and recover from respiratory stress including cigarette smoke, bronchitis, air pollution or breathing heavy particulate such as exposure to forest fires. Whether you have short-term stress on your respiratory system such as a cold, or long-term stress such as asthma, there is a lot you can do to naturally support your respiratory system. I find using a combination of external treatments and internal remedies to be the most effective.
Using a neti pot (like a little tea pot for the nose) is an excellent way to clear congestion and pressure in the sinuses. Neti pots are useful for sinus infections, colds and flu, chronic congestion, particulate in the air, allergies, hay fever, sore throats and even ear infections.
How to Use a Neti Pot:
Onion and mustard packs are old time remedies for congestion, pleurisy and have even been used for pneumonia.
How to Make an Onion Pack:
Chop onions into small pieces and sauté them in oil until they are translucent, but not mushy. Pour enough apple cider vinegar into the pan to cover the onions. Reduce the heat and add 1 cup of cornmeal, flax seed meal or flour (these help hold the heat in and hold the mixture together). Mix well until you have a peanut butter consistency. Put the mixture on cheesecloth or muslin and fold it together. Rub vegetable oil on the chest to protect it before applying the pack. Apply the poultice to the chest. Put a plastic bag over the top of the poultice and a warm towel or a heating pad over the plastic bag. Relax and breathe deeply. You can keep the pack on as long as it is warm, but I recommend at least 20 minutes. This is also a pack that you can apply to the feet, especially for smaller children.
Note: a Mustard Pack can be made in a similar way. It is important to buy whole mustard seeds and grind them with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder before using. Use 1 part mustard seeds to 4 parts Cornmeal, Flaxseed meal or Flour. You can add more flour for a child or if the pack feels too strong. Moisten with tepid water until you have a cream cheese consistency and follow the above directions. Make sure you apply the vegetable oil on the chest to protect it before applying the pack — mustard packs can irritate the skin.
Essential oils evaporate easily and can be especially effective for treating the respiratory system. Many essential oils are antimicrobial and can help fight off a bacterial or viral infection. They are wonderful for congestion and are superb for cleaning the air. They are easily used by steam inhalation, in an aromatherapy diffuser, as a room spray, in a humidifier, as a vapor balm, in a chest poultice, or even as a gargle. You can put a few drops on a cotton ball and carry it in a plastic bag to sniff as needed.
The accompanying essential oils should generally be used as external treatments (see the above information on essential oils for details). The herbs listed can be used internally as teas, capsules or tinctures.
Expectorants help the body produce mucus more effectively. This helps protect the respiratory system from foreign particulate, as well as viruses and bacteria. Expectorants can be useful to help move foreign particles up and out of the lungs. They can also thin mucus that is too thick to help “flush” out the respiratory system.
Herbs: elecampane, grindelia, balsamroot, poplar bud, horehound and mullein
Essential oils: basil, benzoin, bergamot, cedar, eucalyptus, fennel, hyssop, marjoram, peppermint, sandalwood, myrrh
Excessive mucus can cause congestion as well as creating an environment ripe with the possibility of an opportunistic infection. They help ease nighttime breathing, allowing for a deeper sleep (so important when you are sick).
Herbs: Mormon tea, yerba santa, nettles or horehound
Essential oils: rosemary, eucalyptus, fir, tea tree, lavender, peppermint, ravintsara
Help to coat and soothe irritated or inflamed mucus membranes. This allows healing to begin.
Herbs: marshmallow, slippery elm, licorice and mullein
Both sneezing and coughing are protective reactions that the body has to get foreign particulate up and out of the respiratory system. Generally they should be encouraged, not suppressed. Sometimes, however, a cough can be dry and unproductive and serves only to irritate and inflame the respiratory system. This can be particularly distressing at night when you are trying to sleep. Most herbs will not suppress a cough, but soothe and reduce irritation to the lungs.
Herbs: pleurisy, horehound, wild cherry, marshmallow, elecampane
Essential oils: anise, eucalyptus, fir, sweet marjoram, myrrh, balsam of peru, frankincense, sandalwood, cypress
Did you know that viruses cause 90% of respiratory ailments? Most pharmaceutical medications are expensive and only narrowly effective, but herbs and essential oils can help!
Herbs: lomatium, osha, hyssop and licorice
Essential oils: thyme linalol, rosemary, peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, bergamot, black pepper, melissa and hyssop
Once we get a virus, opportunistic microbes can often set in. In general, therefore, I think it wise like to start using antimicrobial herbs at the first sign of a cold or flu.
Herbs: garlic, goldenseal, balsamroot and poplar bud
Essential oils: Most essential oils are antimicrobial to one or more organisms. Bergamot, eucalyptus, and juniper are some good choices.
© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2013
Elaine Sheff has been studying medicinal plants since 1987. A Clinical Herbalist, she is a graduate of both the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies and the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. She is passionate about the inherent healing connection between people and plants. Elaine has a longstanding clinical practice providing herbal consultations for individuals with health concerns. A best selling author, Elaine teaches herb classes throughout the United States and is the co-founder of Meadowsweet Herbs. She is a certified instructor of Natural Family Planning, a safe, effective birth control method used to avoid or achieve pregnancy. You can often find Elaine in her garden, homeschooling her children, or cooking some delicious gluten-free meal