9 Lung Herbs For Colds and Respiratory Help
Lung herbs function in a variety of ways, and understanding a little bit about our respiratory system will help show why these herbs are used by natural therapists, and what they do.
Our lungs function to both bring oxygen into our bodies, but to bring clean oxygen in, our respiratory system (or muscolciliary elevator, as Simon Mills calls it), must filter out smoke, dust and other pollutants. However, very small particles that are just too fine, or there's too much of them, to be removed this way, can reach the lungs. In such instances, we may cough. suppressed. Only when a cough can be seen as pointless, as in nervous coughing or in conditions like tumors or other injury, are cough suppressants or antitussives used." (Mills)
Mills describes how the musculociliary elevator can fail in two ways - through having too much mucous, or not enough. The mucous, in optimal amounts, is what traps the pollutants in the bronchial tubes. It moves upwards to the throat, carrying the trapped particles with it. We then generally swallow it without realizing it, all the time, and the acids in our stomach can deal with the impurities, and take them out of our system.
But sometimes the mucous is not of the right consistency, perhaps being too thick and sticky. This might be seen in allergic conditions, asthmatic conditions, and in dry hacking coughs. This can lead to congestion and secondary infections like bronchitis. Herbalists usually prescribe a class of lung herbs called mucilages in this instance. These types of lung herbs improve the consistency of the mucous, making it more fluid, and may also reduce bronchial spasms.
Having too much mucous can lead to the bronchial tubes being congested. This can provide an environment for infections to happen. Warming expectorants (that encourage a cough, to clear the mucous), are given. These lung herbs include garlic, ginger, and cinnamon.
The production of excess mucous can be because of a number of causes. There might be a pathogen, like a bacteria or virus. Or some other irritation that is toxic. Or it could be because of some metabolic or inflammatory cause that isn't really understood.
Mullein is a soothing expectorant that makes the mucous more fluid and less sticky, hence it can be coughed up more easily. It also helps relax the muscles in the bronchial passage. It is used for bronchitis, colds, persistent coughs, tuberculosis, pleurisy, and whooping cough.
Angelica is a warming remedy that is good for the digestive system as well as the respiratory system. It is an expectorant, which means it will encourage coughing and the elimination of excess mucous. It helps strengthen the lungs when they are weakened, and was traditionally used for many types of infections. Mills questions whether it still has a place in today's society for such, but still considers it an exceptional herb for general convalescence.
Ginger is great in cases of excess phlegm, and bronchitis, and can also be used at the beginning of a cold. Like many of these lung herbs, its great for the digestive system also. Ginger is often used for nausea, and helps circulation.
Garlic has been studied a lot for its immune benefits. Its great both in the digestive system, and the lungs. It helps 'sterilize' the bronchial passage in the lungs, and has been used in bronchial infections like tuberculosis. It's great for the 'common cold', and garlic capsules can be bought. Kyolic garlic is excellent. even though its an aged garlic. Fresh garlic, consumed within 15 minutes of being cut open, in a tea with honey and lemon juice, is also an excellent remedy, with very strong antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits. It's great for tonsillitis, throat infections, and similar. As well as its cleansing effect on the lungs, garlic helps encourage mucous to coughed up.
Cinnamon should not be used in pregnancy. As a lung herb it's more warming than angelica, and can be used at the beginning of chesty colds. Mills suggests making a tea of powdered cinnamon and fresh ginger. It is also used in chest infections. Cinnamon is also great for the digestive system, and was also traditionally used in convalescence.
This is a great lung herb for getting rid of excess mucous through coughing. It is very soothing, however, and the types of coughs it encourages are not dry hacking coughs that just produce more irritation. Its great for chronic bronchitis in the elderly, or for those who are weakened physically in some way. It can also be used for nervous coughing, and is a digestive tonic similar to angelica.
Coltsfoot is also an expectorant. It's great for dry coughs, and because of its mucilage content, is very soothing when the bronchial passages are irritated.
More than a seasoning for cooking, this lung herb has antiseptic properties as well as being an expectorant and digestive tonic. It helps 'disinfect' the air passages, and also has a calming effect on the bronchial tube. It is generally used for more asthmatic conditions and dry coughs, but not really for bronchitis. Large amounts of thyme should not be taken during pregnancy.
Wild Cherry Bark
This lung herb is used as a cough suppressant, which as indicated above, should only be used under some circumstances. But it is used in helping treat strong and incessant coughing to the point of exhaustion.
You can find great lung herbs here.
Simon Mills, The Essential Book OF Herbal Medicine
Carole Fisher and Gilian Painter, Materia Medica Of Western Herbs