15 Plants And Herbs That Can Boost Lung Health

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15 Plants And Herbs That Can Boost Lung Health
15 Plants And Herbs That Can Boost Lung Health. Graphic © herbshealthhappiness.com. Background image © AdobeStock 66298358 (under license)

The advent of the technological age has brought with it numerous medical advancements in the form of pharmaceuticals that promise the world. Despite the “results” we see from taking an aggressive course of medical treatment, the fine print is clear on what we are risking – potential damage to our kidneys, liver, and heart. Lung infections like pneumonia can lead to respiratory failure without proper treatment, but for mild respiratory problems, these plants are worth knowing.

1 – Licorice root

Did you know that licorice candy used to be made from the roots of a licorice plant? It’s most popular use is in the confectionary world because of its surprising sweetening ability that is 50 times stronger than regular table sugar. However, licorice root has a place in traditional medicine in both the East and the West. One of its main benefits is the ability to fight against respiratory infections, specifically on the bacteria that causes them. Studies have discovered that licorice root extracts have anti-influenza properties and directly on pathogens that cause upper airway respiratory tract infections. In fact, licorice extract is also able to fight dangerous bacteria in the oral cavity better than antiseptic mouthwashes. Beyond its bacteria-fighting properties, licorice can be very soothing to an irritated throat, making it easier to expectorate mucous. [1][2][3][4]

2 – Coltsfoot

Scientifically known as Tussilago farfara, coltsfoot is a plant species traditionally used to manage severe respiratory infections, specifically tubercular disease. While pulmonary tuberculosis is no longer an epidemic in the United States, in third world countries who have poor access to adequate health care, many people are still affected by it. Research has shown how coltsfoot extracts reduce the activity of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the organism that causes pulmonary TB, as well as having expectorant and antitussive (anti-coughing) properties. Whether or not you have pulmonary tuberculosis, coltsfoot is regarded as able to help relieve coughing and get rid of phlegm. [5][6]

3 – Cannabis

Cannabis has gained a bad reputation in many countries, with legislation making its use in several countries a felony. Cannabis has however been linked to different physical benefits associated with pain relief in people affected by chronic conditions like cancer. However, smoking cannabis can damage the respiratory pathways which can cause chronic lung problems. This is why a lot of people are turning towards vaporizing the herb or making “edibles”. Vaporization reduces the harmful effects of smoking cannabis and promotes its bronchiodilating effects. This reduces airway inflammation which can potentially fight chronic respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis. [7][8]

4 – Osha root

The Osha or “bear” root has been traditionally used in Native American culture to manage ailments that affect the lungs and the heart. It is a member of the parsley family and is currently marketed to the public for the management of flu-like symptoms like a sore throat and colds. Recent studies on the plant have revealed its immune-boosting properties, protecting the body from oxidative damage and reducing inflammation (which can explain why it’s adept at managing the symptoms of a simple flu). [9][10]

5 – Thyme

Thyme’s rich anti-inflammatory properties would appear to make it an excellent way to manage respiratory problems at home. A study has been done on syrup containing thyme as a main ingredient, whose results show that thyme was able to reduce the inflammation in bronchoalveolitis (inflammation of the broncheols and alveoli). Another study revealed thyme’s ability to clear out mucous from the airways as well. [11][12]

6 – Oregano

Oregano is considered able to boost lung health through its antimicrobial and pulmoprotective abilities. Essential oil from oregano has been found by studies to be able to fight against gram positive and negative bacterial strains, exhibiting antibacterial, antioxidant, and even chemopreventative properties. It has also been found to specifically protect lung tissues from disease processes that cause oxidative damage and stress. [13][14]

7 – Lobelia

Another mainstay in traditional medicine is the flowering plant Lobelia. Used in Chinese traditional medicine, its potent anti-inflammatory properties allow have been used for respiratory conditions like lung cancer, bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma. Its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties were seen in a 2015 study on the Lobelia plant extract. Like thyme, it can also help with mucous clearance from the airways. Note that Lobelia should only be used under the guidance of an expert and qualified herbalist as it can be dangerous if used incorrectly. [15][16]

