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Herbs for Respiratory Ease

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Herbs for the respiratory system:

  1. Aid the activity of the mucous membranes and ensure that gas exchange through these membranes can occur,
  2. Activate the secretions of the lung tissue so that the air is sufficiently moistened and the membranes protected,
  3. Augment neurological responses regulating the breath,
  4. Tone up the circulation and ensure that blood bathes the tissues properly,
  5. Stimulate the whole glandular and excretory processes to ensure a clean and harmonious inner environment.

Several herbal actions are of value to proper respiratory functioning.


These tonics specifically nourish and tonify the respiratory functions and processes. Pulmonary tonics work directly on the lungs and chest and are particularly effective in treating congestion. They assist in healthy regeneration. They have a general strengthening, toning and healing effect on the respiratory processes and functions. Tonics may be used over long periods of time to protect and buffer from stresses and give support for healthy and vital functioning.

Plantain - tonifies mucous membranes; reduces phlegm; soothes inflamed and painful mucous membranes; anti-catarrhal herb which decreases mucus by inhibiting fluid mucus secretion; may relieve wheezing and coughing, hayfever, asthma, allergies; a major cough remedy that reduces the urge to cough (English plantain or narrow leaf plantain may be more effective as a cough remedy than broad leaf plantain ); dissolves mucus; inhibits bacterial growth and inflammation; useful also as a demulcent and has antibiotic effects.

Chickweed - helps heal lungs of most any inflammation; moistens phlegm and aids in its expectoration; relieves sore throats; strengthens the tissue lining of the lungs; has a significant nutritive component and is of benefit in chronic deficiency conditions with exhaustion; gently dissolves thickened lung and throat membranes; emulsify and neutralizes toxins and weakens bacterial cell walls making them vulnerable to disruption.

Violet - useful for chest inflammation; excellent soothing expectorant for relieving harsh, irritating coughs and chest infections; reduces feverish colds and is a gargle for sore throats; decongests the lymph, loosens constraints; circulates the energy and generates strength; breaks up and removes respiratory congestion; reduces inflammation in the lungs and mouth; calms nervous coughs; clears lingering effects of coughs; nourishes and gently alters the functioning of nerves, lungs and immune system; good when mucus discharge is thick, yellow, sticky, and rattling; useful for inflamed throat and bronchial surfaces; good for conditions with difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.


These herbs facilitate the removal of mucus from the lungs and often they provide a tonic for the whole respiratory system. Expectorants encourage passage up the bronchial apparatus of phlegm and other material in the lungs. The mucociliary escalator that brings up bronchial secretions may be overloaded or impeded. Excessive mucous secretion (catarrh) leads to overloading of the mucociliary escalator with resulting congestion in the lungs (bronchitis, pneumonia). The removal of phlegm may be impeded because mucous secretion is checked and or thickened as part of an inflammatory, hypersensitivity or nervous reaction. This results in tight, dry, irritable conditions as is seen in nervous, irritable, dry or tickly coughs or asthma.

Stimulating expectorants- irritate the bronchioles, causing expulsion of material. Congestive or wet conditions call for stimulating expectorants that act to stimulate the activity in the mucociliary escalator and thus leads to a more productive cough. The fine hairs (cilia) of the ciliated epithelium push the mucous in waves up towards the outside.

Stimulating expectorants may also liquefy viscid sputum so that it can be cleared by coughing. Many of these have a vegetable gum that have the ability to loosen accumulation of phlegm which collects in the lungs, sinus cavities, and in the bronchial passages. Once loosened they are coughed up in a natural process.

Respiratory stimulants act on the nerves and muscles of the respiratory system. They encourage the loosening and subsequent expulsion of mucus. Stimulants in general cause the vital signs to quicken, raising pulse, respiration, and nerve alternates. They may raise the body temperature. They feel as if they produce energy, yet they only ease the flow.

Hyssop - prevents stagnation of bronchial secretions; has anti-viral activities; frees congestion due to an excess amount of mucous; useful for irritable coughs; a good stimulating decongestant for colds, flu, catarrh, sinus problems, coughs, bronchitis, asthma and pleurisy.

