The ability to inhale deeply is something we take for granted—until it doesn’t come easily.
Most of us experience at least short-term shortness of breath at some point in our lives because of common respiratory infections.
As many as 50 million Americans struggle daily with conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Shortness of breath is also a classic symptom of both acute and long-haul COVID-19.
Difficulty breathing generally requires immediate medical attention, and regular or acute use of prescription drugs such as inhalers may be necessary.
However, many natural remedies offer supportive respiratory benefits.
When choosing herbal remedies, we often combine a few herbs that seem particularly well suited for the& individual situation. Here are some of my favorite lung tonics.
Mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus, spp.) is classically used to soothe and open the airways while also easing spasm and cough.
I like to combine it with soothing, slimy marshmallow root or leaf (Althaea officinalis) in tea or syrup, especially if the respiratory system feels dry. Strain well to remove mullein’s irritating hairs.
Alternatively, use a tincture.
Wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina, spp.) has such a long tradition for easing coughs and opening the lungs that cherry flavoring remains popular in conventional cough drops and syrups even though it lacks cherry’s medicinal action.
The dry bark makes an excellent tincture, syrup, or tea to be used solo or combined with other herbs and honey. It’s specific for dry, irritated, unproductive coughs and helps to relax spasms and tightness.
In contrast, horehound leaf (Marrubium vulgare) is popular for thick, wet, mucusy coughs, to help thin and expectorate the mucus.
Commercial herbal cough-drop formulas often contain horehound.
Reishi mushroom and mycelium (Ganoderma lucidum, spp.) have respiratory-tonic benefits, helping to decrease inflammation, reduce allergic response, modulate immune function, and improve oxygen utilization. The benefits are most noticeable after several months of use.
Often combined with other mushrooms, reishi can be used solo or combined with herbs in decocted (simmered) tea, broth, double-extraction tincture, or a specially prepared capsule or powder. Cook the raw mushroom fruiting body before consumption.
Here are some additional herbs to explore for lung health. Each has its own specific indications.
Some are common commercially while others grow easily in gardens and the wild—perfect (once properly identified) for do-it-yourself remedy making—but are rarely sold in stores.
In many cases, natural remedies can be used alongside conventional care.
Always check with your healthcare provider and pharmacist for herb-drug interactions, and consider seeking the guidance of a skilled holistic practitioner in complicated cases.
It’s important to eat a whole-foods diet, move regularly, get quality sleep, and manage stress.
For reducing inflammation, consider foods rich in bioflavonoids and other antioxidants, including berries, deeply hued vegetables, spices like turmeric, and green tea.
Limit or avoid refined foods, sugar, alcohol, and anything you’re sensitive or allergic to—dairy and gluten may be irritants.
Daily vitamin D and omega 3 fish oil may be supportive.