6 Herbs for lung Support

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When we breathe

Our inhale receives life

And our exhale shares it back to the world


This sounds so easy but for much of my life inhaling and exhaling came to me with great difficulty. I had severe asthma as a child that followed me up through adulthood. I relied on inhalers and antihistamines to keep breathing and suffered several lung infections every year.

Of course “receiving” and sharing back life is connected to more than just our physiological lung function.

Our lungs are the seat of our grief. Grief is one of our most precious living emotions. Grief is the one of the gifts of being alive and it is in our lungs that we gather it to be breathed into and inspirited by the elemental matrix we call air.

And our heart and lungs are in deep sacred relationship so what we hold in our hearts is in continual intra-action with the current of our respiration.

As Matthew Wood describes in his book The Earthwise Herbal Repertory

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“ The respiratory process is a circuit that goes from the capillary bed in the lungs (where oxygen is picked up from the air), through the pulmonary vein, to the heart, through the arterial system, back to the capillary bed. Here the oxygen is attracted out of the blood into the extracellular fluids, and picked up by cells, who use it in “cellular respiration” to fan the fires of cell metabolism and energy production. Carbon dioxide and water; the waste products of of cellular respiration, are returned to the blood and move back through the venous system, heart, and pulmonary artery to the capillary bed in the lungs. Here the carbon dioxide and water are discharged into the atmosphere, and new oxygen is picked up to continue the unending process. The exchange in the lungs is called pulmonary respiration.”


This oxygen that we speak of here, as we all know well, is the result of photosynthesis and in essence the air we inhale is largely the exhale of the plants. And the carbon dioxide we exhale is inhaled by them.

We know this cardio-pulmonary inter-species discourse as “breathing” but, when I understood it more deeply, I became aware that we’re not “breathing” but, instead we are being breathed.

Sometimes i think of it as a dance where we both lead and follow. We are breathing and we are being breathed as part of the great, universal circulatory light, air, and cellular alchemical system.

“God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.

Each note is a need coming through one of us,

a passion, a longing pain.

Remember the lips

where the wind-breath originated,

and let your note be clear.

Don’t try to end it.

Be your note.”
— Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

When grief and fear and trauma go through the heart and lungs, and they always do because our sobs, cries, and tears need air to move them up and out, they can come up against obstacles that prevent optimal filtering and release. This can result in constriction, excess mucus, and potentially lung infections or chronic conditions.

I realized this during the many years of healing that has led me to not needing any inhalers or antihistamines. I have not used an inhaler since I was 32 and I am now 48. I am still and always will be in ongoing relationship with the imprints and patterns developed from having had years and years of lung issues.

I don’t believe that healing or health is a fixed destination or static condition. It’s dynamic in motion.

The process, for me, involves working with grief, trauma, and anxiety and the resulting effects of these on my lung capacity and function. Over many years I learned and practiced the techniques and various forms of meditation, breathwork, yoga, nutrition and, of course, used many herbs.

|| 6 Herbs for Lung Support ||

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MULLEIN (Verbascum thaspus)

There is barely an herb that is attributed more to the lungs than Mullein. This plant goes into almost every lung formula or tea that I make and it is appropriate for any and all lung conditions. I use it alone as well.

Mullein is native to Europe, likes to grow in disturbed soil, and is biennial. Biennial plants live for two years. In the first year, it grows in a rosette along the ground and in the second year, it grows a tall stalk.

Mullein acts upon the structural capacity of the tissues to hold or release water and create dynamic equilibrium or ionic balance.

It is moistening to the lungs with a secondary drying effect that is the result of expectoration. It draws water into dried out tissues causing a release of stagnant secretions and in doing so opens the lungs, reduces coughing and tightness, lubricates the mucosa, relaxes the larynx.

Its doctrine of signatures indicates the cilia of the lungs and upper respiratory tract as expressed in its soft, furry, lobe shaped leaves and certainly the spine with it’s tall, straight central stalk.

Parts used: Leaves of first year plants or second year plants in the Spring before the stalk begins to grow

How to use:

Tincture: take 20-40 drops x per day

Tea: make  with either fresh or dried mullein. Use 1-3 teaspoons and steep for 10-20 minutes.

Note with the tea: Mullein has little hairs all over it and it must be strained well or it may irritate your throat.


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ELECAMPANE (Inula helenium)

If I had to pick a favorite lung herb it would definitely be Elecampane.

This amazing green and yellow wonder has come to my rescue time again for deep and rattling lung infections as well as chronic lung conditions.

