Try breathing in and out. That’s your lungs, also known as your respiratory system at work. While many of us take breathing for granted, it’s important to understand that having healthy lungs is what helps our entire bodies function properly. Not only does our respiratory system help absorb oxygen and deliver air to our lungs so we can breathe, smell, and speak, but having healthy lungs is also an important part of our immune defenses! Some obvious ways of keeping your respiratory system healthy are exercising and not smoking, but we can also proactively help to strengthen our lungs and immune systems by what we eat and taking some herbs for lung health. Read on to learn 6 traditional herbal remedies and some of the best herbs for lungs that I recommend to keep your lungs and immune system strong.
While our respiratory system tends to function well most of the time, it can be subject to infections like colds or flu. Especially because it’s a really open and exposed system, our respiratory system tends to be one of the first places pathogens love to take hold. Things like seasonal allergy irritants, environmental pollutants, and germs cause inflammation and illness in our airways, leading to a variety of illness and symptoms like coughs, sneezes, fevers, and more.
Conventional doctors treat these symptoms with over the counter or prescription medicine, but as an herbalist, I take a holistic approach to illness and want to find the best herbs for lungs, including the best herbs for lung congestion. I specifically focus on herbal remedies and the best herbs for lung health that have been used in traditional medicine to help prevent and treat illness. Especially when it comes to helping you have healthy lungs, I recommend incorporating the herbs for lungs that I like to call herbal defenders, which have been used medicinally across cultures for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years, as herbs for lung congestion. Incorporating some of these best herbs for lungs into your daily routine can help strengthen both the respiratory and immune systems, and get your body ready for defense during cold and flu season!
Read on to learn the best herbs for lung health and you can make teas or tinctures with these herbs for lung health. Another way to get these herbs for lung health is through Further Food’s Ultimate Immune Support capsules: a blend of 27 immune supporting ingredients, herbs for lung congestion and herbs for lung health. This includes powerful antioxidants, mushrooms and more. Learn more about the best herbs for lung health here.
6 Herbs For Healthy Lungs
One of the best herbs for lungs is goldenseal, which has been an important medicinal plant for centuries. Indigenous North American tribes used it as a yellow dye, bitter digestive tonic, and for immune support. It was, and still is, valued as an important herb for lung congestion and a remedy for respiratory ailments because it is a powerful antioxidant, and it has a drying and tonifying effect on mucous membranes.
In order to have healthy lungs, your body needs to maintain a balance of fluid throughout the body. When our respiratory system fluids are imbalanced, our body tries to expel pathogens via coughing or sneezing. So, as much as we’d like to get rid of our annoying respiratory symptoms like coughing and runny noses, this is actually our body trying to get rid of pathogens and irritants!
Goldenseal is especially helpful for maintaining that all important fluid balance and strengthening the cells of the respiratory system, making it harder for pathogens to take hold. Additionally, goldenseal is also useful once pathogens and viruses enter the body, helping your body carry them out so we can breathe better. And as a bonus, because gut cells and respiratory cells are so similar, goldenseal’s tonifying action can actually help heal damage in the gut as well!
How to take goldenseal: The medicinal actions from goldenseal come from the root. Because goldenseal is both strongly stimulating and drying, coupled with the fact that it is considered an “at risk” plant by the United Plant Savers, we try to use goldenseal sparingly. It is very effective in a tincture, and to reap its benefits, you can take 1 mg daily.
Elecampane is one of the best herbs for lungs as it is warming and tonic to the respiratory tract. This is an important function when it comes to warding off illness, as pathogens tend to thrive in cool environments. The roots of this plant are also a respiratory antimicrobial and stimulant, functioning to battle pathogens directly in the respiratory system.
Elecampane is a key herb for lung congestion and it is most commonly used in cases of respiratory illness where the person cannot cough deeply enough to expel mucous. Additionally, Elecampane has parasympathetic nervous system support action, helping the body maintain strength during times of stress or illness. Elecampane also acts as a digestive bitter helping you assimilate nutrients from the food you eat, and provides the body with a dose of inulin- a dietary fiber helpful for maintaining a healthy and active gut flora. This is important because healthy gut flora is key for maintaining immune defense cells, but can also be used to aid people suffering from gut dysbiosis, like Candida.
How to take Elecampane:
Elecampane is also a root, and is wonderfully effective in a tea, tincture, or syrup. In order to make an effective tea, bring two tablespoons of the herb and 12 oz of water to a simmer for 20 minutes. Elecampane can be simply tinctured (extracted in alcohol) or tinctured and added to honey for a syrup. Elecampane is best taken when you have an illness that includes heavy, hard to expel mucus. Because it is so bitter, I recommend that my clients take a shot glass full of the tea, or 1 teaspoon of the tincture/syrup every hour until your cough becomes more productive.
Schisandra has been a revered herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, known as a “Superior Herb” for its effects on many systems in the body. We have come to know Schisandra as an adaptogen, one of the many herbs known to support the body during times of stress. They help to lower systemic inflammation, and indeed, adaptogens like schisandra were consumed daily by some cultures as an anti-aging herb and to encourage longevity.
Schisandra is also known for modulating endocrine and immune functions, via its adrenal tonifying action. By nourishing and tonifying the adrenals, Schisandra is able to help metabolic deficiency related conditions such as fatigue, frequent infections, and blood sugar swings, and chronic illness. Schisandra is also a direct stimulant, and immune modulator, helpful for mitigating both conditions of low immunity and autoimmune reactions.
