Self Help

Herbal Support for the Respiratory System

The Seed Sistas, authors of The Sensory Herbal Handbook, have over 20 years of clinical and teaching experience of utilising the medicinal qualities of herbs. Today we’re sharing a sneak peak from the book, to see which herbs can support your respiratory systems.

After birth, a baby takes his or her first breath, inhaling and beginning their relationship with the external environment. This marks independence from the supporting environment of the mother’s womb and interaction with life on the outside. We will continue to breathe for the rest of our life.

Our breath both sustains us and represents our life force. The autonomic nervous system, as the name implies, monitors via the central nervous system, the functioning of the body and regulates this accordingly. It connects both our conscious awareness and the subconscious workings of the body. We breathe subconsciously, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulating how quickly we need to breath in order to provide enough oxygen to our cells. We also have the ability to consciously guide the breath, altering the depth and speed to relax, to energise and to initiate altered states. The lungs ensure that there is enough oxygen in our blood but also provide a route of elimination of unwanted products from the blood such as carbon dioxide (CO2).  

Observing how a person breathes is a very useful diagnostic tool: 

  • Do they take short, shallow breaths? 
  • Do they take long deep breaths? 
  • Is there any difficulty in breathing? 
  • Are there any deformities around the chest area? 
  • Do they hunch their shoulders (which may be restricting their breathing)?

If someone is embracing life and is feeling happy and relaxed they are much more likely to be taking deep, full breaths, with their shoulders moving gently back creating lots of space to have an open receptive heart space. In contrast, someone feeling low, melancholic or nervous may have their shoulders hunched to protect their heart or have shallow breaths or difficulty in breathing.

Keeping the lungs clear, the membranes healthy and protected and ensuring there is enough relaxation in the lungs for deep, full breaths is important in any treatment plan.

Common symptoms of an imbalance of the respiratory system

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis (acute)
  • Cough
  • Chest infection

How to support the respiratory system


Thyme is a wonderful antimicrobial perfect for respiratory infections with an expectorant action to aid expulsion of mucous from the lungs, 

Daisy with her saponins is a gentle lung herb super useful with children and the elderly, Inula is a faithful anti -infective, nourishing strengthening plant extremely useful in respiratory issues, 

Horseradish is very clearing and is an excellent support to breathing especially where there is sinus infection.


Cutting out mucous forming foods like dairy products, refined carbohydrates and sugars.


  • Exercise 
  • Steam inhalations with essential oils and herb teas
  • Pranayama (yogic breathing exercises)
  • Stretches and yoga that will create more space around the chest area
  • Massage
  • Breathing exercise

Some conditions of the lungs and treatment strategies

Causes of lung problemsfood intolerances allergens physical damage (inhalation of pollutants, pesticides and other harmful chemicals) stress lack of exercise
Conditions in or associated with the lungsasthma chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder bronchitis (acute) cough chest infection tumours certain heart conditions can also present in the lungs pneumothorax cystic Fibrosis
Other tools steam inhalations with essential oils and herb teas breath work exercise  stretches and yoga that will create more space around the chest area massage diet
Herbal actions consideredexpectorant (soothing/irritant) anti-inflammatory demulcent mucous membrane restorative lung tonic circulatory antispasmodic anti-tussive digestive support (if linked with food intolerances): bitters, hepatics
Therapeuticsremoving any allergens or food intolerances identifying causative factors rest relaxation of system restoration of lung tissue removal of stuck mucous with herbs and inhalations  support with stopping smoking