Breathing Better With Herbs

We share the air we breathe with all other creatures and every breath we take is a confirmation of the essential unity and interconnectedness of life. Air is a universal gift for which we neither have to forage nor to till.

Our respiratory system, through millions of years of evolution, is perfectly designed to extract this oxygen from air. While we can go without food for many days and without water for just a few, without oxygen we perish within minutes, because the body does not store oxegen. Our cells need a constant supply, to burn carbohydrates and provide the energy for life.


Expectorants help expel excess mucus from the lungs, and in some cases acts as a tonic for the entire respiratory system. Stimulating expectorants, such as elcampane, blood root, and white horehound, irrate the lining of the bronchial, so that phlegm is coughed up. Relaxing expectorants, such as colts-foot and comfrey soothe bronchial spasms and loosen thick mucus secretions.


A demulcent contains a gummy substance known as mucilage that soothes irratated and sore bronchial and so reduces the spasms that cause coughing.

COLTSFOOT CONSTITUENTS: Mucilage, alkaliod, saponin, tannin, zinc, potassium, calcium.

Coltsfoot combines an effective expectorant action with the soothing and healing qualities of the mucilage it contains. It is good for most respiratory problems as well as colds.

WILD CHERRY CONSTITUENTS: Cyanogenic glycosides (an antitussive, which is a term that means; to suppress a cough), pronase, coumarin, volatile oil, tannin, resin

Once injested, the cyanogenic glycosides from wild cherry bark are hydrolyzed to glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrocyanic acid, otherwise known as prussic acid. Prussic acid is excreted rapidly, largely via the lungs where it at first increases respiration and then sedates the sensory nerves which provoke the cough reflex (an antitussive effect)>

COMFREY CONSTITUENTS: Mucilage, allantoin (up to 0.8%), tannin, resin, essential oil, pyrrolzine alkaloids, gum, carotene, glycosides, sugars, beta-sitosterol (a steroidal saponin), titerpenoids, vitamin B12, protein, and Zinc.

Comfrey is one of the most famed healing plants. Its remarkable power to heal bone and tissue is due to its allantoin content, a cell proliferant that promotes growth of connective tissue, bone, and cartilage, and is easily absorbed. Comfrey is a useful remedy for bronchitis and other respiratory disorders.

The Common Cold

We all know from personal experience the symptoms of the common cold for which modern medicine has no definitive answer. Colds are caused by a virus (of wich there are quite a few) which repilcates inside of the host cell. Because of this, antibiotic drugs, which destroy "bacteria" outside of the cell, cannot touch a cold virus. People who suffer frequent colds have a lowered vitality and immune responce. The immune system stands guard and repels hostile bacteria and viruses. Herbs, however, concentrate on treating the person rather than the disease and so can provide effective treatment for colds.

Treatment Modalities:
Rest (bed rest is best)
Drink large amounts of fluids (water is the most effective expectorant
and mucous thinner God ever created)
Limit simple sugar consumption to less than 50 grams a day (one of the
byproducts of sugar digestion is carbon dioxide, excess of which needs
to be removed by the lungs, sugar also increases mucous)
Increase beta-carotene consumption
At the first signs of a cold, increase zinc intake (research indicates that consumption of 15-25mg of zinc for more than a week may actually surpress the immune system!).

GARLIC...And the drawbacks of garlic. When the sulfoxidation-detoxification pathway of the liver (see "Need For Detoxification", at this site) isn't working well, people become sensitive to sulfur-containing drugs and foods (such as garlic).
In general, if you have adverse reactions to sulfite food additives, such as found in commercial potato salad or prepared salads at a restaurant, have asthma reactions after eating at a restaurant, garlic makes you sick, or eating asparagus results in a strong urine odor, you may have a sulfoxidation-detox problem.

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower): Echinacea has a deserved reputation for enhancing the immune system. Research shows that it stimulates the production of white blood cells, which fight infection, and the polysaccharide found in it has anti-viral activity.

