Many of us love the changing of the seasons, and we can’t wait to get outside when the temperatures start to warm up. But it’s during seasonal changes that we are especially vulnerable to respiratory infections. Here are just a few herbs that can help. These herbs can lessen our respiratory suffering when we’re sick and increase healthy lung function when we’re not.
Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara
Coltsfoot is a soothing expectorant that helps to calm coughs. Coltsfoot’s name Tussilago refers to its action as an anti-tussive, or anti-cough, medicine. Think Robitussin! Coltsfoot leaves also contain high levels of zinc, making Coltsfoot extra helpful for recovering from respiratory infections.
Coltsfoot is both an anti-spasmodic and an anti-inflammatory. It is often used from conditions as far ranging as acute bronchitis to chronic asthma. Many herbalists find that Coltsfoot leaves are some of the most soothing for inflamed respiratory tissue.
Coltsfoot grows close to the ground and can be identified by its wide, hoof-shaped leaves (hence the name Coltsfoot). The leaves and bright yellow flowers are harvested and dried.
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Hyssop has long been used as a general tonic for the respiratory system. It is especially helpful as an expectorant and a diaphoretic (helping to break fevers), and is extremely effective medicine in cases of the common cold. Hyssop is commonly used in cases of bronchitis and for clearing chronic mucous in the lungs. Many herbalists combine Hyssop with Horehound for colds and respiratory infections.
Like most mints, Hyssop is full of essential oils. These essential oils give Hyssop its anti-microbial quality, and they also help clear the lungs and stimulate healthy lung function.
Hyssop is a perennial member of the mint family, and it grows very easily. It produces beautiful aromatic spikes of deep blue, pink, red, or white flowers. The leaves and flowers can be harvested, dried, and stored for making medicinal teas.
Mullein Verbascum thapsus
Mullein reduces inflammation in the respiratory system. It encourages expectoration (coughing up mucous), and it moisturizes the mucous membranes in the lungs, helping us breathe easier. Mullein is a great herb to know for the lungs. Particularly because once you know what it looks like, you’ll be seeing it everywhere and can harvest it yourself.
Mullein soothes inflammation, toning and moisturizing the respiratory tissues. It is specifically recommended for bronchitis and for dry, painful, unproductive coughing.
You can identify mullein by its fuzzy, light green leaves. It sends up tall spikes of yellow flowers that can reach heights in excess of 6 feet. The leaves may be collected for tea, and the flowers can be infused in oil to make a remedy for earache and skin irritations.
Elecampane Inula helenium
Elecampane helps rid the lungs of excess mucous. It provides relief when the respiratory system is exhausted from coughing and infection. Elecampane is most commonly used in cases of emphysema and bronchitis when the lungs are struggling with mucous.
Elecampane has a high essential oil content and therefore has a strong anti-bacterial effect. It soothes and heals damaged respiratory tissue and stimulates the respiratory system toward normal, healthy function.
Elecampane is a perennial herb that is easy to grow in the DC area. It grows quite tall and produces lovely sunflower-like yellow flowers. The rhizome is used medicinally and can be broken off by reaching just under the soil.