Herbs for the Lungs: Elecampane

In the cold winter months it can be challenging to recover completely from a cold or lung infection. Lingering coughs are all too common, and it’s easy to get re-infected if you haven’t fully recovered from the last round.

If you have a cold or mild flu, the best thing to do is stay home, get lots of rest, and stay hydrated (perhaps with herbal tea!). If you have more severe flu symptoms, a high fever, or a secondary bacterial infection, you should seek medical care. But if you have a cough or wheeze with no infection, or are producing plentiful clear mucus, there are plenty of wonderful herbs that help get your lungs clear and happy again.

And for those of you with chronic conditions, you may be more susceptible to mucus, congestion, and inflammation. Herbs can really help control your symptoms and help prevent re-infection (or secondary infection).

One of my all-time favorite herbs for lingering respiratory troubles and asthma is Elecampane.

Elecampane, Inula helinum

Elecampane is a tall, vigorous, perennial plant with lovely yellow flowers. The aromatic root is the part used medicinally, although the flowers are also used, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the West, the root is more common. This herb is rich in essential oils and resins, giving it a strong bittersweet flavor. It is equally effective in tea (decoction), tincture, or capsule/tablet form.

Elecampane is pungent, warming, and penetrating. It has expectorant, antiseptic, and anti-nausea properties, among others. It is effective against the nausea caused by excess mucus in the stomach, whether from weak (cold) digestion or post-nasal drip.

Ayurveda uses the root to treat colds, asthma, cough, and digestive upset. It breaks up phlegm, reduces excess Kapha, and strengthens the lungs.

For wheezing, asthma, and thick phlegm, Elecampane can be mixed with Ginger, Pippali (Indian Long Pepper), Cinnamon, and Cardamom. This blend, in powdered form, is mixed with raw honey and taken daily as a lung tonic or preventative during cold and flu season. A standard dose for an adult would be ¼ to 1 gram twice per day.

A lovely tea to tone the lungs in the cold winter months would be a decoction of Elecampane and fresh or dried ginger. About 1 tablespoon each of the dried herbs to one quart of water, simmered for 20 minutes makes a good medicinal tea. Strain and drink hot, with a spoonful of raw honey if you like.

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