Inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide are quintessential to keep our body functioning, but this mechanic action also allows us to enjoy some of the little joys in life, such as delighting in fresh air or the scent of fragrant flowers.

 Both of these everyday miracles are possible thanks to the well-oiled machine that is the respiratory system. However, just like any other machine, it requires continuous maintenance and care to function at its best.

 Throughout millennia and across multiple cultures, herbal remedies have been a cornerstone to maintaining the health of the lungs, throat, and other respiratory system components. Their anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic, and antioxidant properties are unparalleled in holistic health.

The following herbs are some of the best for respiratory health, each good enough to take your breath away—and bring it back where it needs to be. 

1. Lomatium

Perhaps one of the most valuable herbs in naturopathy, lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) has been a historically significant plant in North American soil and an invaluable health asset for many Native American tribes across the centuries.

Most recognized lomatium benefits come from the oils found at the plant’s roots. This substance is highly valued for its aromatic properties and extensive antibacterial, antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral effects on the respiratory system, particularly the lungs.

These all-encompassing benefits make lomatium an ideal herb for lung health during the challenging seasons of spring and summer. However, it is also suitable as a year-round supplement, as it can support the respiratory system and help build a healthy immune response against external pathogens.

2. Peppermint

Although delicious in candy canes and herbal tea, peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is far more than just a tasty rush of menthol freshness—it is an all-encompassing, heavy-hitter assistant to respiratory health.

Peppermint oil has well-documented antibacterial and antioxidant properties, with one particular study determining that peppermint oil and various derived compounds can stop the activity of several bacteria strains that may threaten the health and correct functioning of the respiratory system.

Likewise, peppermint also boasts antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefits, which can help alleviate blocked sinuses and relieve seasonal allergies. In particular, the plant is rich in rosmarinic acid, a substance proven to be efficient in reducing and preventing allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes, and a runny nose.

While peppermint tea is a good option, research suggests the essential oil is more effective.

3. Lungwort

Common in Europe and Western Asia, the lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) derives its name from its long tradition as the quintessential plant for respiratory well-being and lung health. Infusions of the plant are renowned for their expectorant and antitussive properties, as well as astringent, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory benefits.

One study confirmed this ancient wisdom and determined that some of the lungwort’s compounds—the previously-mentioned rosmarinic acid, salvianolic acid H, and menisdaruin—are the ones responsible for the plant’s exceptional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. According to the research, they work by inhibiting COX-2, an enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain.

Although drinking lungwort herbal tea can grant you some of its properties, supplements offer higher concentrations of organic lungwort in a safe manner, thus allowing you to reap greater benefits.

4. Osha

Unlike most other entries in this list, the benefits Osha (Ligusticum porter) provides do not come from the leaves. Instead, the root has long been appreciated by Native American tribes and Hispanic cultures as an upper respiratory system aid capable of soothing and relieving multiple afflictions.

Osha root is rich in Z-ligustilide, a compound that seems to be a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antifungal. Most research attributes osha’s decongestant properties to this active ingredient, making it exceptional for sore throats.

While osha grows in the wild, it’s easy to confuse it with the poisonous water hemlock. As such, it’s much safer to enjoy its benefits at the hands of supplements crafted by experts.

5. Lobelia Herb

The Lobelia genus is another flowering group of plants recognized as herbal remedies for centuries, earning a spot as a valued medicinal and ceremonial symbol for many Native American tribes.

Of them all, Lobelia inflata—also known as Indian tobacco—may be the most recognized and beneficial. Its main active compound, lobeline, has been studied as a respiratory stimulant—that is, it can help encourage breathing during coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness. Likewise, lobeline displays expectorant properties and can help relax the airways.

More promisingly, one study determined lobelia’s main compound could be vital in helping fight lung injury by reducing inflammation, although this requires further study.

Nonetheless, it’s important to consume lobeline in the correct dosages. As such, the safest way to enjoy lobelia’s benefits is through specially formulated supplements.

6. Eucalyptus

Although eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) is not exactly an herb—it’s a tree instead—it is nonetheless a plant with powerful therapeutic properties and a terrific ally for the general health of your respiratory system.

Eucalyptus leaves contain cineole or eucalyptol, a compound deemed exceptional for promoting lung health. For example, its anti-inflammatory and bronchodilating properties help relax the lungs and open the airways, while further research has proven it can help clear mucus and reduce runny nose symptoms.

However, remember that while eucalyptus oil is rich in eucalyptol, taking it by mouth is unsafe. You can enjoy the benefits of eucalyptus oil by applying it topically, but to see long-term impacts on your respiratory system, it’s best to take supplements made with eucalyptus leaves.

7. Licorice

Few medicinal herbs enjoy the widespread acclaim and reputation licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has.

For thousands of years, Eastern and Western traditional medicine have promoted licorice root as a multi-purpose health champion, particularly regarding respiratory health.

The reason lies in its main compound, glycyrrhizin. According to research, glycyrrhizin is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial active, making it an exceptional aid in maintaining the health of your upper respiratory tract and preventing sore throat after strenuous circumstances such as surgery.

Licorice root is a valuable herb that promotes healthy lungs and respiratory function. However, glycyrrhizin is an active best consumed from reputable sources to ensure high quality, so it may be best to rely on supplements to guarantee its full benefits. 


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