Herbal Respiratory Relief Recipes

Allergy tincture, cough syrup, wild cherry honey, and lung tea are your go-to herbal respiratory recipes to ease your winter woes.

If you suffer from chronic respiratory issues, such as asthma, chest congestion, chronic bronchitis, or allergies, take comfort in some of the wonderful lung tonic herbs you can grow in your backyard: mullein (Verbascum thapsus), horehound (Marrubium vulgare), wild cherry (Prunus serotina), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), and plantain (Plantago major). Each has a different role to play in respiratory health, from clearing coughs to soothing and opening the lungs. So, consider each plant’s actions to choose the best ones for you. Other lung herbs include elecampane (Inula helenium), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Korean mint (Agastache rugosa), bee balm (Monarda spp.), and New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

Photo by Getty Images/Nikolay_Donetsk

Remember that some respiratory conditions warrant immediate medical attention, including serious infections, difficulty breathing, and pressure that feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest. You can certainly use herbs concomitantly, but medications remain best for acute asthma attacks and pneumonia.

Mullein. Mullein’s soft, flannel-like leaves help signify its soothing nature. Mullein opens constricted airways, moistens the lungs, and eases and cools inflammation and irritation. It can be used solo, but it makes a lovely supportive herb in almost any lung blend. Let this attractive biennial weed seed itself throughout the garden. Harvest the leaves anytime they look healthy, preferably before the plant blooms. Strain out the leaf hairs with a cloth or coffee filter when you prepare it. Best in: syrup, tea, tincture.

Horehound. This wrinkly, silvery herb tastes intensely bitter, with an oily texture. Even though it doesn’t taste or smell aromatic, it’s rich in essential oils. Horehound thins and moves mucus, and it’s a classic for wet coughs, making them more productive. Consider it for any respiratory issue with thick mucus congestion, including allergies and postnasal drip. It’s too bitter for tea, but excels as a fresh plant tincture. Horehound thrives in dry, sunny spots near Mediterranean herbs, such as lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and thyme. Best in: capsule, cough drop, honey, syrup, tincture.

Photo by Stacey Cramp

Wild cherry.The bark of this common wild tree (and its scrappy cousin chokecherry, or Prunus virginiana) has an excellent, long-standing reputation for easing dry, irritated, spastic coughs. That’s why many commercial cough drops and syrups are cherry-flavored (albeit now artificially). Turn to cherry bark whenever your lungs are dry, irritated, and tight — for example, from wood smoke or chronic asthma. Cherry bark is safe and most effectively used dried, with little exposure to heat during its preparation. Best in: honey, syrup, tea, tincture.

Marshmallow. Best known for its slimy, soothing properties for the gut, marshmallow similarly soothes the respiratory system. It supports stronger herbs in formulas to treat dryness, inflammation, and irritation. Consider marshmallow syrup as a base for a cough elixir, mixing it with horehound, mullein, and wild cherry bark tinctures. As a bonus, this tall flowering herb will bring subtle beauty to your garden. Best in: broth, lozenge, syrup, tea.

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