Winter and coughs are part of life, however, it is possible to not only treat coughs but to reduce the likelihood of getting another cough through using medicinal herbs.
Herbal remedies for coughs may treat current symptoms, while at the same time aim to increase the resistance to this type of infection and keeping the airways soothed and free of inflammation.
Nutritionally, supplements, herbal or otherwise, can play a vital role in keeping the immune system strong and it is important to recognize that it is not always possible to get what is needed from fresh food.
This is especially important over winter when people are more likely to succumb to upper respiratory infections (URI).
Medicinal Herbs Used to Treat the Coughs
Great Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)
The leaf of great mullein has calming and soothing properties.
It helps dispel mucus in the airways and is used particularly for chest conditions where irritation and inflammation are present such as tracheitis, where there is a dry, hard cough.
Mullein is great where there is a sore throat with chest symptoms, and it is important to remember that sore throats will often be the precursor to bronchitis and chest infection.
Elecampane/Inula (Inula helenium)
This root of this herb is specific to the respiratory system and is used where there is a need for an expectorant. Elecampane is indicated where there is excessive mucous, as is found in chronic bronchitis with a wet cough and Emphysema.
Inulin, the essential oil in this herb, has also shown to be effective against many bacteria including tubercle bacillus. Elecampane is contraindicated in pregnancy and in breastfeeding mothers.
White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
A commonly prescribed herb for coughs, horehound is an antispasmodic expectorant that is gentle in action. It is especially used in congestive catarrhal illnesses of the respiratory tract, for example, acute bronchitis with a non-productive cough and whooping cough.
Traditionally horehound has been combined with ginger in whooping cough. However, you should seek professional advice and diagnosis if you suspect you have a whooping cough.
Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
A popular herb, licorice has obvious expectorant, soothing, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic action. It has a long history of traditional use for the treatment of a cough, chest complaints, in particular, bronchitis, and as a soothing component in cough remedies.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) licorice moistens the lungs and stops coughing. The glycosides in this herb serve to reduce surface tension in the lung and help to expel mucus and relieve irritation.
Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberose)
A very old remedy, pleurisy root is used to treat an irritable cough and is known as an expectorant and diaphoretic, where there is a need to sweat in order to break a fever. It is used to treat infection and congestion in the respiratory system such as pleurisy, influenza and acute bronchitis.
This herb has also been used to ease nervous tension and to stimulate digestion. Care should be taken in using this herb during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
This herb is a favorite of every herbalist. It has also been unfairly treated in wider medical circles and has had been scheduled in some countries. The pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) in comfrey are the cause of this herb being withdrawn from use.*
This herb is soothing and healing to the lungs, and can be drunk as a tea, or better still as a decoction or fluid extract. Like mullein and slippery elm, comfrey is called a mucilaginous herb, providing a soothing layer over inflamed and irritated areas of the respiratory tract. Comfrey also has an expectorant effect making it easier to move catarrh off the chest.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
Coltsfoot has an ancient reputation as a cough remedy. Chinese medicine has used coltsfoot for thousands of years and as its botanical name indicates, Tussis is Latin for a cough.
Like comfrey, this herb contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), which is the cause of this herb being withdrawn from use in some countries.*
This herb has a soothing action while working as an effective expectorant, it is used in the treatment of bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough.
Remember to seek guidance from your health care practitioner when treating asthma and whooping cough.
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Boneset, like pleurisy root, stimulates sweating and gentle antispasmodic action, making it a specific treatment for fever and influenza with deep muscle aches and upper respiratory catarrh.
The polysaccharides in boneset appear to also have an immune stimulating effect and these properties make Boneset a model treatment to ease the typical “hot and cold” sweats and flu-like symptoms.
Boneset has also been used for “muscular rheumatism”, and as a gentle laxative and liver tonic, and may be of benefit in the presence of constipation due to poor liver function.
Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)
American Indians used the bark of this tree to soothe irritable coughs for centuries. Wild cherry will work to suppress an irritable cough however, it will work as an expectorant and will help move catarrh off a congested chest by making the cough more productive.
*A note on pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in comfrey and coltsfoot:
The pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) in comfrey (also found in coltsfoot) are not therapeutic, and are found in many foods and are toxic to the liver; however, humans would need to ingest 4.5kg of comfrey leaves per day in order to experience liver toxicity assuming that each leaf contained 5mg of PAs.
Other natural herbs that have traditionally been used for coughs.
- Butterbur – (Petasites hybridus)
- Garlic – (Allium sativum)
- Marshmallow Root – (Althea officinalis)
- Slippery Elm – (Ulmus rubra)
- Thyme – (Thymus vulgaris)
- Juniper – (Juniperus communis)
- Bugleweed – (Lycopus europaeus)
- Iceland Moss – (Cetraria islandica)
- Pau d’Arco – (Tabebuia avellanedae)
- Jamaica Dogwood – (Piscidia piscipula
- Alfalfa – (Medicago sativa)
- Common Mallow – (Malva sylvestris)
- Sweet Basil – (Ocimum basilicum)
- Styrax – (Styrax benzoin)
- Blackberry – (Rubus fruticosus)
- Bletilla – (Bletilla striata)
- Hepatica – (Anemone hepatica)
- Balloon Flower – (Platycodon grandiflorus)
- Galangal – (Alpinia officinarum)
- Agrimony – (Agrimonia eupatoria)
- Lovage – (Levisticum officinale)
- Mistletoe – (Viscum album)
- Andrographis – (Andrographis paniculata)
- Flaxseed – (Linum usitatissimum)
- Lavender – (Lavandula officinalis)
- Carob – (Ceratonia siliqua)
- Oregano – (Origanum vulgare)
- Sweet Grass – (Hierochloe odorata)
- Heather – (Calluna vulgaris)
- Borage – (Borago officinalis)
- American Ginseng – (Panax quinquefolius)
- Brooklime – (Veronica beccabunga)
- Bergamot – (Citrus bergamia)
- Dwarf Milkwort – (Polygala amarella)
- Devil’s Bit Scabious – (Succisa pratensis)
- Bogbean – (Menyanthes trifoliata)
- Burnet Saxifrage – (Pimpinella saxifraga)
- Hedge Mustard – (Sisymbrium officinale)
- Cicely – (Myrrhis odorata)
- Common Plantain – (Plantago major)
- Sunflower – (Helianthus annuus)
- Senega Root – (Polygala senega)
- Red Poppy – (Papaver rhoeas)
- Avocado – (Persea americana)
- Purslane – (Portulaca oleracea)
- Polypody Root – (Polypodium vulgare)
The Use of Herbal Remedies and Herbs for the Coughs
Herbal remedies for coughs will act to reduce catarrh, fight infection, soothing inflamed mucosa and make your cough more productive.
Herbs for coughs should soothe an irritable cough but in the presence of mucus on the chest, they should help to expel catarrh as part your recovery.
Herbs like echinacea added to your herbal preparation along with a vitamin supplement that contains Zinc and Vitamin C with Bioflavenoids will help to speed your recovery and build resistance to further infection.