With everything going on in the World at the moment, with a pandemic ongoing, and a disease that is respiratory focused, those with pre-existing respiratory issues are likely more concerned than usual. I thought now would be a good and relevant time to cover respiratory health & herbs for respiratory health that you can use through this time to help support your lungs and respiratory system.
In my mind the current pandemic is Nature fighting back. We have ignored all the natural disasters so far and continue to mindlessly pollute and destroy the world. Now it seems nature has had enough!
Holistically the lungs are connected to your heart. So to me this disease we are currently dealing with speaks to not only to the pollution we have cause but also to how we treat the trees which are the lungs of the earth & how disconnected we have become from ourselves. We should be listening to what our heart wants instead of being led by society. Treating humans and animals alike with kindness and compassion. Just something to bear in mind as we go into this post. As its worth thinking about the connections between your thoughts and actions and the effects they have on the health of your body. It is not only the food you ant and your physical actions that determine how healthy and vital you are!
The respiratory system
As you breathe air is moved in and out of your lungs by the diaphragm and intercostal muscles (the muscles located in-between each of your ribs). These muscles contract to make your chest cavity bigger, pulling air into the lungs. Or expand to squeeze air out.
Your lungs themselves are made up of the trachea, large bronchi, smaller bronchi, and cilia that protect you from breathing particles into the lungs.
Although breathing is a unconscious action for us it is still controlled by your brain. Which is why your breathing speeds up or slows down in response to your changing circumstances. And in tune with your sympathetic (stress) and parasympathetic (rest) nervous system.
Breathing is detoxifying for your mind, body & soul.
On a basic level; CO2 is an acid forming waste product of breathing that your body needs to expel.
On a more complex level; when we breath we draw in new energy, a fresh perspective, and inspiration. When we breath out we expel and let go all that is finished. Each exhalation is the closing of a cycle.
What happens when we cannot breath properly?
When you are struggling to breath or become sick with an illness that affects your respiratory system a number of things can happen.
– mucus production increases. Your body produces mucus as a protective and cleansing action. Mucus’s key activity in the body is to remove unwanted toxins and foreign bodies. However excess mucus production is a key symptom of imbalance. Often toxicity due to food intolerance or leaky gut. But also immune function difficulty.
– your airways close up & chest can become tight. This happens in an asthma attack when muscles around the airways contract. Constricted airways can also happen due to allergies, inflamed airways, asthma, or infection. With smaller airways the body struggles to get enough oxygen to the lungs, into your bloodstream, and to your organs. A lack of oxygen can cause fatigue and other, more serious, damage in your body.
– chest pain. This can be caused by a number of things. Such as constricted airways and trouble breathing.
– dizzyness, nausea and other symptoms caused by a lack of oxygen in your body can occur as a result.
– coughing. When you cough it is your body’s way of getting rid of irritants. Coughing is caused by excess mucus in your respiratory system that is preventing you breathing so your body needs to expel it. Or a cough can be caused by an irritant in your throat / airways that your body wants to get rid of.
Lifestyle tips for respiratory health
The best preventive measure you can take for your lungs is clean air! There are also simple things you can do, and ways you can change your daily lifestyle, to include respiratory supportive habits and increase the health of your lungs. The most obvious one being to stopping smoking! While herbs for respiratory health are all natural you should always look at lifestyle changes you can make first, before resorting to medicine. Even herbal medicine.
Cut out mucus producing foods
Certain foods actually increase the amount of mucus production in your body. The main foods to avoid are dairy (except yogurt and kefir) , refined sugar, wheat, deep fried foods, corn, soy, bananas, eggs, red meat, alcohol and caffeine.
If you want to know which ones affect you cut out all of them for two weeks. Then reintroduce each food one at a time, a new one every few days, and watch carefully for when your symptoms worsen.
The exceptions being refined sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine which are poisonous to your body and you should avoid consuming them as much and wherever possible.
