Breathe easy: herbalist Kelly Bowers offers a breath of fresh air.

Author:Bowers, Kelly
Position:Herbal healing

Each day, we inhale 25,000 times, receiving and sharing that air with all life on our planet. Fortunately, the very plants that provide us with oxygen can also provide us with much-needed relief when our breathing is stressed by illness and pollution.

Here are a few of our local plant friends who can help us to breathe easy.

A popular European cough remedy, Coltsfoot's (Tussilago farfara) yellow flowers are the first blossoms to appear in the Northeast in spring. Coltsfoot is superb at resolving asthmatic wheezing and shortness of breath, and has been smoked since ancient times to sedate coughs. A cup of coltsfoot tea before rising helps with emphysema and morning cough, while inhaling the steam from the leaves and flowers can soothe bronchitis and shortness of breath. Dosage is 10-20 drops of tincture, 3-9 grams or a standard infusion of dried flowers and leaves. **

The rhizome and root of sunny Elecampane (Inula belenium) stimulates a productive cough and soothes the respiratory system with its relaxing mucilage. A superb lung tonic, it strengthens lung muscles and promotes lung tissue longevity. It is useful for chronic cold lung conditions with clear expectoration, pneumonia, coughs, whooping cough and bronchitis. The flowers lower chi in order to stop coughs, bring up and dissolve phlegin and relieve wheezing. Dosage is a standard infusion, 3-9 grams or 10-30 drops of tincture. **

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) causes immediate relaxation and expansion of the bronchial tubes. In large doses, it can cause vomiting, leading to its common name, pukeweed. Although emetic (vomiting) therapy can be employed to treat asthma, smaller doses of Lobelia can resolve an acute attack without leading to nausea. Lobelia contains lobeline, a chemical cousin of nicotine, which helps reduce nicotine cravings. A blend of lobelia, coltsfoot and mullein can be smoked as a soothing alternative to tobacco. Dosage is 5-15 drops of tincture or 6-15 grams of the seeds, leaves and/or flowers in an infusion. **

Ma Huang, commonly known as Ephedra (Ephedra sinica), contains the alkaloid ephedrine, which is an adrenalin-like stimulant that provides quick relief for allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems. It dilates the bronchial tubes, resulting in deeper breathing and increased oxygen intake, and has antihistamine. Dosage is 2-6 grams in a decoction. **

Introduced to North America by European settlers, Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) was quickly adopted by Native...

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