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
“ 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.
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 ||
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
All of the herbs I listed here grow wild or can be cultivated in my bioregion and are also easily available commercially at:
The Respiratory tract and Elecampane: wikicommons
All other photos: Lisa Fazio