetened warm coconut milk, and stevia to taste. Sometimes I add cinnamon or turmeric, as both are beneficial for Lyme disease treatment (as well as just being yummy).
5. Reishi Mushroom
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Reishi mushrooms have been used in TCM as immune support for thousands of years. In Western medicine, reishi has been proven to assist the function of antigen-presenting cells — the cells that present toxins or other foreign substances for recognition by lymphocytes. Reishi has also been shown to increase the activity of white blood cells, which fight both pathogens and cancers. Beyond boosting immunity, reishi is said to be calming and mood-boosting. More research is needed to understand just who benefits from reishi and for correct dosages.
6. Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane is used for food and medicine across Asia. It has been proven to benefit the intestinal immune system — helping the body eliminate foodborne toxins and pathogens. Beyond boosting immunity, lion’s mane has been shown to induce nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis ( a neuropeptide that helps to regulate the growth and survival of neurons). Because of this, lion’s mane is said to be both neuroprotective and improves cognition.
Chaga helps to regulate the production of cytokines — substances produced by immune cells to aid in cellular communication. Cytokines are part of the body’s inflammatory response, and chaga may help to control and regulate inflammation so that it doesn’t become chronic. Chaga is also chock full of antioxidants, another reason for its anti-inflammatory properties. Some consider it a superfood.
Cordyceps is an immune modulator — it helps regulate immune response bidirectionally. This means that cordyceps can help suppress an overactive immune system, or it can potentiate an underactive one, depending on the needs of the person. Cordyceps is also a mild stimulant — helping boost production of ATP, the molecule responsible for delivering energy to the entire body. Cordyceps even seems to help the body utilize oxygen more efficiently. Buhner includes cordyceps in his Lyme protocol to restore immune function. (Just as a fun fact, cordyceps actually grows on insects and spiders as a parasite, eventually killing its host! Look up photos if you have a strong stomach.)
As you can see, you have a host of choices for natural, herbal immune support to aid you in healing Lyme. As with any medicinal herbs, there are some contraindications and some risks of side effects. Ask your Lyme-literate doctor to help you pick the supplements and dosages that will best support your healing process. Each body is unique — it takes some experimentation to find the best fit. In my personal experience, these herbs are well worth the effort.
Shona Curley lives and works in San Francisco. She is co-owner of the studio Hasti Pilates, and creator of the website www.redkitemeditations.com. Shona teaches meditation, bodywork and movement practices for healing Lyme disease, chronic illness and pain.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Healing Lyme. Silver City, NM, Raven Press, 2015.
Dudhgaonkar S, Thyagarajan A, Sliva D. Suppression of the inflammatory response by triterpenes isolated from the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum. National Institutes of Health Website, 2009 Oct;9(11):1272-80. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2009.07.011
Hardeep S. Tuli, Sardul S. Sandhu, A K. Sharma. Pharmacological and Therapeutic Potential of Cordyceps with Special Reference to Cordycepin. National Institutes of Health Website, 2015 February. 4(1): 1–12 doi: 10.1007/s13205-013-0121-9
Lai PL, Naidu M, Sabaratnam V, et al. Neurotrophic Properties of the Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium Erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. National Institutes of Health Website, 2013;15(6):539-54