Late summer, early autumn.

All of us have heard the word ‘immunity’ spoken about during these pandemic years, yet most of us take for granted this magically intricate defense system that works to keep us healthy.

Good food, together with good sleep, prioritising exercise (even if it’s just a ramble through our beautiful surrounds here), socialising, conviviality and integration in community, are all critically important for our immune system. As these are things many of us had to forego throughout the lockdowns and travel restrictions of the past two years, our immunity is bound to have taken a battering.

In these difficult times, what we can control are the choices we make when we purchase food for ourselves and our families. Mind you, wellness shouldn’t be about throwing down a raw fruit and vegetable juice now and then, nor the use of some new ‘fad’ grain or dried berry from somewhere over the other side of the globe. Rather, it’s about the confidence to make informed choices about our regular everyday purchases. Fresh local food is always the best – because it’s in season. And, if you’re shopping at a farmer’s market you’ll often get to meet the grower and can ask about their farming or production practices.

We’re spoilt for choice with weekly farmers’ markets across our region bursting with great food from what is now acknowledged to be one of the most productive and sustainable food bowls in Australia. At Daylesford’s weekly Sunday market our own Dairy Flat Farm has a stall filled with sour dough loaves and Viennoisserie from our farm bake house, as well as plenty of just harvested pesticide free produce.

Onions and garlic are a critically important addition to whatever you are cooking. Humble and often forgotten, they have recently been harvested. Garlic offers considerable protective benefits for our healthy immune response. Crushed or chopped, it produces allicin which offers substantial antiviral and antibacterial properties. Onions, meanwhile, have a substance called Quercetin a known inhibitor of various influenza viruses.

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Farmers' Market Blueberries

But beyond those humble contributors, right now a large bowl of mixed local berries is one of the best additions you could make to your diet. They are at their best and like other vibrant brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, often provide some of the highest levels of nutrients, especially antioxidants. The anthocyanins found almost exclusively in these nutritional powerhouses have been shown to postpone cognitive decline. Berries are also a prebiotic fibre rich food that provide fuel to the probiotics in the gut. And a healthy microbiome, we now know, plays an essential role in our immune system. Buy your organic (there’s lots of pesticides that are often used) berries locally from farmers markets or enjoy the experience of picking your own at Morningswood Farm, just outside Daylesford.

But if it’s a forage you are after – look out for hedgerows of elderberries. These tall treelike shrubs grow very well across the Central Highlands. The tannic, pungent clusters of small dark berries make a delicious syrup when washed, stripped off their stems and cooked with sugar. We often use that as the base for a house liqueur here at Lake House. If you want to make a jam from them you’ll need to add pectin or a pectin heavy fruit. Apple and elderberry jam is quite delicious especially on pancakes with a little crème fraiche on the side.

But what about health and the immune system you ask? Well just check out your health food store or pharmacy to see the number of elderberry supplements, syrups and powders on the shelf – or online. Elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world and you will find it in abundance right here. As a child, were never without it at home. It was always used to treat flu and the common cold – one of our many, well known SARS viruses.

Healthy eating can boost your immunity, lift your spirit and nourish your sense of wellbeing.

Go well! Go strong!

About the author

Alla Wolf Tasker
Alla Wolf-Tasker AM, Lake House
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Alla Wolf-Tasker AM’s story is the stuff of legend. With over 30 years in the region, she has transformed a downtrodden country plot of land into a thriving culinary restaurant, and consequently a food-producing community. Lake House is recognised around the world as one of this country’s great restaurants, and it continues to win numerous accolades within Australia and overseas.