Horehound - a well known throat and lung remedy; works to treat coughs and croup and to expel phlegm from the respiratory bronchial system; affects the respiration directly by dilating vessels; used for acute and chronic congestive bronchial conditions especially with an unproductive cough.

Thyme - has a significant disinfectant and germicidal effect in conditions of the upper respiratory passages; helps dissolve and remove congestive obstructions; relieves spasms; makes an excellent remedy for coughs whether they are caused by nerves and anxiety or an infection such as bronchitis, pneumonia, pleurisy; has a relaxing effect on the bronchial tubes relieving asthma and whooping cough; its stimulating action increases the production of fluid mucus and helps liquefy phlegm; the ability to be both relaxing and stimulating as is needed makes it a particularly beneficial herb as a restorative for the lungs; particularly useful for dry, hacking coughs; given internally it is eliminated via the alveoli of the lungs and is concentrated at the site where its effect is required; its spasmolytic action on bronchiolar spasm is an important characteristic of thyme.


These herbs act by reflex to soothe bronchial spasms and loosen secretions. They are especially helpful with dry, irritated, coughs in hot conditions. The primary action of respiratory relaxants is to relax the tissue of the lungs, which will be most useful in any problem connected with tension and over-activity. The easing of tension promotes the flow of mucus and allows expectoration to occur. They soothe bronchial spasm and loosen thick mucus.

Coltsfoot - best standard remedy to have on hand; alleviates the urge to cough by coating and protecting inflamed bronchial mucous; dissolves and discharges phlegm; sedates the cough reflex and resolves wheezing; is useful with persistent coughs; it is the remedy of choice in chronic cases particularly with chronic emphysema and with persistent morning coughs; contains a bitter principle; ( Bitters are indicated in chronic catarrhal conditions with constantly recurring acute irritation, particularly with the elderly , in asthmatic conditions, and with those who have been exhausted by protracted cough. The bitter principle stimulates gastric secretions, as well as the autonomic nervous system and the vasomotor sphere. This tonic effect is very healing in chronic conditions.) Coltsfoot contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids and excessive, long-term use should be avoided. Those with liver weakness or conditions of the liver should avoid the use of Coltsfoot. In practical therapy the amount of pyrrolizidine found in dried plant is so small as to be disregarded.

Mullein - mucilage contents help heal and alleviate inflammations of the mucous membrane of the upper respiratory tract and inhibits the absorption of allergens through the membrane surfaces; contains saponines which dissolve phlegm and encourage expectoration; one of the best known cough herbs; used in the treatment of lung disease, coughs, consumption and hemorrhage of the respiratory organs; has sedative properties that quiet inflamed nerves, relieves pain, and is soothing to any inflammation; relieves spasms in the lungs; strengthens sinuses and allows for free breathing; not usually used for acute catarrhal conditions best for sub-acute states and chronic bronchitis where there is considerable irritation.

Most important cough remedies contain saponines although not all saponin containing plants are cough remedies. Plants containing volatile oils also act as expectorants. There are also a group of plants that act as expectorants but through a different mechanism. These plants have emetic properties that increase the secretion of gastric juices in the digestive tract. This stimulation of the gastric mucosa has a reflex effect on the bronchial mucosa, via the gastrobronchial vagus reflex leading to hyper-secretion of sputum. In this way a plant acting on the stomach has an effect on the lungs. Spices encourage expectoration by stimulating secretor activity in the salivary and gastric glands. By triggering a gastro-pulmonary vagal reflex this route acts on the bronchial glands. This results in increased production and liquefaction of bronchial secretions facilitating expectoration. Highly seasoned foods using pepper, curry, garlic are of benefit in chronic bronchitis while bland foods encourage it.


