Herbal Help for the Respiratory System
Aside from chronic stress and poor digestion, one of the most prevalent health imbalances relate to respiratory ailments. Upper respiratory issues include sinus and tonsil inflammation, congestion, infection, and sore throat. Lower respiratory issues may include lung and bronchial mucous congestion, which can include either wet or dry coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, pleurisy and tuberculosis. Being the first line of defence for airborne particulate and micro-organisms, the respiratory system is an accurate indicator of our ability to resist bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens.
Lifestyle Factors to Breathe Easier
Two things we can control are indoor air quality and diet. An air purifier that filters out particulate and kills micro-organisms would be beneficial to one’s work and home environment to reduce the burden of the lungs’ role in trapping and filtering these particles out of the body. This system would include either a collector plate with a charcoal filter and an ultraviolet light chamber that kills microbes.
Second, the diet is virtually the biggest offender for congesting the respiratory system and the entire body. This relates to mucous-forming foods, like dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and kefir). Small amounts of fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir support friendly bacteria growth in the intestinal tract, but these still contribute to the total mucous load of the body. Then when you add grains into the diet: wheat, barley, oats, rice and potatoes etc.., the lungs then become congested with this excess mucous that can thicken and become hard to eliminate out of the body. Dramatically increasing vegetables and slightly increasing low glycemic index fruits and reducing or eliminating (even temporarily) dairy and grains will reduce the burden of food sourced mucous and thus allow the body to get eliminating its excess mucous load, whether in the lungs or sinuses.
Elder Flower – Respiratory Herb Extraordinaire
One herbal remedy that shines in its ability to help resolve various upper and lower respiratory problems is Black Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra flos). The flowers and berries are predominantly used today, with the flowers being the most versatile.
Elder flower has a broad range of constituents which stimulate immunity as well as healing the mucous membranes of the sinuses, bronchials and lungs. The flowers are high in bioflavonoids including rutin and quercetin, essential oils, fatty acids, phenols, polysaccharides, tannins and mucilage. These constituents aid in soothing the respiratory membranes, reduce inflammation and decongest the sinuses and lungs. Elder will also be beneficial in hot tea form in dispersing internal heat (diaphoretic) due to fever. Whole plant extracts, with many constituents, allow a balancing of body tissues versus narrow drug-like actions with ever-present side effects.
Elder flower is best in tea or tincture form. Dose is based on body weight and symptomology. With no known contra-indications, Elder flower can be considered a safe and effective remedy for colds flus and fevers, with inflammation and mucous congestion affecting the lower and upper respiratory systems.
Gord Cooper R.H. is a Registered Herbalist and Professional Member of the Ontario Herbalists Association.