Family Herbs for Respiratory Illness

Here are some of my family’s favorite herbs for cold & flu, upper respiratory infection, and other respiratory illnesses. You don’t need these exact herbs; in fact, it makes a lot more sense for you to find herbs that are local to you and address the needs of your body.  Plant medicine is not one-size-fits-all, and it tends to work better when we tweak the formulas based on what is happening with you specifically (more about that, and also here). 

Practice figuring out whether something is warming or cooling, drying or moistening, stimulating or not, soothing or not as this is useful to figure out when to use each herb for balance (more thoughts on that).  Remember to combine herbs for best effectiveness: herbs to improve absorption, astringents to help retain moistening demulcents, expectorants with anti-inflammatories, etc. (more thoughts on that).

These herbs all overlap categories since they all have a bunch of different actions–refer to my article on herbal actions for more about that.  I don’t want to make these lists so long as to be overwhelming, so you may notice that some things aren’t cross posted to multiple lists since it’s not a full materia medica, it’s just some herbs to group together on one shelf in case you need them in a hurry.

Moistening, Soothing Anti-Inflammatory Herbs with Affinity for the Lungs

  • Marshmallow root (for grown-ups) and leaf (for kids), tea or honey–take this one by itself between meals, it can block absorption of nutrients in the gut.
  • Mullein Leaf tea or honey
  • Solomon’s Seal tincture or tea
  • Calendula tea
  • Violet leaf tea

Astringents (to help those moistening herbs work better)

  • Yarrow, my favorite, tincture or tea
  • Goldenrod tincture or tea
  • Plantain tincture or tea

Stimulating Lung Anti-inflammatories, Expectorants, Cough Suppressants

  • New England Aster tincture or tea
  • Prickly Ash tincture
  • Angelica tincture or tea
  • Elecampane tincture or tea
  • Calamus tincture or tea
  • Pine tincture or tea
  • Ginger tincture or tea
  • Turmeric tincture
  • Hyssop tincture or tea
  • Prunella tincture or tea
  • Cherry Bark tincture
  • Anise-Hyssop, tincture or tea
  • Bee Balm tincture or tea
  • Coltsfoot tincture
  • Lobelia tincture

Herbs to Support Fever Response

Check out what Jim McDonald writes about this!  Most of these are also anti-inflammatory and good for tummy trouble, some are also antiviral too

  • Catnip tincture, tea, or bath
  • Peppermint tincture, tea, or bath
  • Bee Balm tincture, tea, or bath
  • Yarrow tincture or tea
  • Black Birch Bark tincture or tea
  • Boneset tincture

Antiviral Herbs

All of these do a bunch of things as well as supporting a healthy immune response, like supporting fever activity, decongesting, or calming stress.

  • Lemon balm tincture or tea
  • Spilanthes tincture
  • Sage honey
  • Garlic
  • Thyme tincture, tea, steam, or eaten
  • Rosemary tincture, tea, steam, or eaten
  • White Pine tincture, tea, honey
  • Elder flower tincture or tea

Daytime Nervines

For anxiety, fear, stress, for the caregiver as well as the sick person.

  • Tulsi tincture, tea, honey
  • Ashwagandha tincture
  • Lemon balm tincture or tea
  • Baicalensis tincture
  • Milky oats tincture
  • Rose tincture, tea, or honey–multiflora for armor and tenacity, garden for a peaceful heart

Nighttime Nervines

For sleep help or mind-whirling anxiety, for the caregiver as well as the sick person.

  • Skullcap tincture
  • Passionflower tincture
  • Hops tincture
  • Linden tincture or tea
  • Elderberry-ginger-thyme syrup (locally known as “spicy medicine”)
  • Ginger-cinnamon-rose oxymel (locally known as “sweet pickle medicine”)
  • White pine oxymel (pine AKA “people hay” is one that my 3 year old loves to nibble on our walks)

Instructions to make oxymels,  Instructions to make syrups .  Feel free to improvise the proportions based on what you have: twice as much ginger as cinnamon is going to be great, and so is substituting lavender for rose because it’s what you have…let your creative side roll, oxymels and syrups tend to turn out great.  It’s totally fine to make any of these recipes with fresh or dried herbs.  See the end of the resource list for good places to buy herbs.

Be sure to read up on any herbs you’re trying, and double check them with your health conditions, medications, and your family’s needs–some of these are safe for everybody, some of them have a couple warnings, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to check.

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