Demulcents are herbs rich in mucilage (a natural gum substance found in herbs which is soluble in water, creating a sticky goo which adheres to the skin, mucous membranes and connective tissue and is able to soothe and lubricate for a long time) to soothe and protect irritated or inflamed tissue. Demulcents relieve, lubricate and soften irritated or inflamed mucous membranes and reduce the spasms that cause coughing. They are very soothing. They contain a high amount of vegetable gum, which allows them to lubricate any surface that they come into contact with. Demulcents are useful for coughs with very acute catarrh with inflammation and irritation. Acute inflammatory conditions are best treated with mucilaginous agents that act as demulcents (soothing agents allaying inflammation). In acute inflammatory conditions expectorants are not as helpful. Expectorants work better in sub-acute states. In phases of acute irritability demulcents are more effective. Demulcents often have other complementary actions. For example, licorice reduces inflammation and spasms and expels phlegm as well as soothing the bronchials.

Marshmallow - has one of the highest mucilaginous contents; heals mucous membranes in the lungs; absorbs toxins; helpful for dry, irritating coughs.

Licorice - lubricates inflamed, ulcerated respiratory tissue; reduces inflammation, spasms and expels phlegm. ( Licorice is counterindicated for those with high blood pressure.)

Common Mallow - contains mucilage and malvin; can be used as a gargle and in compresses to reduce irritations in acute inflammatory conditions.

Plantain, mullein, Comfrey, violet, fenugreek and Coltsfoot are other good demulcents.


These herbs help the body to destroy or resist pathogenic microorganisms. They also serve the important function of helping the body strengthen its own resistance to ineffective organisms and resolve illness efficiently. Some contain chemicals that are antiseptic or specific poisons to certain organism. Most act to aid the body's own immune responses and functions. Many of these anti-microbials contain volatile oils that pass through the lungs and are exhaled. Steam inhalation of these herbs are effective against lung disease. Anti-microbials are used when there is the presence of green or yellow phlegm indicating the possibility of an infection.

Echinacea - an excellent immune tonic; increases T-lymphocyte activity; activates white blood cell response by stimulating production, speed of maturation and aggressiveness of white blood cells; also increases chemotaxis of the white blood cell helping them get to the area of stress faster; stimulates lymphatic drainage; stimulates monocytes to help prevent infection; stimulates macrophages to clear up debris; increases overall immune system alertness and activity; promotes lung defenses; prevents lung infection.

Lavender - volatile oils in lavender account for the major part of its medicinal action; its powerful antiseptic volatile oils are active against bacteria including diphtheria, typhoid, streptococcus and pneumococcus; it relieves colds, coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, sore throat, flu, tonsillitis, and laryngitis; its decongesting and expectorant action hasten the expulsion of phlegm from the chest, making it a useful remedy for asthma.

Rosemary - contains volatile oils which are antiseptic with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties which enhance the functions of the immune system; useful for relieving colds, sore throats, flu, coughs, and chest infections, wheezing, bronchitis, whooping cough, and excessive catarrh; the warming and stimulating effects of rosemary help clear phlegm from the head and chest; its relaxing effects help relieve spasm in the bronchial tubes in asthma.


These herbs soothe inflammations or directly reduce the inflammatory condition of the tissue. They work in a number of different ways. They can inhibit the inflammatory reaction directly or support and encourage the body's natural processes for reducing inflammation.

Pine - an excellent remedy for the lungs; liquefies and helps to expel bronchial phlegm and clears the head of congestion; its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action is recommended for colds, coughs, flu, sore throats bronchitis and pneumonia; helps to relieve asthma and harsh, tight coughs.

Ginger - has a stimulating and expectorant action in the lungs; expelling and relieving catarrhal coughs and chest infections; acts as a tonic on the mucous membranes; has an inhibitory effect that blocks the release of important inflammatory mediators thus interfering with the formation of a whole range of inflammatory prostaglandins that lead to imbalance inflammation in the body; it does not interfere with the enhancement of the formation of the body's own natural anti-inflammatory substances.

Comfrey - has a significant anti-inflammatory action partly due to the presence of rosmarinic acid and other phenolic acids; a powerful healing agent in cases of bronchitis and irritable cough; soothes and reduces irritation while helping expectoration. Caution: Comfrey contains isolated pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can be toxic to the liver. It is unclear if they are toxic in the context of the whole plant, as they are present in minute amounts, often being completely absent from samples of dried aerial parts. The highest concentrations are in the root and is not recommended for internal use. The aerial parts (leaf and stalk) are considered safe. Those with liver weakness or disease should avoid the use of Comfrey


Antispasmodics ease muscle cramps in general and prevent and ease spasms.

