Respiratory System

The respiratory system is a crucial part of any functioning living organism. It draws in and supplies the cells of our body with oxygen, while eliminating and discharging waste carbon dioxide from the blood, and includes the lungs, throat, larynx, trachea, pleural cavities, and nose. While there are many specific maladies of the lungs that can be addressed through the use of herbs, maintaining a healthy respiratory system is the best preventative and long term remedy for overall lung health. Some specific conditions, and the herbs most useful for them, are listed below.

Useful Herbs for the Respiratory System
Angelica, Cayenne, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Echinacea, Elecampane, Ephedra, Eucalyptus, Fennel, Fenugreek, Garlic, Ginger, Horehound, Hyssop, Licorice, Lobelia, Marshmallow, Mullein, Myrrh, Pleurisy, Red Clover, Sage, Slippery Elm, Yerba Santa

Antiasthmatics: Used to Relieve Asthma
Agrimony, Coltsfoot, Elecampane, Cayenne, Comfrey, Eucalyptus

Anticattarrhals: Used to expell excessive mucus
Lobelia, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Goldenseal, Cayenne

Astringents: Used to firm, dry, and tone mucus linings
Witch Hazel, White Oak, Raspberry Leaf, Elecampane

Antiseptics: Useful for lung infections
Goldenseal, Chaparral, Elecampane, Echinacea, Pleurisy

Antispasmodics: Useful for coughing and sneezing fits
Lobelia, Cayenne, Valerian

Demulcents: Soothing, nutritious, gentle mucilaginous healers
Slippery Elm, Psyllium Seed, Irish Moss, Licorice Root, Flax Seed, Comfrey Root and Leaf, Marshmallow Root and Leaf

Expectorants: Expell mucus, tone, dry and tighten, while soothing and healing
Elecampane, Lobelia, Ephedra, Pleurisy, Coltsfoot, Mullein

Pectorals: Used to heal and tone the respiratory system
Comfrey, Coltsfoot, Licorice, Mullein

Rubifacients: Applied locally to stimulate blood flow
Mustard, Ginger, Cayenne



I grew up with an inhaler in my pocket all the time. I was that wheezy little kid, prone to asthma attacks and nosebleeds. I remember having crucial exercise induce asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, and being generally unable to breathe. I’ve since outgrown this bronchial mess, but still have cold-induced asthma. I can’t even run two blocks in the cold without my lungs closing up, and during cold and flu season, my lungs are the first to get hit. A few things, such as swimming every day from ages 8-18, really helped tone my lungs. In my adult life, herbs, tonics, yoga, and other treatments have really helped me out and greatly reduced the severity of asthma attacks and lung infections. Here are some basic guidelines for those of your with chronic lung conditions that have helped improve my wheeze over the years.

1. Take some time during the day for breathing exercises, even if it is only five minutes. Pranayama breathing is especially helpful, especially exercises such as nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, close your eyes and mentally acknowledge that you are giving yourself a few minutes for your breath. Begin by making a gun shape with your thumb and forefinger. Press the thumb to one nostril, inhaling through the other. Count, and choose an amount that feels comfortable to you, which is often 4 or 5 counts. When you reach your count, close both nostrils with both your finger and thumb, and hold your breath for the same count. When your count is reached again, release the thumb and breathe out through that nostril. At the bottom of the breath, close your nostrils again and hold your breath again for the same count. Release your thumb again, inhaling through the same nostril you just exhaled from, always maintaining the same count. At the top, hold, then release through the opposite side. Hold, and then inhale through the same side. Try to do ten cycles.

2. Seek out fresh air as much as possible – hiking and camping trips are great because you get the fresh air overnight. Beaches, waterfalls, high mountains, and rivers are areas where the air is charged and are highly beneficial to the health of the lungs.

3. Get regular cardio vascular exercise that makes you breathe vigorously. Swimming laps is especially helpful, as it is a sport that is easy on your joints and helps your practice rhythmic breathing exercises at the same time. Yoga is another great activity because the postures are guided by breath, promoting awareness of the lungs.

4. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep or get yourself to a healthy size for your body frame, avoiding mucus-forming foods such as dairy and refined sugar. Some foods that are alkalizing and warming (in the Traditional Chinese Medicine sense, not necessarily warm) are good for the respiratory system, such as almonds, walnuts, turmeric, pine nuts, seeds, grains, fish, non-sweet citrus, dark leafy greens, beans, clove, cayenne, and sweet potato.

5. Take alkalizing respiratory tonic herbs, such as licorice root, comfrey, coltsfoot, mullein, lobelia, eucalyptus, goldenseal, cayenne, and ginger.

6. Take time for regular steams, whether it is some essential oils or fresh herbs in a hot shower, saunas, or hot compresses. This will help break up mucus and revitalize the respiratory system.

7. Don’t smoke. Smoking is for teenagers, ya weenie.

During a respiratory infection or other lung related congestion, some useful things can be to use mustard, horseradish, and ginger packs on the chest area, honey sinus masks (done by rubbing honey over the nose and nostrils), supplement with goldenseal, vitamin A, and vitamin C, eat simple, warming, and nourishing foods, take herbal steams, and drink lots hot ginger lemon tea.


Tea is a always a good way to take care of the respiratory system, as the heat from the drink tends to loosen mucus and sooth inflammations, as well as being generally calming and delicious. I love the good ol’ faithful tea of lemon, honey, ginger, and cayenne, but here here are some other good tea recipes from Rosemary Gladstar for lung health!

A General Tonic:
2 parts red clover
2 parts comfrey leaf
1 part marshmallow root
1 part coltsfoot
1 part cinnamon
1 part mullein
2 parts peppermint
1/4 part orange peel

Decongestant Tea:
1 part comfrey leaf
1 part mullein
2 parts peppermint
1 parts coltsfoot
1 part eucalptus
1/4 part lobelia
1/4 part ginger
pinch of cayenne

Sore Throat Gargle:
1 cup of sage tea
1 tbsp sea salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
a pinch of cayenne
gargled every 1/2 an hour, followed by tea

Ginger Garlic Tonic Syrup:
-Fresh garlic and ginger, juiced in a juicer, 1-2 cups of each
-Add to a sauce pan, heat on low with just enough honey to thicken, about 1/4 cup
-Add a pinch of cayenne
-Pour into a glass jar, and store somewhere dark for 2 and a half weeks. Or, bury it your yard.
-Dig up, and use liberally to remedy hay fever, asthma, sinus congestion, respiratory infections, and poor circulation.

Last but not least, Fire Cider!
-Fill a jar with chopped garlic, ginger, hot peppers, turmeric, lemon, rosemary, and other herbs
-Now fill the jar with apple cider vinegar and a spoonful of raw honey
-Seal, label, and store somewhere dark for a month, turning occasionally
-Take once a day, either straight or diluted with water, for health and vigor. This beneficial tonic of apple cider vinegar and herbs will whip your lungs into shape in no time!

There are many other great tea blends and remedies out there useful for the lungs. The best way is to experiment with herbs to discover the flavors and remedies that suit you best.

Internet, what are some of your favorite respiratory health teas and remedies?