What to expect from expectorants
by CoreyPine Shane on December 19th, 2010

Lung gunk. It’s that time of year when a simple cold can travel down into our lungs and cause problems, especially if we don’t take the time to rest and recuperate when we get sick. So prevention may be the best treatment, but what if it gets past that point? What to do when things get… well… sticky?

First thing to realize is that mucous is a good thing, but like all good things, it is best in moderation. Normally there is a thin layer of mucous coating our respiratory membranes that not only moistens and soothes the passages, but also acts like flypaper, trapping microbes, dust, pollen and other small particles so they can be brought out of the body, or (more commonly) tipped over the top of the trachea into the digestive tract to get burned up by stomach acid.

Mucous only becomes a problem when there is irritation or infection – the goblet cells produce more to protect the surface cells (epithelium) and to help get rid of the irritant. So the first stage of a respiratory infection or seasonal allergies is a runny drippy nose. After a few days of this, the goblet cells start to tire and “dry out” so that the drippy nose becomes the plugged up nose.

Now mucous doesn’t kill microbes, it just traps them so they can be disposed of. So if the body can’t effectively clear the mucous out, it can become a breeding ground for microbes. I see this happen often in people with chronic food allergies or sensitivities that then leads to chronic bronchitis or chronic sinusitis.

Often, people with chronic stuffy noses need to change their diet or lessen the amount of dairy they’re eating before even starting with herbs and supplements. The saying in Chinese Medicine is “Digestion (“the Spleen”) produces Dampness and the Lungs store Dampness.”

Which brings us to your classic winter-time bronchitis complete with thick mucous in the bronchioles, the branching tubes that bring air deep into the lungs for oxygen exchange. As should be clear by now, it’s not enough to just use herbs that kill bacteria, it is also necessary to change the underlying condition by getting rid of the excess fluid clogging things up and creating a home for infection.

So, a good question to ask is – Is the cough productive? Sometimes you want to stimulate expectoration to clear thick phlegm, sometimes you want to moisten and “water down” the mucous to make for easier passage, and sometimes you just want to stop the coughing. After all, coughing takes energy and can keep us from sleeping, our best time to heal.

Stimulating expectorant herbs include Elecampane root, Osha, Grindelia, Spikenard, Angelica, Lobelia, and Pleurisy root. Demulcent herbs used to moisten the lungs include Marshmallow, Plantain leaf, and Slippery Elm. Anti-tussive herbs that help stop coughing include Wild Cherry, Coltsfoot, and Elecampane flower.

Next blog we’ll talk about some of these herbs in greater depth.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with bronchitis, cough, expectorants, herbal remedies


AstroHerbalist - December 19th, 2010 at 2:33 PM
Simply stated, yet so informative at the same time CoreyPine! I would only add Mullein to your awesome lung herb list! :-) THANKS so much for sharing your wisdom with all who wish to know!
Karyn Zaremba - December 19th, 2010 at 3:34 PM
Any thoughts on how to help a nursing home patient who takes lots of meds? I do essential oils in a vaporizer and she will drink herbal teas but they are difficult to make there. Maybe a salve?
Tina - August 27th, 2014 at 10:37 AM
How do you administer grindelia for stuck mucous"?

Kara J Lincoln - July 12th, 2018 at 10:23 AM

I'm finding good options on this site to share w/on in recent accident w/broken bones, thank you!

I'm still trying to define more on resolving a cough now for over a few years, which has been difficult for one. He is 72 and has exhausted his lungs as a deep sea diver/smoker but quit 38 years ago smoking. I do believe he overextends his energy a bit for a small body in the many tasks he's done. It has been his nature.

But continued cough weakens as you know, so I've shared this article for him to rethink, and yes we try different foods, to keep it light, and being vegetarians, even now eggs are appalling to him. So trying more w/herring to gain protein, which seems to help if he can tolerate it.

Thank you for your above defining thought, and if have more, to restart a direction to define, it will be appreciated. Another Chinese herbalist gave a formula few years back, so I don't remember herbs, to help break up mucus and it was too aggressive, even at low dose he coughed very hard and quit..

Good day, kara
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