Herbs For Lung Health

Natural ways to cleanse your lungs

Lung cleansing techniques may benefit people who smoke, people who get regular exposure to air pollution, and those with chronic conditions that affect the respiratory system, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cystic fibrosis.

Breathing in air pollution, cigarette smoke, and other toxins can damage the lungs and even cause health conditions. Maintaining the health of the lungs is essential for keeping the rest of the body healthy.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to air pollution results in 4.2 million deaths worldwide each year. Cigarette smoking is the cause of death for one in every five people in the United States.

In this article, we discuss some of the methods that people can use to try to cleanse their lungs.Medical News Today Newsletter Stay in the know. Get our free daily newsletter

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Is it possible to cleanse your lungs?

Steam inhalation is a popular treatment for colds and coughs.

Lung health is vital for a person’s overall health. The lungs are self-cleaning organs that will begin to heal themselves once their exposure to pollutants stops, for example, when someone quits smoking.

After the lungs have had exposure to pollution, such as cigarette smoke, a person’s chest may feel full, congested, or inflamed. Mucus gathers in the lungs to catch microbes and pathogens, which contributes to this feeling of heaviness.

People may be able to use specific techniques to help clear the lungs of mucus and irritants to relieve chest congestion and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Some of these methods may also open up the airways, improve lung capacity, and reduce inflammation, which can help reduce the effects of pollution and smoke in the lungs.

Ways to clear the lungs

Below, we look at breathing exercises and lifestyle changes that can help remove excess mucus from the lungs and improve breathing.

1. Steam therapy

Steam therapy, or steam inhalation, involves inhaling water vapor to open the airways and help the lungs drain mucus.

People with lung conditions may notice their symptoms worsening in cold or dry air. This climate can dry out the mucous membranes in the airways and restrict blood flow.

Conversely, steam adds warmth and moisture to the air, which may improve breathing and help loosen mucus inside the airways and lungs. Inhaling water vapor can provide immediate relief and help people breathe more easily.

A small study involving 16 males with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung condition that makes it harder to breathe, found that steam mask therapy led to significantly lower heart rates and respiratory rates than non-steam mask therapy.

However, the participants did not report lasting improvements in their respiratory function.

This therapy may be an effective temporary solution, but researchers need to do more research before they fully understand the benefits of steam therapy on lung health.

2. Controlled coughing

Controlled coughing can help send mucus through the airways.

Coughing is the body’s way of naturally expelling toxins that it has trapped in mucus. Controlled coughing loosens excess mucus in the lungs, sending it up through the airways.

Doctors recommend that people with COPD perform this exercise to help clear their lungs.

People can follow the steps below to cleanse their lungs of excess mucus:

  • sit down on a chair with the shoulders relaxed, keeping both feet flat on the floor
  • fold the arms over the stomach
  • slowly inhale through the nose
  • slowly exhale while leaning forward, pushing the arms against the stomach
  • cough 2 or 3 times while exhaling, keeping the mouth slightly open
  • slowly inhale through the nose
  • rest and repeat as necessary

3. Drain mucus from the lungs

Postural drainage involves lying in different positions to use gravity to remove mucus from the lungs. This practice may improve breathing and help treat or prevent lung infections.

Postural drainage techniques differ depending on the position:

1. On your back

  • Lie down on the floor or a bed.
  • Place pillows under the hips to ensure that the chest is lower than the hips.
  • Slowly inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Each exhale should take twice as long as the inhale, which is called 1:2 breathing.
  • Continue for a few minutes.

2. On your side

  • Lie on one side, resting the head on an arm or pillow.
  • Place pillows under the hips.
  • Practice the 1:2 breathing pattern.
  • Continue for a few minutes.
  • Repeat on the other side.

3. On your stomach

  • Place a stack of pillows on the floor.
  • Lie down with the stomach over the pillows. Remember to keep the hips above the chest.
  • Fold the arms under the head for support.
  • Practice the 1:2 breathing pattern.
  • Continue for a few minutes.

