Yesterday a friend who is visiting Portland from Majorca, Spain told me that she continues to refer to my book Herbal Medicine for Health and Well-Being (Sterling 2004) when she has a health issue come up and wonders what herbs she can use to support her best health. This exchange reminded me that I really want to make the contents of the book available through this blog. As it is winter in Portland, and I hear lots of coughs as I move through my day, I thought I would post some of the information from the chapter on Breathing Freely.

The respiratory tract is one of the body’s important mechanisms for exchange with our environment. It is through the respiratory tract that we take in the oxygen needed by every cell in the body to function and eliminate carbon dioxide, the most abundant waste product of the body.

Effective respiration is crucial to maintain life. As with the heart, the disruption of the free flow of this system can be life threatening, causing, for example, an acute asthma attack. And, as with the digestive tract, there can be low-grade dysfunction of this system for which the body compensates over relatively long periods of time until it finally becomes overwhelmed and the symptoms of illness appear. If we ignore these low-grade symptoms, treating them as minor annoyances, we find that down the road we have serious symptoms that are very disruptive to our well-being and are more difficult to address.

Maintaining a Healthy Respiratory Tract

Most problems of the upper and lower respiratory tract are preventable. Air quality is key. Avoiding polluted air and not smoking are important, of course. But because air pollution is increasingly pervasive and difficult to avoid, we need to do whatever we can to enhance lung function. Go for walks in heavily wooded areas. Breathe deeply to cleanse the respiratory tract. Through exercising or deep breathing through yoga, you increase the rate and volume of exhaled air. These are important tools you can employ to enhance this natural detoxifying body function. Herbs can also enhance lung function by facilitating detoxification and tonifying respiratory tissues.

Lung Cleansing Tea

If you are chronically exposed to polluted air in your home or work environment, or have residual lung congestion following an infection, the Lung Cleansing Tea offered here helps clear the lungs and restore healthy function.

Ingredients for Lung Cleansing Tea

Fennel – photo taken by Meg Dewitt

1 part Fenugreek seeds
1/4 part Ginger root (or to taste)
1 part Fennel seeds
1/4 part Licorice root (or to taste)

Place pure cool water in a sauce pan and add 1 tablespoon of herbs for every cup of water. Bring to a rolling boil. Allow the herbs to simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for another 5 minutes. Strain the herbs, breathe the warm steam in through your nose deeply into you lungs, and drink.

Drink 3-4 cups per day. This tea can be used daily for extended periods of time.

Disperses cold and reduces inflammation. Mildly expectorating and antispasmotic. Mucilaginous properties soothe and heal irritated respiratory passageways.

This is a nice tasting tea that can be used every day over an extended period of time to cleanse and support the lungs. It is useful for that lingering cough after a difficult winter of bronchitis or pneumonia. It is a nice tea to use as a follow up after a bad cough for which you were taking strong herbs like osha. When you are mostly recovered and the taste of Osha becomes too much this tea makes a nice transition. Milder in taste and fragrance, but keeps the attention on the lungs, on expectorating any lingering residue and supporting healthy function.

Fenugreek should not be used in pregnancy unless supervised by a qualified healthcare practitioner.

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