Kefir is full of gut (and body) friendly good bacteria, and has been shown to reduce allergies and inflammation.
Asthmatics in particular may benefit from its effects.
Eat anti inflammatory foods & increase antioxidants
Anti inflammatory foods, as their name suggests, work to reduce inflammation throughout your body. This includes inflamed airways and mucus membranes. Anti inflammatory foods include ….. and antioxidants.
Antioxidants are foods that naturally help your body remove toxins and fight the negative effects of your environment, chemicals and the sun both on your skin and in your body. Antioxidant foods include blueberries, ….
Breathing exercises are really beneficial for your lungs. Learning to maximise and expand the movements of your ribs and diaphragm through different yogic breathing exercises.
Mucus toning foods
There are foods that help cleanse your body and tone the mucus membranes. These include Horseradish, leafy greens, green herbs, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, garlic, leaks, onions, celery, asparagus, ginger, chilli peppers, turmeric, citrus fruits, berries, and pineapple.￼
Supplements for respiratory health
Vitamins needed to maintain a healthy respiratory system occur naturally in your food. But can also be taken as supplements. These include vitamins A and D3, and minerals magnesium, zinc, and selenium. All are necessary for proper lung function￼.
Herbs for respiratory health
In addition to adjusting your lifestyle habits there are many herbs that can be used to support respiratory health.
Your lungs are prone to infections, allergies, pollution, dietary overload as well as some more inherent autoimmune and genetic problems (that can be made worse by diet and lifestyle). There are specific herbs for specific symptoms associate with your respiratory system. But for general healing and strengthening, and to help prevent illness herbs for respiratory health you can use are called ‘pectoral’ herbs. These are any herbs that strengthen and tone the tissues and lungs.
These are a class of herbs that tighten and strengthen the tissues of your lungs and respiratory system. While being pectorals these herbs also have a range of expectorant (mucas removing) or relaxing actions too. Herbs that work well together can be combined in one treatment to increase benefits and hit more than one symptom that comes with a respiratory illness.
Pectoral herbs for respiratory health include Angelica Aniseed Hyssop Elecampane Mullein Coltsfoot Agrimony Garlic Elder Marshmallow Vervain Liqurice.
Eating raw, wild garlic. Or wild garlic honey three times a day when you start to get sick is also a good way to keep infection at bay. Garlic is not only antimicrobial, it helps to liquefy mucas, and boost your immune system too!
But to keep things simple we will just cover a handful of herbs that are toning but also have additional respiratory benefits.
Mullein is a remedy that is very beneficial in most respiratory conditions. It is the ideal remedy for toning the mucas membranes in your respiratory system. It reduces inflammation whilst stimulating fluid production, which means it helps you to facilitate removal of excess mucas. It’s anti inflammatory properties also work to re-leave inflammation in the trachea and soothe.
The leaves and flowers can be used to make teas or tinctures. take 1-4ml of the tincture three times a day.
Angelica is another pectoral remedy that works in general to tone and strengthen the mucas membranes of your respiratory system. Amongst its benefits Angelica also acts as a relaxant. It works to relax the tissue of your lungs. This ease of tension promotes the flow of mucas which in turn helps you excrete it from your lungs.
A teaspoon of Angelica root can be drunk as a tea up to three times a day. Or you can use a tincture, 2-5ml three times a day.
Angelica Root is also a good herb to treat bronchitis and pleurisy, especially if they are accompanied by a fever or cold/flu.
While coughing is a good thing and should not be suppressed. It is your body’s natural way of getting rid of congestion and clearing phlegm from your lungs. But if coughing gets too much, like in the case of asthma, spasmodic coughing can be treated to help relieve discomfort.
Spasmodic coughing can lead to sleepless nights, pain, exhaustion, and even pulled muscles.
Respiratory relaxants are herbs that relieve the tension of spasmodic coughing and allow you to relax.