4. Exercise

Regular exercise can improve people’s physical and mental health, and it decreases the risk of many health conditions, including stroke and heart disease.

Exercise forces the muscles to work harder, which increases the body’s breathing rate, resulting in a greater supply of oxygen to the muscles. It also improves circulation, making the body more efficient in removing the excess carbon dioxide that the body produces when exercising.

The body will start to adapt to meet the demands of regular exercise. The muscles will learn to use oxygen more efficiently and produce less carbon dioxide.

Although exercising may be more difficult for people with chronic lung conditions, these individuals can also benefit from regular exercise. People who have COPD, cystic fibrosis, or asthma should consult a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen.

5. Green tea

Green tea contains many antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation in the lungs. These compounds may even protect lung tissue from the harmful effects of smoke inhalation.

A recent study involving more than 1,000 adults in Korea reported that people who drank at least 2 cups of green tea per day had better lung function than those who drank none.

6. Anti-inflammatory foods

Eating cherries can help fight inflammation.

Inflammation of the airways can make breathing difficult and cause the chest to feel heavy and congested. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can reduce inflammation to relieve these symptoms.

Foods that help fight inflammation include:

7. Chest percussion

Percussion is another effective way to remove excess mucus from the lungs. A healthcare professional or respiratory therapist will use a cupped hand to rhythmically tap the chest wall to dislodge trapped mucus in the lungs.

Combining chest percussion and postural drainage can help clear the airways of excess mucus.powered by Rubicon Project

7 Natural Foods & Herbs for Stronger, Healthier Lungs

1. Peppermint

The Scoop: Minty fresh breath is beneficial not only to those around you, but to your body, too. The American Cancer Society points to peppermint oil for treating ailments of the lungs, while recent research shows that the herb may help athletes breathe better. In an Iranian study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, participants who drank water spiked with peppermint essential oil had improved respiratory rates, probably because of the way the mint relaxed their bronchial muscles.

2. Eucalyptus

The Scoop: If just the thought of vacationing in Australia causes you to sigh deeply, there may a reason. Eucalyptus, which grows naturally in the Land Down Under, has been shown to prevent bronchitis flare-ups when combined with two other essential oils containing components of lime and pine. That also explains why cough drops often contain extracts of the eucalyptus plant.ADVERTISEMENT

3. Vitamin D

The Scoop: People who are deficient in vitamin D may be more likely to get respiratory tract infections, according to a recent report in Vitamins & Hormones. The study authors also point to the sunshine vitamin as a possible treatment for asthma.

4. Tea

The Scoop: In a Journal of Inflammation study using guinea pigs, the harmful effects of cigarette smoke – oxidative stress, inflammation, programmed cell death (apoptosis) and lung injury – were prevented by an infusion of black tea. Like many other food sources that can help improve lung health, it seems to be the tea’s high antioxidant content that provides the benefits.

5. Whey protein

The Scoop: Can whey guide the way to a clearer respiratory system? At least one study has reported that supplementing with whey based products can help patients with cystic fibrosis. That’s because whey increases levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that defends against damage to the lungs.

6. Apples

The Scoop: An apple a day may keep lung problems at bay, a recent report out of London reveals. Researchers from St. George’s Hospital Medical School discovered that among 2,500 study participants, those who had five or more apples per week had slightly better overall lung function. Quercetin, an antioxidant found in apples, may help protect the lungs against smoke and other pollutants.

7. Blueberries

The Scoop: Lately, the news on blues has been good, with studies linking the berries to improved heart health, sharper brains and even slimmer waistlines. Now, researchers reveal that blueberries – which pack more antioxidant punch than most other produce – may reduce the harmful effects of air pollution. In an observational study presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in 2014, scientists found that changes in heart function during heavy smog days around Boston tended to be less likely among elderly male participants who had recently eaten flavoring-rich foods such as blueberries. (Chocolate and wine are also full of flavonoids, but contain more calories, which could counteract the benefits.) It’s suspected that flavonoids may help regulate the immune system and even “reprogram genes” to protect you against air pollution.

