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Green Earth :: Herbs for the Respiratory Tract

Herbs for the Respiratory Tract

Respiratory tonics

A tonic herb is nourishing, supportive and restorative, thus not producing a dramatic effect but a much more sure, lasting effect.

  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) - mullein is a very beneficial respiratory remedy useful in most conditions that effect this system. It tones the mucus membranes of the lungs, reducing inflammation and stimulating mucus production thus aiding expectoration. It is a specific in bronchitis when there is a hard cough with soreness. Infusion: 1-2 tsp dried leaves or flowers per cup of boiling water three times daily. Tincture: 1-4 ml three times daily.
  • Elecampane (Inula helenium) - elecampane is a very useful respiratory tonic. It is specific for irritating bronchial coughs, especially in children. It is as useful expectorant whenever there is copious, viscous mucus (catarrh) as in emphysema or bronchitis. This remedy shows the complex and integrated ways in which herbs work. The mucilage (slimy, complex carbohydrates) has a relaxing effect accompanied by the stimulation of the essential oils. Expectoration is accompanied by a soothing action which is also accompanied by an anti-bacterial effect. Elecampane's bitter principle also makes it useful to stimulate digestion and appetite. Infusion: 1 cup cold water over 1 tsp shredded root, let stand for 8-10 hours, heat and drink very hot three times daily. Tincture: 1-2 ml three times daily.
  • Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) - coltsfoot is a soothing expectorant and an antispasmodic. It contains useful levels of zinc which give the herb an anti-inlammatory effect. Coltsfoot is useful in chronic or acute bronchitis, irritating coughs, whooping cough, emphysema and asthma. Infusion: 1- 2 tsp dried flowers or leaves per cup of boiling water three times daily. Drink as hot as possible. Tincture: 2-4 ml three times daily.


An expectorant is a remedy that encourages passage up the bronchial apparatus of phlegm and other material in the lung.There are two main types of problem; in the first an a excessive mucus secretion (catarrh) leads to an overloading of the ability to remove the mucus with resulting lung congestion; in the second the mucus secretion is checked and/or thickened as part of an inflammatory, hypersensitivity or nervous reaction, resulting in a tight, dry, irritable condition leading to a dry or "tickly" cough, or asthma. For the first condition, stimualting expectorants are called for, in the second, relaxing expectorants.

Stimulating expectorants

  • Elecampane
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare): useful in the treatment of bronchitis where there is a non-productive cough. It combines the action of relaxing the smooth muscles of the bronchioles while promoting mucous production and expectoration. The usual dosage is 1/2-1 tsp herb per cup boiling water 3 times daily. Tincture: 1-2 ml 3 times daily.
  • Blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • Violet (Viola odorata)
  • Osha (Ligusticum porteri)

Relaxing expectorants

  • Coltsfoot
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Grindelia (Grindelia camporum): has an antispasmodic/relaxing effect on bronchioles allowing for better expectoration. Also has relaxing effect on heart and pulse rate. Useful for treatment of asthmatic and bronchial conditions associated with a rapid heart beat and nervousness. The usual dosage 1 tsp herb per cup boiling water 3 times daily. Tincture: 1-2 ml 3 times daily.
  • Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)


A bronchodilator is an herb that causes the bronchial tubes in the lung to dilate thus easing the passage of air through the lungs. Two ways this can be accomplished are with adrenergic agents and antispasmodics. Adrenergic agents stimulate nerve receptors on the bronchioles causing them to relax. Antispasmodics can prevent or ease spasms or cramps in the muscles controlling the bronchioles, thus increasing the size of the opening. Because many of the antispasmodics are also nervines, they may also ease tension throughout the body.

Adrenergic agents

  • Green tea (Camellia sinensis)
  • Coffee (Coffea sp.)
  • Horehound
  • Ephedra/Ma huang (Ephedra sinica)


  • Angelica root (Angelica archangelica)
  • Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
  • Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
  • Elecampane
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Grindelia
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Skunk cabbage


A demulcent is an herb rich in the gummy, slimy chemicals known as mucilage. Mucilage can soothe and protect irritated or inflamed internal tissue. When they are used on the skin demulcents are called emollients.

  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
  • Mullein
  • Licorice
  • Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)
  • Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva)


Anti-microbial herbs can help the body to destroy or resist pathogenic microorgansims. In all forms of natural medicine it would be a mistake to talk about remedies being "antibiotic" as this literally means anti-life. With herbal remedies there is the possibility to help the body strengthen its own resistance to infective organisms. In general, these herbs aid the natural immune process.

  • Echinacea (Echinacea purperea; E. angustifolia; E. pallida)
  • Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria): an anti-microbial and anti-catarrhal. It is used for treatment of infections and catarrh in the ear, nose and throat. It can be used for laryngitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis and sinus infections. May be helpful in the treatment of enlarged and inflamed lymph glands. The usual dosage is 1 ml of the tincture 3 times daily.
  • Myrrh (Commiphora molmol): an anti-infective, astringent, and expectorant. Myrrh is an effective anti-infective working in two ways. Primarily it stimulates the production of white blood cells and secondarily it has a direct anti-infective effect. It is useful in the treatment of mouth infections such as mouth ulcers, gingivitis, pyorrhea, pharyngitis and sinusitis. It is often used to treat colds. The resin from the plant is used. The usual dosage is 1-4 ml of tincture three times daily. Because of the resinous nature of myrrh, an infusion is difficult to make.
  • Usnea (Usnea sp.)
  • Garlic
  • Thyme (Thymus vugaris)
  • Osha
  • Spilanthes (Spilanthes achmella)
  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)


Catarrh is an excessive mucous secretion from the respiratory mucosa such as in hayfever and sinusitis.An anti-catarrhal helps the body to remove excess catarrhal build-ups. They are used mainly for ear, nose and throat infections, but have a role to play in asthma and bronchitis as well.

  • Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago virgauria)
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • Hyssop
  • Ephedra


Antioxidants neutralize the activity of highly reactive free radicals in the body. These free radicals can irritate the mucosa and initiate inflammation. Free radicals have also been implicated in cancers, aging, impairing the immune system and heart disease.

  • Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacanthoides)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
  • Schizandra (Schizandra sinensis)
  • Goldenrod
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Mast cell stabilizers

Mast cells occur in the connective tissue of the body and contain histamine. When released histamine causes increased gastric secretion, constriction of the bronchioles in the lungs, and dilation of blood vessels that reduces blood pressure and causes fluid to accumulate in tissues. This "triple response" is the classic allergic reaction.

  • Mimosa (Mimosa fragifolia)
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
  • Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
  • Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtilis)
  • Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.)

Mucosal anti-inflammatories

As the name implies, these herbs help to reduce inflammation of mucosal tissues that line the sinuses, nasal passages, throat and lungs.

  • Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis): an excellent remedy for the mucous membranes. The combination of anti-inflammatory and astringent properties make it useful in many conditions of the repiratory tract. The usual dosage is 1 tsp herb per cup of boiling water 3 times daily. Tincture: 1-4 ml 3 times daily.
  • Licorice
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulis)
  • Hyssop
  • Lemon balm
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Goldenseal