Ask the Doctor: Herbal Remedies for Respiratory Health

This cold season, improve your respiratory health with herbs.

| August/September 2012

Q. Are there herbs that can help alleviate congestion, sore throats and coughs?

A. Several herbal decongestants can help clear up your respiratory system, and there are some great herbs for relieving aches, sore throats and coughs.

Respiratory Health Recipe

Essential Oil Steam for Congestion 

Herbs for Congestion

Peppermint (Mentha ×piperita) oil and pure menthol are often included in commercial products such as nasal decongestants, throat lozenges, cough drops, chest rubs and inhalants. The same goes for essential oil of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus). Each herb contains compounds that relax the airways and open congested sinuses and nasal passages.

In one study, people who inhaled menthol indicated that it relieved their respiratory discomfort, maybe because menthol stimulates cold receptors. For example, just stepping into the cold outdoors can relieve stuffiness. You can try putting a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus oil onto a cotton ball and setting it on your nightstand to breathe in the vapors as you sleep. Make sure that you don’t get the oil in your eyes or rub it on mucus membranes, and never apply essential oils in or near the noses of infants or small children, because this has been reported to cause respiratory arrest.

Herbs for Aches Including Peppermint for Headaches

Peppermint essential oil can be applied externally to stimulate nerves that perceive cold and decrease pain-transmission signals. Rub peppermint oil on your temples to reduce a headache (but don’t get any in your eyes), or add two drops of peppermint oil to your bath. Peppermint oil combines nicely with essential oils of eucalyptus and lavender (Lavandula spp.). Lavender is often praised for the relaxing effects of its scent. Taken internally, peppermint tea made from 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves for each cup of boiled water promotes sweating, which can help relieve a fever.

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