Handy Herbal Remedies for Great Respiratory Health

You may think that air pollution is something that doesn’t really affect you. However, a sad truth of modern life is that practically all countries and societies on Earth are now under threat from this invisible menace. In 2016, the World Health Organization found that 92% of the world’s population is breathing in bad air. Tiny toxic particles which can penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system are now responsible for more than 6 million deaths per year.

People with  sensitive or compromised respiratory systems react badly to inhaling pollutants and exhibit immediate symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and weepy eyes. Research undertaken by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has found that air pollution can worsen asthma symptoms. A recent study showed that sufferers were 40% more likely to experience acute asthma episodes on high pollution summer days. Others with more robust respiratory systems may ultimately experience reduced lung function with long-term exposure to pollutants.

Why use herbal remedies?

Mother nature has thankfully and thoughtfully provided us fossil fuel burning Earthlings with a whole host of plants, which can help mitigate the negative effects that air pollution has on the human body. In fact, most herbs that are promoted for their health benefits today have been used in home remedies for centuries. Herbs and medicines created with herbal compounds can benefit pollution sufferers by:

•easing chest and nasal congestion

•soothing irritated airways

•suppressing symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and swollen glands

•providing antihistamine and anti-oxidant qualities

Which herbs can help and how?

If you are pregnant, nursing, on prescription medicine, have a weak respiratory system or are a sensible human being with access to a doctor, you should always consult a medical professional before using herbal remedies. That said, here are just a few powerful plants that can help you breath easier on bad pollution days.

  1. Lobelia

Potter’s Encyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations considers this pretty, purple-flowered plant as one of the most important discoveries in herbal medicine. More commonly known as Indian Tobacco, it was once used in Appalachian traditional medicine to treat bronchial asthma. We now know it contains an alkaloid named Lobe-line, which helps to ease congestion and thin mucus. Due to its anti-spasmodic quality, it’s used in over the counter medicine for treating bronchitis, resulting in deeper and easier breathing.

2. Eucalyptus

In 1788, Surgeon-General John White arrived with the First Fleet on Australia’s fair shores. Within a few short weeks, he began documenting the uniquely pungent eucalyptus plant. Of course, the incredible healing properties of eucalyptus were well known in many local aboriginal communities, who had used it for time untold to heal wounds, stave off infections and create infusions that ease congestion, colds and fevers when inhaled. Most modern cough and congestion treatments now contain eucalyptus.

It also is a common ingredient in many liquid soaps and antiseptic sprays due to its powerful germicidal properties. Simply placing 1-3 drops of eucalyptus oil into a bowl of hot water and breathing in the steam can help to clear stuffy nasal passages, dilate the bronchioles in your lungs and help shift some of that sticky mucus out of your system. This plant also encourages secretion of sweat glands, which help to reduce fevers. Stock up on the koala bear’s favourite snack if you are suffering from conditions, such as sinusitis, fever, bronchitis, and bronchial asthma.

3. Lung-wort

In the early 1600’s, people believed that plants resembling certain human physical attributes could be beneficial to the part of the body they bore similarities to. Lung-wort was thought to resemble human lung tissue and was widely used as an effective remedy for respiratory ailments. While this theory was of course eventually discredited, modern research has shown that the antioxidant and secretolytic (mucus clearing) traits in lung-wort may be beneficial to boosting lung health.

In modern herbal medicine, it is commonly used as a respiratory aid for its ability to reduce irritation in airways and for its soothing properties. Lungwort role as an effective agent for respiratory relief is partly due to its incredible anti-oxidative powers. Antioxidants are vital for supporting healthy organs and overall well-being – especially in the presence of pro-oxidants, or dangerous free radicals, which polluted air is unfortunately chock full of.

4. Oregano

It might surprise you to learn that your common kitchen herb oregano is more than just a flavorful favourite in Mediterranean cuisine. It is packed full of powerful nutrients that can give your immune system a boost and contains certain compounds containing anti-histamine and de-congestive properties. To relieve a pollution induced headache, try rubbing a small amount of oregano oil on your temples and forehead. A recent article by  Physiotherapy Research asserts that this humble herb is almost as strong as morphine in the pain killing game.