8 – Elecampane

A member of the sunflower family, Elecampane has been shown by the human study to be able to reduce airway inflammation in people affected by bronchial asthma. A 2011 study used Elecampane flower extract and revealed that it was able to reduce cell inflammation and mucus hypersecretion in test subjects with asthma. In 2012, extracts from the plant’s roots revealed possible antitumor properties, specifically found in lung fibroblast cells. [17][18]

9 – Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus oil is regarded as a “herbal toolkit” to fight infection, stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, reduce pain and spasm, and detoxify the body. Inhaling the oil’s vapors has been found to relieve the signs and symptoms (if not cure) acute and chronic respiratory tract ailments. A study in 2012 even found evidence that eucalyptus leaf extracts could possibly fight cancer by preventing the spread of cancer cells in the body. [19][20][21][22]

10 – Mullein

Mullein flowers have been used in European traditional medicine to manage conditions of the respiratory tract because of its soothing properties. This can be attributed to the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Mullein polyphenols which were studied in 2013. [23]

11 – Lungwort

The lungwort plant received its name because of its uncanny resemblance to lung tissue. Because of its appearance, it was used in traditional medicine to manage diseases that affected respiration. However, recent studies on the plant have discovered its potent antioxidant properties that improve respiratory function by boosting the health of lung tissue. [24][25]

12 – Chaparral

The scientific community is divided when it comes to the health benefits of chaparral. Cases of liver damage have been reported because of its very strong antioxidant component (which comes from a substance called NDGA or nordihydroguaiaretic acid). However, it cannot be denied that this substance is able to ward off respiratory problems with something as simple as brewing chaparral tea. [26]

13 – Sage

When brewed or placed into a vaporizer, you can reap the benefits of sage’s potent antioxidant and antibacterial properties that can help reduce the symptoms of a cough and cold. The high levels of polyphenols in the sage plant boost the immunity of lung tissue, protecting it from dangerous bacteria that can cause a respiratory infection. [27][28]

14 – Peppermint

The cooling effect of peppermint tea is widely held as soothing to throats, relieving inflammation instantly. In a 2010 study, peppermint oil was able to relieve the spasms in the throat muscles of the test subjects, which would explain why it is able to relieve the symptoms of common respiratory illnesses. Peppermint has potent anti-inflammatory, expectorant, and anti-congestive properties as well. [29]

15 – Plantain leaf

Commonly found in North America, Europe, and Asia, the plantain leaf (plantago) is a medicinal plant that has been popular for treating respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions since ancient times. In a 2013 study, plantain leaf extract was used on asthmatic test subjects and revealed its ability to reduce the number of mast cells, cells that are responsible for the inflammation of the airways in bronchial asthma. [30]


[1] University of Maryland Medical Center. Licorice. https://umm.edu/Health/Medical-Reference-Guide/Complementary-and-Alternative-Medicine-Guide/Herb/Licorice

[2] Grinke, U., et. al. (2014). Computer-guided approach to access the anti-influenza activity of licorice constituents. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24313801

[3] Tanaka, Y., et. al. (2001). Antibacterial compounds of licorice against upper airway respiratory tract pathogens. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11575586

[4] Ajagannanavar, S., et. al. (2014). Effect of aqueous and alcoholic licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) root extract against streptococcus mutans and lactobacillus acidophilus in comparison to chlorhexidine: an in vitro study. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25214729

[5] Li, Z., et. al. (2013). Metabolomic profiling of the antitussive and expectorant plant Tussilago farfara L. by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and multivariate data analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23261808

[6] Zhao, J., et. al. (2014). Antitubercular activity of Arctium lappa and Tussilago farfara extracts and constituents. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24955560

[7] Gieringer, D. (2001). Cannabis “Vaporization”. https://tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J175v01n03_10