TCM also reveres Schisandra as an herb for lung health, since Schisandra acts as a respiratory expectorant, and antitussive. Antitussive in this scenario doesn’t necessarily mean suppressing the cough. Rather, Schisandra works to calm the coughing reflex, soothing dry hacking coughs, and preparing your lungs to expel pathogens when you do need to cough.
How to take Schisandra:
Schisandra is one of the most exciting herbal flavors! It contains all five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. While it is certainly delicious steeped in a traditional tea or tincture, many practitioners also recommend incorporating Schisandra by simply eating 5-10 berries daily for sustained support. Schisandra is also wonderful in a powder, and can be added to smoothies, oats, or yogurt.
Eleuthero, part of the ginseng family, is another best herb for lungs and an amazing adaptogen packaged with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-restorative actions. Studies have shown Eleuthero to contain significant immune-stimulatory activities, providing protection from cytokines and inflammatory pathogens. It can also help modulate the immune system across illness and autoimmunity. Because it is an adaptogen, Eleuthero has shown effectiveness in expanding our ability to mitigate stress by helping our endocrine system to boost serotonin and support recovery from physical and mental stress.
Eleuthero has shown some effectiveness as an herb for lung congestion as it helps in promoting healthy lungs by combating asthma, and has been employed in cases of chronic bronchitis and tuberculosis because of its ability to both shorten the duration of illness, and to strengthen and tonify the lungs. Studies have also shown that extracts of Eleuthero have also been effective at preventing several viruses from taking hold within the respiratory tract as it helps to prevent viral replication in respiratory cells.
How to take Eleuthero:
Eleuthero is one of our more stimulating adaptogens, so you want to make sure you’re taking it in the morning, so that it doesn’t interfere with your sleep cycle! Eleuthero is wonderful in both tea and tincture, but has a slight bitter taste that can be balanced with a bit of honey.
Bonus recipe: I love incorporating powdered Eleuthero into Adaptogen Energy Balls: combine 1 cup of your favorite nut butter, ½ cup honey, and ½ cup powdered eleuthero. Stir to combine, then scoop and roll into 1 inch sized balls. You can even roll them in cocoa powder, nuts, or coconut for extra flavor. These will keep well in the refrigerator for a quick snack for several weeks!
Another great herb for lung health is turkey tail, which has long been celebrated across many Asian cultures as an herb that promotes longevity and great health. This mushroom, high in pre-biotics and antioxidants, is known as an immune modulators: meaning it’s an herb that can boost immunity when you’re under attack, but it can also calm the immune system in the case of an autoimmune flare.
Turkey tail helps to increase energy, and strengthens the tissues in the lungs, stomach and spleen, all key parts of your immune system’s defense strategy. It’s known for its polysaccharide content, a constituent responsible for supporting healthy and robust immune responses, and managing systemic inflammation throughout the body.
These medicinal mushrooms are also full of powerful antioxidants and beta-glucans that have been shown to fight off damage from free radicals in the lungs. Some studies have shown that the best known active compound (polysaccharide K) has helped lung cancer patients extend their lives, breathe more comfortably, and reduced lung tumor related symptoms.
How to take Turkey Tail:
Turkey tail is best extracted when it’s cooked for long periods of time. Adding turkey tail to broths, or long simmered teas is ideal. You can also tincture turkey tail, however, many of its important constituents are water soluble- this means you’ll want to use the double extraction method. To do so, you’ll make a traditional tincture: fill a glass jar half full with dried turkey tail mushrooms, cover with alcohol, and let it steep for about a month, shaking it daily to make all parts of the herbs are covered in alcohol. Strain it out and save the herbs! Put those same turkey tail pieces into a pot and cover it with water, simmer 30 minutes, then strain and discard the herbs. You can then combine the water extraction and alcohol extraction into one tincture-just make sure you have more alcohol than water in the mix so it won’t mold. You can always add a little extra alcohol to be on the safe side.
Horehound is a fantastic herbal ally and one of the best herbs for lungs as it focuses directly on helping our lungs and respiratory system stay healthy. Rather than having an affinity for the upper or lower sections of the respiratory system, horehound is a wonderful herb for lung health as it seems to work on both, as it helps to clear sinuses and chest congestion. Horehound has been used across cultures as an herb that helps relieve dry coughs + acts as a strong expectorant in cases of coughs that contain lots of dry, stuck phlegm. It helps to modulate the amount of fluid you produce in the respiratory system, keeping lungs healthy, and increasing the flow of saliva. This can also be helpful in cases of low appetite.
Horehound also acts as a diaphoretic, helping relax physical tension so that the body can release heat and increase sweating in cases of fever. As a bitter herb, it can be helpful in easing bloating and gas, and acts as a pain reliever both in the respiratory system and systemically throughout the body.
How to take Horehound:
Horehound is another plant that can easily be made into tea or tincture. It is also lovely added to broths. My favorite preparation however, is to make Horehound into lozenges, as it helps soothe the pain from a sore throat, and calms down the coughing reflex. To make lozenges at home, simply take some dried horehound herb and grind it into a fine powder. Put the powder in a large bowl, and slowly drizzle in honey, stirring as you go, until the texture of the mixture resembles a firm play-doh. Shape the mixture with your hands into small lozenge-shape balls. This will keep well at room temp for about a week, or in the refrigerator for several weeks. Use it just like a regular lozenge, whenever you’re feeling a sore throat or a cold coming on, or whenever you have a cough.
Did you know that a lot of these best herbs for lungs are in Further Food’s Ultimate Immune Capsule? Learn more here.
Want To Read More?
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Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.