There are a number of effective plant medicines available which help to protect and strengthen your lungs. Photo / Getty Images

There are a number of effective plant medicines available which help to protect and strengthen your lungs. Photo / Getty Images

Hi Sandra, over 18 months ago I contracted a respiratory virus that affected my lungs. Whilst the initial viral symptoms subsided within a few months I’ve been left with ongoing breathing difficulties that flare up in cold, damp weather, and whenever I get tired. Is there anything I can take to regain the strength in my lungs and support my breathing? Thanks, John.

Hi John, thanks for your question. Viral infections that are not easily and fully overcome by the immune system when they first occur can sometimes result in low-grade chronic problems that persist long-term. Breathing difficulties, intermittent coughing and recurrent respiratory tract infections can be lasting reminders of a particularly bad infection.

The traditional medicine strategy for treating lung problems of this nature is founded on supporting your own immune system and nourishing the affected organ and related system – in this case, the respiratory system and lungs.

It is simply impossible to eliminate all pathogens around us but we can create an internal environment where we can minimise the harm they cause. There are a number of effective plant medicines available which help to protect and strengthen your lungs again. They are best used alongside supporting lifestyle strategies.

The following medicinal plants are wonderful allies for anyone wanting to rebuild lung health.

The resilient and aromatic thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a key medicinal plant for anyone needing to transform a lung condition that has become stuck for an extended period. It has antiviral as well as remarkably potent antiseptic and antispasmodic properties, helping to both protect and relax bronchial passages that have become hypersensitive, constricted and susceptible to infections. It is officially used in European countries for dry, wet and whooping coughs, spastic bronchitis, catarrh, asthma and to support weak lungs in emphysema. We are very fortunate in New Zealand to have access to very potent and pure Central Otago thyme.

Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) is helpful for anyone who has become tight in their chest and shallow in their breathing. Aniseed is an effective antibacterial for the whole respiratory system and has a relaxing and opening effect, due in part to its anti-spasmodic action. It helps deepen breathing and slow the respiratory rate, allowing for better oxygenation. It is also useful for the persistent and irritable coughing that often occurs in chronic lung problems.

Grindelia (Grindelia robusta) is another traditional chest herb that has been used in regular medicine for the treatment of coughs and catarrh of the respiratory tract. I find this plant effective to both prevent further infections as well as push existing ones out.

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) decreases airway hypersensitivity, making it helpful for lungs that have become weak and susceptible to environmental changes. It has mild antibiotic properties, and helps to expel excess phlegm and soothes inflamed and painful mucous membranes in the respiratory tract.

These medicinal plants can be easily combined and consumed regularly as an oral liquid. Protecting your lungs from further infections this season will be important to ensure recovery. Take a chest formula at least twice a day over the colder season to protect yourself from bugs making the round and take it more frequently if you feel your respiratory system is under attack.

Alongside the above traditional plant medicines, there are a number of other beneficial strategies for supporting lung health:

• In cold and humid weather limit your time outside to protect your respiratory system from cold air.

• Keep warm. If there is any sensation of cold on the chest, then a freshly made herbal tea made from fresh ginger, lemon, honey, and warming spices such as cinnamon will quickly restore warmth and help your body to strengthen its defences. It is worthwhile to have these ingredients in your pantry.

• If you feel cold, make a foot bath that is hot but still comfortable. Add some aromatic herbs or sea salt for added benefits and bathe your feet for a minimum of 10 minutes. This is one of my favourite strategies to stop a cold in its track.

• Hydrate well with warm water, herbal teas, soups and vegetable juices.

• Limit sugar: consuming too many simple sugars can cause up to a 50% reduction in the ability of white blood cells to destroy foreign particles for over 5 hours.

• Reduce foods that encourage mucus formation, such as dairy products and refined carbohydrates such as cakes and pastries.

• In chronic cases, gentle walking in good weather will improve breathing. Avoid high-intensity workouts that stress weak lungs. Leave these until your respiratory system is in better shape.

• Try to avoid dust and going suddenly from hot to cold atmospheres. If you’re a smoker, lung problems like this indicate the time has come to get serious about quitting.

I hope these strategies assist you in restoring your respiratory health. If this condition worsens or does not improve, see your leading healthcare professional.

References

Sanchez, A., Reeser, J., Lau, H., Yahiku, P., Willard, R., McMillan, P., Cho, S., Magie, A., Register, U. (1973). Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26(11), 1180-1184. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180.abstract
Ulbricht, C., Basch, E., Cheung, L., Goldberg, H., Hammerness, P., Isaac, R., . . . Wortley, J. (2014). An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 11(1), 80-120. doi: 10.3109/19390211.2013.859852

NZ Herald