[8] Tetrault, J., et. al. (2007). Effects of Marijuana Smoking on Pulmonary Function and Respiratory Complications: A Systematic Review. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2720277/

[9] Nguyen, K. (2015). Investigation of the cytotoxicity, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects of Ligusticum porteri (Osha) on human peripheral lymphocytes and promyelocytic leukemia cellss of Marijuana Smoking on Pulmonary Function and Respiratory Complications: A Systematic Review. https://repositories.tdl.org/tamucc-ir/handle/1969.6/642

[10] West, K. & Jackson, S. (2004). Research to Determine Osha’s Economic Potential as a Sustainable Agricultural Crop. https://encognitive.com/files/Research%20to%20Determine%20Osha’s%20Economic%20Potential%20as%20a…/

[11] Wienkotter, N., et. al. (2007). The effect of thyme extract on beta2-receptors and mucociliary clearance. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17564943

[12] Seibel, J., et. al. (2015). Bronchipret® syrup containing thyme and ivy extracts suppresses bronchoalveolar inflammation and goblet cell hyperplasia in experimental bronchoalveolitis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26598916

[13] Shokrzadeh, M., et. al. (2014). An ethanol extract of Origanum vulgare attenuates cyclophosphamide-induced pulmonary injury and oxidative lung damage in mice. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24646304

[14] Grondona, E., et. al. (2014). Bio-efficacy of the essential oil of oregano (Origanum vulgare Lamiaceae. Ssp. Hirtum). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25266989

[15] Li, K., et. al. (2015). Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of Lobelia chinensis in vitro and in vivo. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25787301

[16] University of Maryland Medical Center. Lobelia. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lobelia

[17] Li, Y., et. al. (2012). Antitumour activities of sesquiterpene lactones from Inula helenium and Inula japonica. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23016276

[18] Park, Y., et. al. (2011). Alleviation of OVA-induced airway inflammation by flowers of Inula japonica in a murine model of asthma. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21597181

[19] Sadlon, A. & Lamson, D. (2010). Immune-modifying and antimicrobial effects of Eucalyptus oil and simple inhalation devices. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20359267

[20] Lawal, T., et. al. (2012). In vitro susceptibility of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to extracts of Eucalyptus camaldulensis and Eucalyptus torelliana and isolated compounds. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22129202

[21] Camporese, A. (2013). In vitro activity of Eucalyptus smithii and Juniperus communis essential oils against bacterial biofilms and efficacy perspectives of complementary inhalation therapy in chronic and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23774975

[22] Bhagat, M., Sharma, V. & Saxena, A. (2012). Anti-proliferative effect of leaf extracts of Eucalyptus citriodora against human cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23350280

[23] Grigore, A., et. al. (2013). Correlation between polyphenol content and anti-inflammatory activity of Verbascum phlomoides (mullein). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23627472

[24] Hawryl, M. & Waksmundzka-Hajnos, M. (2013). Micro 2D-TLC of Selected Plant Extracts in Screening of Their Composition and Antioxidative Properties. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779791/

[25] Ivanova, D., et. al. (2005). Polyphenols and antioxidant capacity of Bulgarian medicinal plants. https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874104004519

[26] United States National Library of Medicine. Chaparral. https://livertox.nih.gov/Chaparral.htm

[27] Lu, Y. & Foo, L. (2001). Antioxidant activities of polyphenols from sage (Salvia officinalis). https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814601001984

[28] Bozin, B., et. al. (2007). Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Properties of Rosemary and Sage (Rosmarinus officinalis L. and Salvia officinalis L., Lamiaceae) Essential Oils. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf0715323

[29] de Sousa, A., et. al. (2010). Antispasmodic effect of Mentha piperita essential oil on tracheal smooth muscle of rats. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20488237

[30] Farokhi, F., et. al. (2013). Histophatologic changes of lung in asthmatic male rats treated with hydro-alcoholic extract of Plantago major and theophylline. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25050268

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