It is also an extremely effective antibiotic and has excellent germicide capable of killing a wide range of fungi and bacteria. So remarkable are the antiseptic properties in this plant that Jean Val-net, author of The Practice of Aromatherapy, describes how oil of oregano is so strong that it is capable of sterilizing sewage…although perhaps don’t try this one at home.

5. Plantain Leaf

Rather confusingly, plantain leaf is not found on the banana-like fruit plant of the same name. It is actually a green, weedy plant native to North America, Europe and Asia, which has been relieving health afflictions for millennia. Anglo-Saxon texts dating back to the 1500s tout this plant as a miracle cure for a huge range of ailments. The major components of plantain are believed to reduce irritation, curb the effects of harmful organisms, and alleviate respiratory troubles.

It’s used in modern medicine today and can be found in balms and medication meant for soothing the respiratory system, managing cardiovascular problems and treating rheumatism. Recent clinical trials conducted in Germany concluded that plantain leaf is helpful for reducing irritation of lung tissue and curtailing coughs. This has led to its wide adoption as an essential ingredient in many European respiratory medications.

6. Elecampane

Elecampane, also called horse-heal, has long been used by the Chinese, Indians, Greeks and Romans to relax and sooth tracheal muscles. The herb owes its healing properties to two specific compounds called inulin and alantolactone. When the linings of the bronchial tubes are swollen and red, it can be very difficult and painful to breathe. Inulin soothes the tubes, while alantolactone cleanses the congestion making breathing easier.

7. Peppermint

The menthol contained in peppermint can soothe your respiratory tract. Menthol, which is the main chemical component of peppermint, acts as an effective decongestant. Decongestants are known to shrink swollen membranes in the nose, making it easier to breathe. Menthol is also an expectorant, meaning it has the ability to loosen and bring up mucus from the lungs. As peppermint is an anti-histamine and anti-oxidant, it is effective in fighting congested airways and also combats many harmful organisms invading your airways. In an article published by the American Chemical Society in 2015, scientists concluded that: “Based on its wide antimicrobial properties, [peppermint] can be a useful agent for the treatment of uncomplicated infections of the skin and respiratory tract.”

From air pollution to seasonal woes, respiratory health and the factors that influence it are important for us all. The World Health Organization (WHO)  estimates that 91% of people across the globe live in places where air pollution exceeds their guideline limits.1 Millions of people in the United States experience respiratory health concerns each year.2 

While there are plenty of things you can do to keep the air around you as fresh as possible—from detoxing your home to using HEPA-certified air filters—some herbal supplements may help give your respiratory system a boost. Here’s a rundown of our top 10 herbs for respiratory health.


Astragalus has been used by Chinese herbalists for thousands of years. Loaded with over 100 active compounds, including saponins, polyacrylamide, amino acids, flavonoids and more, astragalus is used to support the body in many areas, including respiratory health.1 Studies indicate that taking an astragalus supplement may give the respiratory system a boost and help soothe the airways.3 Aside from its respiratory-friendly benefits, astragalus is also a stellar source of antioxidants and supports immune health, cardio function and more.4,5


Also known as Verbascum thapsus, the “great mullein” plant can be found in Asia, Northern Africa and Europe. This useful plant provides us with the highly beneficial mullein leaf. Like astragalus, the mullein leaf has a rich history; in fact, its usage can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece. Today, mullein leaf is perhaps most commonly used for its ability to boost respiratory and lung health. Traditional herbalists believe that mullein plays a role in helping to soothe the respiratory tract.6

Wild Cherry Bark

Taken from the bark of the black cherry tree, wild cherry bark is packed with minerals like iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium as well as phytochemicals like quercetin and kaempferol. Studies have shown that wild cherry bark may help calm and support the respiratory system, which is due in part to its ability to help soothe the respiratory muscles lining the bronchi-oles.7 Wild cherry bark supplements are available as both wild cherry bark syrup and wild cherry bark capsules.

