Feeling Under the Weather? Try some of these herbs to ease your discomfort
The number one thought on everyone's mind right now is to stay vigilant, stay healthy, and stay calm. As we band together to collectively assess our home resources and best ways to take care of ourselves and others, there is still plenty of time to gather up on some items that could help ease symptoms should you get sick.
In an attempt to illuminate all the different ways to support a respiratory infection, I've outlined a few herbs that you can reach for, wild harvest (especially mushrooms right now), or even start to sprout seed to grow at home to have on hand this coming spring. These herbal suggestions are a short list with the intention for you to inform yourself of which might be the best choice for you, which herbs you may already have growing around you, and also, to demonstrate there are multiple options. I feel this is important during a time where some may lean towards a "stockpiling" mentality.
The beauty with natural remedies is that there is no one "best" herb for health. This distributed approach to herbal and natural health is inherently protected from the phenomenon of running out of stock or being left without resources during times of need. If it is the case that your first choice of herb is currently running low, take comfort in knowing there are other effective options at your disposal!
Below you will find a list of immune boosting herbal options, herbs to help dry out sinuses and excess mucous, herbs to relieve coughs, and herbs to help you produce a more productive cough should you have deep congestion in your lungs.
These are all herbs that I have found very useful throughout my years of herbal experience and wanted to share this for your education and reference. That being said I am not providing specific medical advice and you should always consult with your doctor or naturopath before starting any new herbal regimen, so find an option that would work for you. Also, we do not sell any of these, just trying to share my knowledge in these stressful times.
Potential Prevention and Immune Tonics
1. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): part used: root
Used traditionally for centuries in Chinese Medicine, Astragalus is a renowned adaptogen and immune tonic herb. It has the ability to regulate immune cell function through white blood cell activity and stimulates Natural Killer Cell activity and production as a means to bolster your body's front line protection against pathogens. It demonstrates the ability to increase interferon production which is used by the body as an anti-viral and immune activating agent.
2. Red Root (Ceanothus americanus): part used: root
An amazing lymphatic system and immune system building herb. Best known as a high activity lymph mover (when compared to more gentle lymph cleansers like Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Red Root can increase the flow of lymph throughout your entire system, encourages drainage, and works to tone and tighten (astringe in herbal language) your lymph system. It is considered wonderful for edema or respiratory ailments. Can be used as a gargle for sore throats to discourage lymph node enlargement.
3. Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus): part used: fruiting body
Traditionally used in Russia and Eastern Europe to treat a number of viral conditions, has been shown to disrupt some viral assembly and replication, along with viral fusion to cellular membranes.
4. Garlic (Allium sativum): part used: clove
A noted immune tonic, antibacterial, and antiviral herb that prevents attachment of viruses. The volatile oils of garlic are secreted through the lungs making it a valuable herb for respiratory infections.
5. Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum, Ganoderma tsugae): part used: fruiting body
Also used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Reishi mushroom is exalted as the 'mushroom of immortality.' It has been known to be taken daily for elderly, those who have weak lungs or immune system function.
6. Schisandra (Scisandra chinensis): part used: berry
Schisandra has been used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a lung tonic and immune booster. It has been used to treat any lung deficiency where you can't get a full deep breath in, this asthma, COPD, or cold/flu. It is said to be able to make lung qi come back instantly when the system is deeply depleted. Best taken before the onset of symptoms as a daily tonic.
7. Turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor): part used: fruiting body
Turkey tail holds significant antiviral and immune boosting properties in its active constituents. In Chinese Medicine it is used for those who experience general immune weakness or frequent respiratory infections. This is just the tip of the iceberg for this super common woodland mushroom as its list of uses could fill a book, teaching us to not underestimate the old addage, "sometimes the best herb is the one in your backyard."
Respiratory Support & Comfort:
Decongestants: Help dry up the Sinuses and Respiratory Tract
1. Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica): part used: root
Yerba mansa is a useful for infections of the sinuses and lungs, especially when bacterial in nature. Its use has been used to reduce excessive respiratory secretions and expel stagnant mucus. This herb also acts as an anti-inflammatory and decongestant due to prolonged infection - this often happens following an infection that continues more than five to seven days. Yerba Mansa helps to tighten respiratory tract tissues and improves fluid transport. It is effective in healing lingering infections of the mouth, gums, throat, lung, as well as the stomach, duodenum, and urinary tract. Yerba Mansa can prevent scar tissue that results from recurring infections. A gargle of the tea is beneficial for bleeding gums, sore throat, or mouth ulcers. A seriously great decongestant - back off if you find it actually too drying for you.
2. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana): part used: root, freshly grated
Toeing the line between food and medicine, Horseradish is potent in relieving stuffed sinuses. The heat of horseradish thins stagnant mucous, making it easier to clear. It can also be used to resolve a persistent cough at the end of a bronchial infection when phlegm gets stuck in the lungs.
3. Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californica): part used: leaf
Yerba santa is a leading treatment for all sorts of respiratory ailments, especially those chronic in nature. It is an expectorant and decongestant used for excess secretions in the sinuses and lungs. In addition to drying up the membranes, it helps to thin and expel mucus. Similar to Yerba Mansa, it can also be too drying - if so, decrease or back off use.
Demulcents: To help Moisten Dry Irritated Mucosa
1. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): part used: root
Licorice root was used traditionally in Western Herbalism and Traditional Chinese Medicine to be demulcent and nutritive, acting upon mucous membranes to decrease irritation. It was considered useful in coughs. Licorice is an effective expectorant, as it helps to liquefy mucus. Licorice is employed principally for irritation of the respiratory mucosa.
2. Marshmallow (Althea officinalis): part used: leaf
Marshmallow is well known for it moistening properties and slippery nature. This smooth, slippery substance is one of the most effective and safest herbal demulcents used to soothe and protect irritated mucous membranes. It has been used to treat acute and chronic respiratory irritation and can be used to change an unproductive cough to a productive one. It will relieve a spasmotic, non-productive cough, but not as much as say, Wild Cherry.
3. Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva): part used: inner bark
Slippery elm, like most demulcents, is its most effective when decocted as a tea. It is soothing to irritated sore throats, dry coughs, and most conditions that result in dryness of the throat and lungs.
Antitussives: Herbs to help Control Coughing
1. Thyme (Thyumus vulgaris): part used: leaf
Thyme is one of the oldest most common respiratory antiviral and anti-tussive herbs used in Western Herbalism. It has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and can be used in treating an incredible variety of conditions of the respiratory system - including colds, flu, bronchitis, asthma, sinus infections, and whooping cough. Thyme also has antitussive and some expectorant actions, which can be helpful for dry, unproductive coughs.
2. Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina): part used: bark
Wild cherry is a classic Western Herbalism respiratory sedative and antitussive herb. A syrup or cold infusion/tea of wild cherry can be very helpful for individuals who breathe shallowly as a result of asthma or a bronchial infection. It helps to relax and strengthen the respiratory system in cases of infection.
Expectorants: Herbs to help Loosen Phlegm, Allowing you to Clear your Lungs
1. Mullein (Verbascum thapsus): part used: leaf
Known to be a respiratory specific anti-inflammatory, expectorant, Mullein is a useful remedy for dry, irritated lung conditions or a dry, raspy throat. The leaf is an expectorant and a slight demulcent (or moistening herb) that encourages secretions in dry mucosa.
2. Osha (Ligusticum porteri): part used: root
A powerful respiratory antiviral, antibacterial, expectorant. Osha can be highly effective in treating acute viral infections. The root soothes and anesthetizes sore throats and bronchial inflammations. It is an expectorant which encourages the clearing of mucus, especially when it feels 'stuck' which is appropriate for dry, hacking coughs. It also has the ability to increase oxygenation in the lungs.
3. Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis): part used: leaf
Hyssop is an expectorant herb for a wide variety of lung ailments and respiratory conditions associated with coughs and colds. Extracts of hyssop have antiviral effects and can be beneficial in treating colds or flus.
4. Elecampane (Inula helenium): part used: leaf
Elecampane has been used as a respiratory tonic and to speed the recovery process for lingering lung infections. It is specific for respiratory conditions with excessivelower respiratory secretions, and for irritable coughs. Elecampane exerts a soothing expectorant action, but also acts as an astringent to reduce excess mucous.
Kimberly Jean, BSN, MA
Herbalist and Educator, Perfect Supplements
Kimberly holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing and a Master's of Arts in Education Research and Administration. She currently sits on the Editorial Review Board for the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild. Kimberly has studied directly under Alexis Durham lead herbalist at Herb Pharm, Sajah Popham of Organic Unity spagyrics, Pearl Sites and Tyler Wauters of Hawthorn Institute, amongst many others. Kim, in recent years, started and directed several large scale commercial herbal apothecaries for community retailers on both the West and East coast, with close working knowledge of over 300+ botanicals.
As always, the information in this section is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Herbs can have interactions with medications and other natural products. If you consider taking an herb, I encourage you to read up on it before you begin consuming it, its extract, or essential oil. In addition if you are pregnant or nursing, you have to be very careful as to which herbs you can safely take. As an herbalist, I am sharing this information as a starting point, if you do decide to take action, please consult with a qualified healthcare professional who is familiar with your unique and specific situation.