Chamomile - has a marvelous ability to relax smooth muscles throughout the body; its relaxant effect on the bronchial tubes helps to reduce bronchi-constriction in asthma; its relaxing and balancing effect helps to deal with emotional problems underlying many allergies; it is a natural antihistamine and has an antiallergic effect by reducing the body's response to allergens and by reducing the severe allergic response.

Lobelia - a powerful antispasmodic which stops spasms of the respiratory system; alleviates irritability of the pulmonary nervous system; one of its compounds, lobelia has been shown to stimulate the respiratory center within the brain stem, producing stronger and deeper breathing; it relaxes the muscles of the smaller bronchial tubes opening the airways thus stimulating breathing and promoting the coughing up of phlegm; useful for asthma, especially bronchial asthma, and chronic bronchitis.

Wild Cherry - calms the respiratory nerves and allays cough and asthma; useful for all catarrhal conditions, especially those with hardened accumulation of mucus; relieves harsh spasmodic coughing, wheezing and throat dryness; ideal for treating the lungs as it regenerates lost vitality, strengthens the lungs, clears toxins, and speeds recovery.


These help the body to remove excess catarrhal buildups, whether in the sinus area or in other parts of the body.

Fenugreek - softens and dissolves hardened masses of accumulated mucus; loosens and expels mucus accumulated in the bronchial tubes and helpful in treating lung infections; helps to promote healthy lung function by promoting free flowing blood circulation and proper lymphatic drainage. (Caution: Do not use during pregnancy as it may stimulate contractions.)

Elder - tones the mucous linings of the nose and throat increasing their resistance to infection; useful for chronic congestion, allergies, ear infections; can reduce the severity of hay fever if taken for several months; makes a good remedy for the onset of upper respiratory infections including colds, tonsillitis, laryngitis and flu; cleanses the system by elimination of toxins; its decongestant action helps reduce and remove phlegm and relieves bronchial congestion in chest infections and asthma; as it relieves catarrh its relaxing effect calms bronch-spasms.

Red Clover - contains one of the best mucus clearing agents; often used for bronchitis and can be taken to help cleanse and soothe bronchial nerves; its antispasmodic qualities make it a useful remedy for whooping cough, and spasmodic coughs.


The self-regulatory mechanisms of the body are strengthened and fostered when taking herbs. Herbs in general do not undermine the body's own processes and functions in favor of a resolution of a purely symptomatic nature. Herbs work to induce the support of the body's own natural mechanisms to counteract and resolve the problem.

When needed and appropriate heavy duty chemicals make it possible to achieve local and immediate results. In the long term, however, over-reliance on drugs and antibiotics can weaken the body's own natural defense mechanisms causing them to be curtailed and ultimately breakdown after being bombarded time and time again with isolated chemical agents.

After a round of medications and antibiotics the person is left with depleted resources a weakened system and depleted bacterial flora. They must deal with the job of ridding themselves of many unwanted toxins and chemical residues and the rebuilding of weakened systems. Using herbs strengthens the entire organism and works without leaving any residue of unwanted chemicals or lingering side effects. In working with herbs you normally bring yourself into close relationship with your body and work creatively with your own natural healing forces to bring health and well-being.

All of the above mentioned herbal products are available from Evenstar Herbs.  Find what you need in our Evenstar Herbal Products Catalog. We have a special section of Herbal products for colds and flu.  

Related Information:

Custom Blended Herbal Formula

Herbal products for colds and flu.  

Fall Seasonal Wellness Program

All About Colds

Beat the Cold and Flu Blues

© Copyright 1997 - 2008 by Mary Ann Copson and Evenstar. All rights reserved.

About the Author:
Mary Ann Copson is the founder of the Evenstar Mood & Energy Wellness Center for Women. With Master's Degrees in Human Development and Psychology and Counseling, Mary Ann is a Certified Licensed Nutritionist; Certified Holistic Health Practitioner; Brain Chemistry Profile Clinician; and a Health, Wellness and Lifestyle Coach. Reconnect to your physical, emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual natural rhythms at

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