Quercetin and Bromelain

Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant flavonoid found in a wide range of foods and plants including apples, various berries, green tea, red grapes, onions and ginkgo biloba. Questioner antioxidant effects help promote immune health and studies have also shown that it can support sinus and respiratory health.8 Quercetin is often combined with bromelain in supplements, since bromelain may enhance the absorption of quercetin, but bromelain offers benefits of its own.

Bromelain is derived from the stem of pineapples and features an impressive range of proteolytic enzymes. Bromelain has been studied for its benefits for sinus and lung health9,10 Together, quercetin and bromelain are a winning combo for respiratory support. 

Elecampane Root

The elecampane root may not be a household name, but it’s a heavyweight in the world of respiratory health, and this relative of the sunflower also has a rich history of traditional use. Elecampane root’s scientific name is Helenium, after Helen of Troy, and the folklore is that elecampane grew on the spot where her tears fell. Elecampane root has long been used as a traditional supporter to boost respiratory health and soothe the respiratory system, useful benefits for battling seasonal effects.11


It may be a familiar kitchen herb, but health enthusiasts in-the-know are privy to the fact that oregano is much more than just a flavor-enhancer for your pizza. It provides antioxidants while promoting digestive function, immune function and, you guessed it, respiratory health.12,13 Researchers have reported that oregano supplements may promote a soothing of the respiratory system and improve airflow while boosting immune health.14

Coleus Forskohlii

Coleus forskohlii is one of the more exotic-sounding herbal respiratory supplements on our list, but this member of the mint family has been used for centuries as a respiratory health staple in Ayurvedic traditions. Modern science agrees that this Indian and South Asian herb is a great option for seasonal support. According to studies, taking a coleus forskohlii supplement can have a soothing effect on the smooth muscles of your airways.15

Plantain Leaf

The plantain is a perennial plant that originates from Europe and northern and Central Asia, but can also be found in North America and Australia. It’s a source of flavonoids including apigenin and luteolin, plus minerals like zinc, iron and potassium and vitamins A, C and K. Plantain leaf supplements have been traditionally used for boosting respiratory health and seasonal wellness. While its effects on respiratory health are not fully understood, its benefits may be related to vitamin C content, which according to studies can play a role in supporting healthy lung function.16  

Red Raspberry Leaves

You’re likely already aware of some of the health benefits of raspberries, but those delicious berries aren’t the only part of the raspberry plant that’s good for your health. The red raspberry leaf is practically bursting with nutrients like alpha-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, niacin, boron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, tons of antioxidants and a whole lot more. Herbalists dating back centuries have used red raspberry leaf as a traditional tonic to help support the body against the effects of seasonal blahs and boost respiratory function.

Thyme Leaf

Like oregano, thyme leaf is another culinary favorite that doubles as a supporter of good health and its use dates all the way back to the time of the Romans. Thyme is a flowering evergreen shrub and a member of the mint family. Its leaf has been used throughout the ages to boost immune function, support healthy blood pressure already within the normal range, and even promote a healthy mood. Thyme is also particularly suited for supporting respiratory health.17 While studies are ongoing, part of thyme’s respiratory health benefits may come from carvacrol, a plant phenol that boosts the body’s immune defenses.18,19

Respiratory Health Supplements

Want the combined power of top herbs for respiratory health? Swanson Herbal Seasonal Care features seven traditional herbal extracts with studied respiratory benefits, including Terminalia chebula fruit extract, ginger root extract, Piper longum fruit extract and more. Also check out Swanson Condition Specific Formulas Lung Essentials, featuring a patented blend designed to boost seasonal immune function and support the respiratory system.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Spring into Health: Top Nutrients for Fighting Springtime Woes and 21 Vitamins & Supplements for Immune Health. Also, be sure to sign up for Swanson Health Emails to get expert advice and our best promotions delivered straight to your inbox.

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