A native of Europe it is widely naturalized in North America. I have written extensively about Elecampane HERE but couldn’t leave it out of this list of top lung herbs because Elecampane is a stimulating expectorant and works on the lungs by activating the tissue of the upper digestive tract through irritation. This may explain why it can cause gastric upset in some cases, although, it does contain bitters and some amount of demulcent mucilage which should counter this effect. In fact, it has a history of use as a digestive remedy for bloating and indigestion.

The saponins and essential oils in Elecampane stimulate the superficial nerve endings in the digestive tract triggering the vagus nerve which stimulates the mucociliary escalator in the respiratory tract. The mucociliary escalator is a function of the respiratory tract whereby the cilia and mucus along the respiratory tract work to collect micro-organisms and foreign particles in order to move them upward toward the pharynx where they can be eliminated.

Parts used: Root

How to take:

It tastes great sliced and covered in honey. This honey can be added to tea or the honey covered slices themselves can be eaten.

Otherwise it’s generally taken as a tincture:

Contra-indications include pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant and has a history of use in helping to expel after-birth. I have also had one case where someone found that they had severe stomach cramping after taking a dose of tincture. Since then, I usually have everyone start with a small dose like 10-15 drops. High end adult dose can go up to 3/4 of a teaspoon or 4ml. I have used up to a teaspoon for a large adult.


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THYME (Thymus vulgaris)

Thyme is a famed Mediterranean ritual plant used as incense for purification as well as a cooking herb and remedy for colds and lung infections. It’s name “thyme” comes from the Greek word “thymos” or “thuo” and means courage or bravery.

Thyme is spicy and warm and has antibacterial, antispasmodic, antifungal, antiviral, and expectorant activity.

It is traditionally used for coughs associated with bronchitis, pertussis, asthma, copd, and emphysema. Thyme is also considered to affect the central nervous system by relaxing sympathetic excess which in turn can relax and release constriction in the breath and lungs.

Because of its heating and drying strength, if the cough is tight and dry I would suggest adding honey and lemon when using it.

Parts used: leaves and flowers

How to take:

I almost always add it to teas and usually with other herbs such as mullein.

Tincture: 15-20 drops 3x per day


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CODONOPSIS/DANG SHEN (Codonopsis pilosula)

A native of Asia, Codonopsis is considered an adaptogen. Adaptogens, generally speaking, are not used during the acute phase of an infection, but are instead used as tonics to recover and restore as well as prevent illness.

Codonopsis in this sense is effective as an immune supportive restorative with a special affinity for the lungs. It has also been called “childrens” or “poor man’s” ginseng because it is milder as well as less costly than ginseng.

Codonopsis has many virtues but I most often use it for those with chronic lung issues such as asthma or CPOD. It can also be quite helpful for children or adults that are prone to Winter colds and lung infections especially if they are accompanied by adrenal fatigue, overwork, or another long term chronic illness.

When I use Codonopsis it is usually for someone who is overall depleted and is experiencing lung issues as a result.

Parts used: The root. Codonopsis does grow well in the Northeast US where I live (zone 4)

How to Use:

In Cooking: For my own household I most often use Codonopsis in soups and stews during the Fall and Winter. I use either the whole root or the powder.

Tincture: I never use Codonopsis alone but always in formulas however, there is no reason why it can’t be. The dosage is: 30-60 drops 3x per day


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USNEA

Usnea, also known as “old man’s beard”, is a lichen, which is actually two organisms or a symbios; an algae and a fungi. It grows on various species of trees but I have only see it on conifers in both the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The most striking characteristic of Usnea is that it literally looks like the bronchial tree the way it divides and branches.

Usnea is considered a localized non-systemic antibiotic that is active against both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. It is well known for its use in treating any type of  respiratory tract infection and research has shown it to be strongly effective against bronchitis and tuberculosis.

Parts used: the entire lichen

How to take: Usually Usnea is taken as a tincture although it can be made into a tea.

Tincture dose: 30-60 drops up to 4x per day

***side note: I have used Usnea often for strep or strep-symptom-like throat. To do so, dribble a dropperful of tincture directly down the back of the throat 4-6x per day


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HAWTHORNE (Crataegus spp.)

There is hardly an herb I love more than Hawthorne. There are over 100 different species of Hawthorne in the Northern Hemisphere and it is one of the sacred trees of my Celtic ancestors.

