Boost Your Immune System: Tried-and-True Remedies from Around the World

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 01 BANNER
Whole and cut papaya DeAgostini/Getty

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," Hippocrates said. Since ancient times, humans around the world have looked to nature for both fuel and healing. Modern research shows many of the foods and herbs that people originally used as medicine—from South African hibiscus to Indian turmeric to Panamanian dark chocolate—still have immune-boosting health benefits today. Try integrating some of these tried-and-true remedies into your lifestyle, and eat to beat those winter flus.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 04
Papayas growing on a tree Renata Oliva/Getty

Papayas
Mexico

This fruit promotes good digestion, reduces inflammation and has strong antioxidant properties. Fermented papaya—available in powdered form—is especially impressive: it has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the elderly and in those with hypothyroidism and liver disease, and another study found its extract can lower biomarkers linked to cancer.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 05
Whole and cut orange Tsukamoto Kazuhiro/Getty

Oranges
Florida

Nature's Botox? Along with providing a rich source of immunity-boosting vitamin C, oranges also help increase the body's natural supply of collagen, which keeps skin smooth and supple, and hair and nails strong. Collagen also has a hand in aiding healthy digestion, and one study showed it can improve joint pain after exercise.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 03
Blueberries Getty

Blueberries
Canada

These little fruits have become synonymous with "antioxidant" for a reason. Studies have shown that eating blueberries can help reduce DNA damage, potentially protecting against cancers, as well as helping lower cholesterol levels and improving cognitive function. Another study showed that supplements can help children with executive functioning, and older adults with coordination and dexterity.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 06
Chocolate Getty

Dark Chocolate
Panama

Cocoa contains compounds called flavanols that have been linked to heart health and might also reduce the risk of diabetes. One study of the Kuna people—an isolated tribe in Panama who drink around five cups of cocoa per day—showed almost nonexistent rates of high blood pressure. Looking to replicate this? Stick to dark chocolate, which contains two-to-three times more flavanols than milk chocolate.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 07
Button Mushrooms Getty

Button Mushrooms
France

A rare food source of vitamin D, button mushrooms help keep bones strong. Mushrooms are also rich in potassium and compounds that can protect against chronic disease, and one study showed that the fungus could help people prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 08
Sliced pomegranate Jack Andersen/Getty

Pomegranates
Egypt

These pink or red multi-seeded fruits hold deep symbolism in many cultures. They've also been used for centuries for their antibacterial properties; the ancient Egyptians used the fruit to treat various infections and intestinal worms. Modern research on pomegranate juice shows it could help fight viruses like the flu.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 09
Hibiscus flower Fitopardo/Getty

Hibiscus
South Africa

The versatile plant part has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes from combating high blood pressure to treating liver issues. There are over 50 different species of hibiscus. It's often steeped in water for tea, made into jams or dried and folded into doughs for muffins and bread.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 11
Almonds Getty

Almonds
Iran

The standout star of nuts, almonds are indigenous to Iran. Along with being good sources of protein and fiber, almonds have high levels of vitamin E, which has antioxidant properties and protects cells from damage. Almonds have also been shown to bolster the immune system, providing an extra layer of armor against illnesses like the flu.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 10
Turmeric Getty

Turmeric
India

For thousands of years, this bright orange spice has been used for both flavor and medicinal purposes. Its main compound, curcumin, gives turmeric its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study showed that people with ulcerative colitis who supplemented their traditional medicine with turmeric were more likely to stay in remission. Feeling forgetful? Another study showed it can aid memory.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 02
Miso soup Westend61/Getty

Miso
Japan

You've likely had this Japanese favorite in soup, but the fermented soybean paste can also be added to sauces, salad dressings, tofu and vegetable dishes. Like yogurt, miso contains probiotics, the "good bacteria" that promote gut health. They are also thought to promote cognitive health, including alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

CUL Map Immune Boosting Foods 12
Samphire Larissa Veronesi/Getty

Samphire
Australia

This salty succulent found along southern Australia's coastline is chock-full of vitamins A, B and C, and it's thought to help regulate sleep, promote tissue repair and detox the body. Samphire can be served fresh in salads, or roasted in olive oil or butter, similar to asparagus.