This was one of the common North American Indian remedies quickly adopted by white settlers in America. Boneset in a hot tea is an excellent remedy for viral colds. Research indicates that Boneset promotes a therapeutic sweat in fevers. A tincture also shows anti-inflammatory effects.


Sinusitis is the inflamation of the four air-containing cavities in the skull. It can occur in an acute or chronic form.

Acute sinusitis frequently develops as a result of a common cold, particularly a viral respiratory infection. Nasal congestion caused by inflamation, edema, and transudation of fluid, leads to obstruction of the cavities. This provides an excellsnt medium for bacterial growth. Which leads to bacterial sinusitis. An underlying dental infection is the causative factor in about one-quarter of the times when sinusitis effects primarily the maxillary sinusis. In chronic cases, low immune functions as well as hay fever (allergic rhinitis, covered in next piece) and food allergies are often important factors.

An intresting study af asthma and eczema patients who also had symptoms of peptic ulcer and the pressence of Helicobacter pylori; the bacteria linked to ulcers, with elimination of H. pylori (with antibiotics) resolved allergy symptoms, including chronic sinusitis, in a significant number of these patients. If you have chronic sinusitis, perhaps asking your physician for a H. pylori screening may be in order.

Herbal management begins with diet. Avoid foods that contribute to mucous production, such as refined carbohydrates (sugar) and any dairy products.

The direct herbal treatment approach makes use of herbs which specifically treat the upper respiratory system. There are broadly speaking four kinds.

Herbs like mint, eucalyptus, thyme, pine, hyssop, lavender and rosemary, are all rich in volitile oils, which have an ascending nature. These herbs are ideal for treating problems in the upper part of the body. The oils are antibiotic, checking infecting organims and loosening sticky mucous, thus opening up the nasal passages.

A second class of herbs, are the astringent plants, that are useful for treating sinusitis. Plants like agrimony, golden rod, bayberry bark, eyebright, ground ivy, and elder flowers contain tannins which tone the mucous membranes and dry up excess mucous secretions.

Antibiotic herbs like echinacea, wild indigo and garlic form a third category. These help clear upper respiratory infections via their antibiotic properties.

The last class of herbs comprises soothing demulcents, like marshmallow and mullein which releive irritation of the mucous membranes.

For sinusitis or a cold try one part of each; echinacea, golden rod, hyssop, elder flower, eyebright, and peppermint. If nasal discharge is clear, add ginger to the brew.

Hay Fever And Allergic Rhinitis

Both are generally triggered by grass or tree pollens. Allergies to animal furs or house dust occur throughout the year.

A healthy system copes with allergens, but if there is tension, infection, or fatigue, the arrival of an allergen tips the balance and an allergic response occurs in the form of hay fever, skin rashes, or gastric upsets. Herbal remedies can strengthen the respiratory and immune systems so that the allergen does not cause the characteristic response.

Eyebright; decreases nasal secretions and soothes mucous membranes and conjunctiva.

Ground Ivy is astringent and reduces phlegm, and is good for drying secretions and healing inflamations.

Ribwort Plantain is good for allergic rhinitis, toning mucous membranes and healing inflamations.

Common Food Allergies include cow's milk, wheat, and beef, and cause a wide range of symptoms. Candidiasis can be related to food intolerance. Allergy to salicylate (asprin) is common. Gluten intolerance can cause severe health problems.

Agrimony soothes gut irritation and inflamation, heals damaged mucous membranes.

Garlic is antifungal, useful for excess yeasts (candidiasis) in the gut, but supports recovery of good gut flora. However, liver disfunction can make garlic intolerable. (SEE DETOX, THIS SITE)

Pot Marigold (Flower of Calendula officinalis) is an antifungal useful for excess yeast in the gut.

Goldenseal is a good liver stimulant, that eases gastric sensitivity, is astringent and healing for mucous membranes.

Compiled By, Michael Hall, R.N.