Hawthorne is generally thought of as a remedy for the heart, and for the heart is is surely so. But, I use it in almost every lung tonic I make because it so powerfully supports and strengthens the heart field within which the lungs reside.

Hawthorne is a nervine and clears heat and tension in the nervous system reducing anxiety, stress, and worry which can all lead to constriction and lack of flow in the lungs.

Because Hawthorne so efficiently cools and clears heat it has been known traditionally and clinically to exhibit antihistamine type effects and thought to soothe and reduce inflammation in the lungs and on the mucosa.

Parts used: Berry, Leaf, and Flower

How to take:

You can take Hawthorne any way you’d like! The berries are a yummy food and can be made into jelly or cordial. They can also be dried and ground into powder to add to soups and stews or add to spice blends.

Tincture dose: 20-40 drops 3x per day



RESOURCES:

All of the herbs I listed here grow wild or can be cultivated in my bioregion and are also easily available commercially at:

Jeans Greens

Healing Spirits Herb Farm

Herbalist and Alchemist

Pacific Botanicals

FURTHER READING:

Mullein as an Oracle: Plant Divination

Hawthorne~The Faery Tree

Image Credit:

And Breathe: Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Thyme: Photo by Albert Melu on Unsplash

The Respiratory tract and Elecampane: wikicommons

All other photos: Lisa Fazio






Plant Study Guide

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Plants are dynamic, living systems as well as fundamental participants in the ongoing evolution, symbiogenesis, and creation of life on Earth.

Symbiogenesis is a theory described by evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis that identified the cooperative processes and convergence between species that assures survival and adaptation as opposed to the competitive “survival of the fittest” theory.

We can learn about plants in different ways and the human history and ongoing relationship with plants can be understood from many different perspectives. Often, in popular herbalism, we just look at the simple aspect of “what are the medicinal qualities of this plant?” This can be an appropriate and accurate method of learning in some cases, but it doesn’t explain HOW or WHY we know this.

It misses the totally of a plant’s character and qualities as well as how it has and is co-evolving with human communities.

Only considering the popular or most publicized uses of a plant is to only consider a narrow and linear scope of qualities. The medicinal uses of herbs have come to humans from several directions.

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To deepen my own study of plants and as a method of teaching students I have begun using a Planthenge. This is just a simple model that was inspired by the geometric layout of Stonehenge and the many other sacred stone circles of Celtic Europe, Carl Jung’s model of mandala consciousness, and Paul Bergner’s 4 directions model of studying plants.

Trust that which gives you meaning and use it as your guide.
— Carl Jung

Below is the Planthenge template I use

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This model places any plant of study in the center of the henge and guides us around the wheel of the year in the same way the stones are aligned with the motion and angles made by the sun’s distance from the Earth.

Each position provides a different, yet connected, origin of knowledge AND each on it’s own is limited and does not provide a full scope of understanding so the goal is to integrate them. Some of us might find that one area or another calls to us and that’s important. Each person has a different learning style and each finds their own, unique way to relate to and study plants so may choose to focus on one aspect more than the others.


There are 8 directions or points:

  • Winter Solstice: This is where we study the folklore, historical uses, and written records of how plants were used by ancestral peoples. This might include ancient healing traditions, the way that our own ancestors might have used a specific plant, family or cultural stories we know or heard about plants, and written books and documents.

Limits: Folklore and historical uses of plants were often passed down verbally so aren’t always accurate. Printed historical texts are subject to print bias which means that usually people that had access to a printing press and resources to pay for printing were only a select group.


  • Imbolc: This is where we determine the family, genus, species, and other taxonomical information about a plant. Knowing this information is important to understanding the patterns and distribution of plants of similar species and it gives us a universal language in identifying plants and using plant ID guide books or apps.

Limits: This doesn’t really tell us much about the medicinal properties of a plant other than, perhaps, that it might have similar properties to other plants in the same family.


  • Spring Equinox: This is where we study the botany and any scientific research that has been done about the plant. This is particularly important for those who are interested in clinical or medical herbalism. Also, an understanding of botany helps us to understand how to optimize the growing, cultivation, and harvesting of medicinal plants by promoting health and potency.

Limits: The scientific method is linear, non-integrative, and reductionist. We can learn great things from this but never the complete scope. Any given plant contains approximately 300 chemical compounds that work synergistically. It is impossible to control for 300 or more variables in a controlled setting so most research on plants is down with isolated compounds which, obviously, does not provide information on how that compound is interacting with the others.