For dry coughs herbs such as Limeflower. Mallow. Plantain. Coltsfoot. Mullein. While thyme and seeet violet are good to choose.
For mucas coughs you want to reach for herbs such as wild garlic. Horseradish. Elecampane. Ground ivy. While thyme or Sweet violet.
So you see how herbs are personalised to your own body and individual symptoms.
Coltsfoot is a wonderful herb to use if you have a cough. It combines the soothing effects of an expectorant ( helps to loosen and expels mucus ) with anti-spasmodic action (eases spasm and cramps). Its leaves also contain a lot of zinc, which has been shown to have high anti-inflammatory effects.
These three actions combined means coltsfoot is a herb that can be used in most respiratory conditions. This includes chronic or acute bronchitis, irritating coughs, whooping coughs and asthma.
Other herbs that work well with coltsfoot are mullein and liquorice. Combined you can take 1 part each of the 3 herbs as a tea up to every three hours. For a maximum of two weeks.
Horseradish is an old household remedy and has been used as medicine for centuries. It is a herb with stimulating and heating properties, which means it works to increase the circulation and flow of blood in your body. In this case by irritating the tissue of your lungs to flush out toxins i.e. couching up mucas.
Horseradish grows wild and can be found all over the place so is an easily accessible herb. Try making a horseradish syrup: grate the fresh root and cover with sugar. Leave for 24hours, then strain of the resulting liquid to use.
You can keep horseradish syrup in the fridge for up to three months & should take 1-2 teaspoons a day for damp, phlegmy coughs.
Herbs who’s main action is to stimulate the removal of mucus from your lungs. These herbs are called expectorants.
There are a number of ways expectorants work including stimulating the lungs to expel the phlegm through coughing. Or easing tension in your tissues allowing phlegm to loosen that way.
The herbs included in this include Angelica Hyssop Sweet violet Coltsfoot White Horehound Mullein Aniseed Elecampane and Bloodroot.
Hyssop has a range of uses. It has a volatile oil that is an anti-spasmodic. It is used frequently for coughs, bronchitis and chronic catarrh.
You can combine it with white horehound and coltsfoot to treat coughs and bronchitis. Take 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb as a tea. Or take 1-4 ml of the tincture three times a day.￼
Sweet violets have many properties. When it comes to your respiratory system they work to relieve upper respiratory catarrh. They have a long history of use as a cough remedy.
The leaves and flowers can be dried and used in a tea. Drink 3 times a day. Or take 1-2ml of sweet violet tincture 3 times a day.
Herbs that have a soothing action are called Demulcents. They all have ‘slippery’ characteristics that work to relieve and soften your irritated or inflamed mucous membranes. Their slippery nature enables these herbs to coat, protect and lubricate tissue surfaces. Which in turn allows tissues to heal.
There are many herbs that have demulcent properties including Comfrey root. Coltsfoot. Flaxseed. Liqurice. Lungwort moss. Marshmallow leaf and Mullein.
Liquorice Root has become more known as a sweet than it is a medicine. But it has many properties as a healing herb. It is widely used in bronchial problems, such as catarrh, bronchitis and coughs in general.
You can take Liqurice root as a tea by adding a teaspoon to hot water. Or a tincture 1-3ml three times a day.
Marsh mallow is like a protective plaster for hot and inflamed tissue both inside and outside your body. It will start soothing from your mouth, all the way to your digestive tract and lungs.
You can use fresh or dried leaves drunk as a cold infusion (hot water will destroy their mucilage properties). Or use the fresh herb to make a tincture, or a syrup. Mallow in syrup form will also help you to relieve dry coughs and sore throats too. Take 2-4ml of tincture daily.
The syrup is also safe for children. Always check the dosage for all remedies before you start taking them.
I hope these give you some peace of mind for supporting your respiratory system & that these herbs for respiratory health cover any issues and symptoms you may come across through respiratory illness.