With the devastating cold and flu season on the horizon, I thought it would be helpful to share some herbs and tips about how to support our lungs during this time. Our Respiratory system is responsible for the amazing process of BREATHING, through which our bodies take in oxygen to feed our cells and our blood. It is through our breath that we see the obvious reciprocity that human beings have with the plant world. As plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, we turn oxygen into carbon dioxide. Not only do our lungs carry oxygen into our body, they also help us to filter out toxins. When there are more toxins in the air, there are herbs that can help the lungs with this process. Taking lung supportive herbs is also a way to show our bodies some loving care for the work they do everyday, and some extra support for the hard work they have been doing lately. Many herbs that support the lungs also help us to move and process grief, as the loss of our forests and families, and the increasing threats of climate change has certainly brought this up for us, some more deeply than others. (Remember that these are supportive practices, and first and foremost, we should avoid excessive exposure to toxic air quality, especially if we already have weakness in the lungs.)
Licorice: Licorice is an amazing herb with so many uses one could probably write an entire book about it, but for now we will stay focused on our respiratory system. Licorice has demulcent properties that soothe irritated tissues, and has an energizing quality that can help with some of the fatigue associated with smoky weather. The herb acts as a vasodilator to the blood vessels in the lungs, thus helping us breathe more deeply. It can also be useful for asthma or the inability to breathe deeply due to stress and tightening in the chest. Glycyrrhiza glabra adds a nice touch of sweetness to any tea blend, and acts as an activator and assimilator for other medicinal herbs in your blend. Michael Tierra writes, “It is good for dryness of the lungs, coughs and colds; it clears heat, detoxifies poisons, relieves abdominal pains and spasms, and counteracts sore throat.”
Marshmallow Root and Leaf: Marshmallow also acts as a demulcent, as well as an expectorant by helping the body to thin and expel excess mucus. A wonderful, soothing, vulnerary (wound healing), nutritive and anti-inflammatory herb that is also very useful in for digestive issues. Not to mention marshmallow is an adorable, soft, sweet and easy to grow flower that will brighten up your garden. Through the softness of marshmallow we are able to work through more harsh emotions such as anger, grief and fear.
Mullein: Mullein is the Queen of Lung Herbs (pictured above)! Her giant soft leaves act as a signifier for a plant that is associated with the lungs. The hairs on her leaves mirror the cilia that cover our lungs. Mullein is commonly used in smoking blends, but can also be used in tea or tincture. Mullein is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nutritive, and healing for the lungs. David Hoffman says “It is an ideal remedy for toning the mucous membranes of the respiratory system, reducing stimulation whilst stimulating fluid production and thus facilitating expectoration.” Mullein aids us in taking a deep breath of new life into our lungs after struggle and conflict.
Osha: A very sacred herb to the native tribes of the rocky mountains, osha is an incredible herb for bronchial infection and irritation. It is antiseptic and expectorant. Just the bright and vibrant scent of the root alone makes one feel a sense of grounding and clarity. Osha is also known as “bear root”, and is considered a bear medicine. According to herbalist Karyn Sanders, bear medicines are about physical strength and self protection; they help us to feel held when we are scared or alone. Other Bear medicines include Angelica, Astragalus and Red Root. Unfortunately because of a high demand for Osha, the root has been over-harvested. Be sure to purchase Osha that has been cultivated as opposed to wild-crafted, so that the animals that use this plant continue to have access to it - bears being one of them!
Astragalus: Referred to as a “Lung Chi Tonic” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Astragalus helps to strengthen lung function over time. The root helps strengthen our immune system, and rebuild the health of weak lungs. Additionally, as a tonic, astragalus increases energy by strengthening digestion and assimilation, and helps us to ground.
Nettle: This herb acts as a tonic and nutritive for the whole body. Nettle is rich in minerals, vitamins and chlorophyll. Nettle leaf has anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties that may help with irritation from toxins, and allergic reactions. By flooding our bodies with the minerals they crave, we prevent our bodies from mistaking other dangerous toxins with the minerals that we need.
Plantain: Plantain is fantastic at healing tissues and pulling toxins out. Not only that, but plantain also has a slight demulcent quality. We generally think of the leaf for our skin, but when we drink plantain as a tea, it can help heal are inner tissues as well.
Elecampane: The root of elecampane acts as a rejuvenative tonic for the lungs, an expectorant, antiseptic and astringent. Additionally, elecampane has a pleasant warming spicy flavor and is particularly helpful for moving grief, and gunk from the lungs.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon has the rare energetic composition of being warming and demulcent. It clears congestion, acts as an assimilator and driver in blends, improves circulation, and boosts vitality.
Schisandra: Schisandra is a tonic and restorative herb that works systematically. It can help us to take deeper breaths, so that we can ground more deeply into the body. If you have a lot of dryness, this may not be the herb for you as schisandra is very astringent. A teacher once described schisandra as helpful for "leaky" conditions in the physical and emotional realm.
Garden Sage: Sage, along with many common kitchen herbs like thyme and oregano, offer us powerful antiseptic and expectorant properties. Look no further than your kitchen cabinet! Rosemary Gladstar recommends making a sage tea and using it as a gargle for a sore throat.