  • Beltane: This is where we use “organoleptic” or sensual methods of studying plants (organoleptic means what we experience through our sense organs) and the “doctrine of signatures”.  The doctrine of signatures is a traditional method of learning about plants that teaches us that a plant looks like the organ or condition for which it’s medicine is for. This is how we perceive a plant to taste, feel, look, or smell. The bitterness/sweetness or roughness/smoothness of a plant can tell us a great deal about it’s actions and can even indicate what chemical compounds it might contain. For instance, plants with salicylates in them have a very specific “sweet” smell.

Limits: Sensory information is relatively subjective and requires a good deal of practice to master.


  • Summer Solstice: This is where we learn about how a plant is being used by others as well as what we have experienced using a plant ourselves. Here we may look at case studies and talk to herbalists about their outcomes using a plant with their clients. Often, when we actually use a plant, we have results and experiences that haven’t been discovered by others or that haven’t been study or written about before. Plants not only have many medicinal properties, but each person is different and has a unique bio-chemistry and the combination of these can bring unique results.

Limits: There can be contradictory and anecdotal information, that although good to know, may not be applicable or supported by the other areas of study or your own experience. It’s also hard to establish consistency in preparations and dosages.


  • Lammas: This is where we study the energetic correspondences of plants to other systems such as elemental, alchemy, astrology, humoral, tarot, and other traditional healing arts. When we learn, for instance, what planet a plant corresponds to or is ruled by it tells us something about the nature of the plant. If it’s ruled by mars it tells us that it might be “hot” in energy. If it’s ruled by the element of water it might be moistening to the tissues of the body.

Limits: The correspondences of plant energies can vary from tradition to tradition.


  • Fall Equinox: This is where we explore the magical, ritual, and spiritual uses of plants. Plants have always been invoked as tools of cultural magic and spiritual connection. They have been used in spellmaking, burned in purification, protection, and divination rituals, and imbibed to catalyze meditative or trance states. Plant spirit and intuitive methods of healing include the use of flower essences, amulets, dream bundles, and plants in visual art and imagery.

Limits: This area doesn’t teach us about the physical or biochemical actions of plants.


  • Samhain: This is where we learn about harvest times, parts used, possible preparation, recipes, storage, and use in cooking. It’s also the time of endings and beginnings where birth and death meet at the same point on the circle.

Limits: These are the “finishing” or practical skills we need to know but not the fundamental knowledge of medicinal properties


Learn the many directions of plants with me at a monthly online Plant Study Group by joining Rhizomatic Earth Medicine. This is a subscription membership that includes monthly missives delivered to your inbox with writings about plants, place, and magic, poetry, videos, informational pdf’s, worksheet, recipes, ritual, and all things wild, green, and Earthly

It's Goldenrod Time

It's Goldenrod Time

The wheel of the year is turning once again and the season of Fall is beginning her gentle emersion with first few leaves descending toward the turning Earth. There is a new chill wafting on the morning air and the Canada Geese have us in their flight path as they embark on this year’s journey South.  These signs and more tell us that the times they are a-changing. Many of us, including myself, experience seasonal allergies in the late summer and early Fall that will continue until the first hard, killing frost. Growing up in the Northeast I was always told that my allergies could be attributed to the Goldenrod as these bright yellow flowers are in blossom everywhere we look right now. If I look out to my back field it appears as if there is a sea of yellow flowing flowers that stretches into eternity.

Basilico~Sweet Basil Magick

Basilico~Sweet Basil Magick

“Where Basil grows, no evil goes” ~Old Adage

“Make sure and add some basilico!” Was a common phrase in the kitchen on Sunday at my grandparent’s house when I was growing up. Basilico is the Italian word for Basil. Whenever someone came to visit in the summer they would ask, “How’s your garden this year?” This meant, “Give me a garden tour so I can make sure you’ve planted your tomatoes and to see if they look as good as mine.”

After a thorough tomato inspection the next question was, “Where is your basilico?!” My Italian family members always wanted to see the garden, and the elders, specifically my grandfather and great-uncles, were always adamant about seeing the garden and inspecting the contents. Everyone grew some traditional Italian food even if it was just a couple of tomato plants growing in pots on the front porch. Even when my grandparents moved to the Adirondack Mountains, where the soil is sand and rock, they turned and  toiled the land next to their little cabin enriching the soil and installing deer fences so they could plant basil and tomatoes. 

Growing tomatoes, basil, and parsley was part of honoring and respecting my family and our Italian heritage.