Your respiratory system is always operating. It is the vehicle for oxygen to enter your body all day, every day. This is why it’s important to utilize the best herbs for lung health.
Unfortunately, the respiratory system is also the point of entry for pollutants, including:
- harmful organisms
- other noxious substances.
Prolonged exposure to these impurities can have a detrimental impact on your health.
Fortunately, nature has provided a range of natural herbs and botanicals that support and nourish the respiratory system.
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How Do Herbs Benefit the Respiratory System?
Herbs can work to support the respiratory system via a variety of different mechanisms.
Below are the primary ways that herbs benefit the lungs and respiratory system.
- Expectorants – these types of herbs work to break up excess mucus in the lung tissues. Stimulating expectorants increase mucus creation, which is then coughed out of the lungs. Warming expectorants work as a mucolytic to thin mucus, which makes it easier to cough up
- Respiratory Demulcents – these herbs contain mucilage which has a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect on the lungs and respiratory system.
- Antitussives – these types of herbs helps to reduce coughing.
- Respiratory Spasmolytics – herbs that work to relax the muscles in the airways. This can be helpful for those that have reflexive, non-productive dry coughs.
- Antiallergic – this category of herbs helps to reduce allergic sensitivities, especially for those struggling with seasonal allergies or hay fever.
We’ll list the best-in-class herbs for each of these actions below.
The Best Herbs for Lung & Respiratory Health
Below are the best herbs for lung health.
Horehound, or white horehound, is a bitter-tasting plant that provides a variety of benefits for respiratory health.
The leaves and flowering tops of horehound are used to flavor beverages and candies. Horehound has also been used medicinally in the form of teas, syrups, and lozenges.
Horehound has a long history of use for respiratory health, especially for helping to relax the bronchioles and remove phlegm.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) notes horehound is appropriate for use as an expectorant (a medicine to help bring up phlegm) in patients with coughs associated with a cold.
Germany’s Commission E (a scientific advisory board) has also approved horehound for the treatment of bronchial problems.
Summary:Horehound has a long history of use for supporting lung and respiratory health complaints. Human clinical trials are needed to identify the efficacy horehound and its mechanism(s) of action.
2. Osha Root
Osha root is a root that’s found growing at elevation in the Rocky Mountains. It’s commonly used as a traditional medicine in both the US and Mexico.
It’s commonly known as osha, porter’s licorice, and bear root.
Osha root has been used traditionally to treat various respiratory ailments, including:
- mucus buildup
- colds & flu
- bronchial pneumonia
- and other respiratory problems.
No clinical trials have been conducted on Osha root, however, it has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that may help to reduce inflammation and protect the lungs from viruses and infections.
It is also believed that osha root may be able to help increase blood circulation to the lungs which, in turn, may help to improve oxygenation throughout the entire body
Summary:While no human clinical trials have taken place looking at the benefits of Osha Root for respiratory health, traditional usage and laboratory findings show promise for respiratory health.
Pleurisy is a plant with a bright orange flower that can be found growing in meadows throughout the American midwest region.
Clinical herbalists commonly use Pleurisy root for the treatment of bronchitis, influenza, and other respiratory conditions. Pleurisy is often utilized for these conditions because it’s seen as a powerful lung decongestant.
Among herbalists, pleurisy root has a deservedly good reputation in treating respiratory diseases. It acts upon the mucous membrane of the pulmonary tract and works to increase sweating and overall expectoration.
Summary:While no clinical trials have been conducted on Pleurisy root, traditional usage notes that this herb has a strong decongestant effect by removing excess mucous and relaxing the lung tissues.
4. Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is an anti-allergenic herb. Research shows that stinging nettle may have the ability to reduce symptoms caused by seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an atopic disease that presents itself when sensitive individuals are exposed to allergens, such as tree pollen or pet dander.
Typical allergy symptoms include:
- watery eyes
- nasal congestion
- clear, runny nasal mucus
A human clinical trial with 98 participants showed that stinging nettle was rated as being more effective than placebo in treating allergy symptoms.
