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There is something bittersweet about autumn – the change in light, the shortened days, the final harvest of our summer’s bounty. The colors change from bright florals and greens to darker, subtler oranges and browns.

Although my children may gasp when I say this, I find the rhythms and routines comforting – alarm clocks and schoolwork, the onset of the rains. It is a time of turning inward, of gratitude and deepening our connection with Nature and each other. Think of the trees dropping their fruits, sending their vital energy away from their leaves and moving it into their roots, or the animals storing food and preparing their nests for winter.

From the perspective of Five Element Chinese Medicine, the energies turn from the Summer’s fiery energy of Heart and Small Intestine, into the cooler metal energies of Lung and Large Intestine – organs of letting go and receiving.

Not surprisingly, autumn is a season of colds and flus and other challenges to the immune system.

There are a number of ways you can bolster your immunity. Cut out simple sugars, especially sweet treats and double up on vegetables. Ideally, a person should eat 5 to 9 servings of fresh vegetables per day. 1 serving = ½ cup.

Although this may seem like an impossible task, it’s not so hard and can be very tasty. For breakfast, sauté some mushrooms and chard with your eggs or throw a few leaves of kale into your smoothie. A lunch salad alone can provide you with three servings of vegetables.  Try a stir-fry for dinner and snack on carrots or celery.

Shitake mushrooms, winter squash, garlic, green onions, ginger and fresh herbs like oregano and rosemary are great for bolstering your immune system.  A tea of thyme leaves and honey can help with coughs. Simply add 1 TBSP fresh thyme to a cup of boiling water, cover and steep for 10 minutes. Add some local raw or Manuka honey for flavor and drink!

Take your vitamin D. It’s very difficult to get enough vitamin D from the sun even during summer unless you spend a LOT of time outdoors without sunblock. I usually recommend 2000 IU vitamin D3 as a basic safe dosage for most people (1000 IU for kids).

Vitamin C is another great immune boosting vitamin. If you increase your vegetables, you will increase your vitamin C, but taking a 500 mg tablet one to three times per day is safe for most ages and can stave off viruses. Zinc (15- 30 mg/day) will really help your immune system – but take it with food, or it can cause nausea.

Finally, get adequate exercise and rest. Exercise reduces stress and gets your lymph system moving. And sleep is important for healing.

So pull out your sweaters and warm socks, your favorite teas and books and snuggle up. Make a big pot of rich vegetable soup and keep those colds and flus away.

By Jennifer Means, ND, LAc

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