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Respiratory Support

I recently did an Alchemy for The People Show on FCP02 on YouTube about breathing. You can watch the replay of that show here.

And I thought, while focusing on this subject, this is a good time to provide some straightforward information on herbs and supports for the respiratory system, in a way that I am better able to do on my own platform.

When working with something like the respiratory system energetics and tissue states are incredibly important. It is important to know what state the tissues are in, what type of support is needed, and then to know the energetics of herbs so that we can choose the best ones for support.

Energetics and tissue states can be simplified as hot, cold, wet, dry. To expand further, I also include tension, or lack of tension, and to just make it more clear - stagnation or fluidity. It should go without saying that cold conditions tend to be stagnant and hot conditions have more fluid......however this doesn't apply in each situation and sometimes things can be a bit more complex.

To expand further.....if we have a cold, stagnant tissue state in the lungs, we want bring in herbs that will warm and will support movement. This is a really good example of why mullein doesn't always work for every condition, even though the person at the health food store might hand you mullein for any and every respiratory complaint. I have used mullein for conditions and when those conditions are one of a cold nature mullein actually can worsen the condition.

I would stay that energetics and tissue states are the most important thing to pay attention to when working with respiratory conditions, aside from basic knowledge of herbs.

Here are some herbs I like to call upon for respiratory support with a bit of expanded guidance.


Mullein is cooling, moistening, and demulcent. It can sooth irritated dry tissues, and help to cool tissues that are heated and inflamed. I like to call upon mullein during acute respiratory conditions of a hot nature....your bronchitis, pneumonia, or other respiratory infection. It may also be helpful for lungs that have been irritated by smoke. I like mullein taken as a tea best, but a tincture can also work. It can also be sprinkled in cannabis for those that partake in smoking and may help to bring a little bit of soothing and prevent irritation from smoke.


Elecampane is a warming, drying, bitter herb. It is also anti microbial, which can be a very important aspect in preventing secondary bacterial infections after respiratory conditions that leave stagnant, sticky mucous in the lungs. I like elecampane when the lungs feel cold, heavy, and stagnant. It has a way of reaching in and loosening up the muck so that it can move and be expelled. Because of its bitter nature, it is also supportive to the liver and the digestive process.


Grindelia which is also known as gumweed is a favorite of mine. It is relaxing, but also expectorating. It is helpful when conditions involve tension, nervous system, and heart activity such as in asthma, bronchitis, whopping cough, and upper respiratory congestion. I often reach for the support of grindelia alongside something like elecampane. A caution with this one, as it may reduce blood pressure. This can be a benefit but those with already low blood pressure should keep an eye on that when working with Grindelia.


Osha has a special place in my heart. It is bear medicine, it is sacred, it is it is incredibly important to always know your sources. Because it is endangered, it is best used as a tincture......although osha tea is just is not the best use of the herb. Osha is hot, drying, and moving. It is also stimulating. This is one I reach for when I need more oomph than elecampane can deliver. This is one for when the lungs are REALLY sticky and stagnant and cold and we really need to heat them up so things can move. This can be helpful for all sorts of respiratory conditions both. upper and lower respiratory tract, although like elecampane I find it's use helpful just beyond the acute stage.


Pine is a warming and drying stimulating herb. It is helpful for both upper and lower respiratory conditions as well as chronic conditions. While it can be taken as a tea or tincture, I find that for respiratory issues, it is best worked with as a steam inhalant using the cones. This isn't to say that a cup of pine needle tea isn't certainly is......however when we work with steam, it gets directly into the respiratory tract and comes into direct contact with tissues, which is often what is most needed.


Lobelia is one of my favorite herbs. It is one of my favorite emergency medicines and I am rarely ever without it. It is a relaxant of the entire system. It is also a stimulant, an expectorant, a nervine, and a very powerful emetic. Take too much and you will be vomiting profusely. But don't be scared of lobelia. It works really well with drop doses. I have never had to use more than 5 drops to feel it's near immediate effects. The lobeline in the lobelia is the stimulant and the Isolobalanine is the emetic and respiratory relaxant. This is a most helpful "opener" herb that stimulates the vagus nerve, relaxing the lungs and the entire system, so that it can open to receiving other herbs. It will relax tension which is often involved in asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough. REMEMBER.......drop does only...... 1 to 5 drops! And even less with children!

Those are some of my favorite respiratory herbs to work with and they all work well in various formulations, which SHOULD shift and change as the state of the lungs does.

With asthma, often find myself reaching for elecampane........maybe for 3 days.....then I shift to grindelia (or sometimes use the grindelia with the elecampane), and reach for lobelia when I need acute support.

If I am congested from illness, I will simmer pine cones on the stove and inhale the steam in addition to these herbs.

Remember, when working with respiratory conditions take the time to slow down, feel the state of the tissues, and then bring in herbs that help support that particular tissue state. Through practice and experience, this will all become second nature.

When in doubt, consult with a skilled herbalist.

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