Another clinical trial showed that stinging nettle root helped to reduce nasal smear eosinophil count (a marker used in diagnosing allergic rhinitis).
Summary:Stinging nettle appears to be a promising herbal remedy for seasonal allergies. However, longterm human clinical trials are needed to ensure the efficacy of nettles for allergies.
Elecampane has been traditionally used to support lung and respiratory function. It’s said to help the respiratory system by working to expel phlegm from the lungs.
A clinical trial involving 106 children with acute cough was conducted to test the effectiveness of a herbal cough syrup containing various botanicals, including:
- Inula helenium (i.e. elecampane)
- Malva sylvestris (i.e. common mallow)
- Plantago major extract (i.e. plantain)
- Helichrysum stoechas (i.e. everlasting flower)
Over the course of 8 days, the study found that the group that was given the cough syrup had a significant reduction in overall cough scores.
Additionally, a lab-based study found that elecampane (as well as Grindelia squarrosa) worked to reduce inflammation within cultured human respiratory epithelium cells. The researchers stated that their observations in this study justify the traditional use of these herbs for the treatment of inflammation-based diseases in the respiratory tract.
A clinically approved extract of Elecampane root (standardized for sesquiterpene lactones) is marketed in Russia under the name “Alanton”. It is used in the treatment of acute and chronic infectious and inflammatory diseases of the respiratory system, especially those accompanied by a persistent cough with thick viscous mucus.
Also, Isoalantolactone, a phytochemical found in elecampane, has been found in lab studies to help reduce inflammation in cases of lung injury.
Summary:Elecampane appears to be able to expel mucus from the respiratory system, while also having an anti-inflammatory effect within the lungs. While these initial findings are promising, full-scale human clinical trials are needed to verify these results.
Mullein is a popular herb for respiratory health. It has a long history of use by herbalists for reducing inflammation and stimulating expectoration.
Commission E, a health advisory board in Germany, approved mullein flowers as an expectorant for helping to clear the respiratory tract.
Lab research shows that mullein contains a variety of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, including:
- and quercetin
These anti-inflammatory compounds are believed to decrease inflammation in the lungs. However, clinical trials are required to assess these assertions.
Mullein also has antioxidant properties that may contribute to its capacity to aid respiratory and lung function.
Additionally, mullein has a soothing effect on the respiratory tissues due to its mucilage content.
Summary:Mullein appears to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may help to explain its ability to promote respiratory health. Human clinical trials are required to determine the effectiveness of mullein for respiratory health.
In traditional herbalism, eyebright has been used to fight respiratory conditions.
The European Medicines Agency suggests the herb eyebright “for [the] symptomatic treatment of cold[s].”
The American Botanical Council recommends eyebright for “conditions such as fever, cough, sore throat, and earache.”
Herbalist David Hoffmann states that the herb eyebright “is an excellent remedy for mucous membrane problems…such as rhinitis (common cold), sinusitis (sinus infection), hay fever (seasonal allergies), acute coryza (common cold), irritable sneezing, and lachrymation (excessive tearing)”.
In Planting the Future, Rosemary Gladstar mentions that eyebright is “useful for a wet cough and hoarseness; for earache and headache associated with a cold; [and] for congestion of the frontal sinus….”
Herbalist Maude Grieve says that eyebright “acts specifically on the mucous lining of the eyes and nose and the upper part of the throat to the top of the windpipe, causing…a profuse secretion from these parts.” This suggests that this herb clears our mucous congestion from these respiratory areas.
Summary:Many traditional herbalists write that eyebright is a beneficial herb for treating respiratory conditions, however, clinical research is needed for confirmation.
The herbs on this list of the best herbs for lung health are well-documented and they appear to be a safe alternative for those who suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis, or other lung diseases.
Traditional usage shows effectiveness, and new clinical research is coming out proving the benefits.
If you’ve been looking to add some more natural herbs into your diet that can help with breathing problems, consider trying these herbs!
As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press.