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 Herbal Medicine: The Lower Respiratory System 
Actions and herbs for the Lower Respiratory System
Pulmonary : Inula helenium, Verbascum thapsus
Expectorant Stimulating: Marrubium vulgare, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, Sanguinaria canadensis
Relaxing : Tussilago farfara, Lobelia inflata, Grindelia camporum
Demulcent: Plantago spp., Pulmonaria officinalis, Cetraria islandica, Asclepias tuberosa
Anti-spasmodic: Euphorbia pilulifera, Drosera spp., Papaver spp., Prunus serotina, Lactuca virosa
Anti-microbial: Allium spp., Echinacea spp., Eucalyptus spp., Thymus vulgaris
Anti-catarrhal: Hyssopus officinalis, Tussilago farfara
Cardio-Tonic: Crataegus spp., Leonurus cardiaca, Tilia europaea
Nervine: Hyssopus officinalis, Leonurus cardiaca, Lobelia inflata, Lactuca virosa
There is a great deal that Phytotherapy has to offer in the treatment of respiratory disease. However, a major obstacle to correct use lies in the language herbalist's use to describe them. What follows here is a brief recap of the expectorant section in the Actions chapter. Please refer back to it for more details of secondary actions etc..

Expectorants are herbs that help the body to remove excess mucous from the lungs. However, it is a very badly used and mis-defined term that is often used to mean a remedy that `does something' for the Respiratory system. To further elucidate the activity, and thus the therapeutic indications, of the various remedies called `expectorants' they are subdivided thus:

- Pulmonary/Tonic
- Stimulating expectorant
    • alkaloid containing
    • saponin containing
    • volatile oil containing
- Relaxing expectorant
    • demulcent
    • anti-inflammatory (often also anti-microbial)
      - usually with volatile oil
    • anti-spasmodic - alkaloid containing
      - volatile oil containing

The stimulating expectorants can act in different ways to produce the same effect, and it is not always clear how a specific remedy is working, but current ideas suggest the following processes:
  • irritation of the bronchioles to stimulate the expulsion of any material present.
  • liquefaction of viscid sputum so that it can be cleared by coughing. The sputum is moved upwards from the lungs by the fine hairs of the ciliated epithelium lining the bronchiole tubes. Reducing the viscosity through expectorants facilitates this transport.

Most stimulating expectorants contain alkaloids, saponins or volatile oils. However not all chemicals in these groups, or plants with these constituents have this activity.

The relaxing expectorants would seem to act also by reflex but here it is to soothe bronchial spasm and loosen mucous secretions. This loosening is occasioned by producing a thinner mucous, lifting the stickier stuff up from below. This makes them useful in dry, irritating coughs. You will notice that this action is similar in some respects to the demulcents, and both actions owe a lot to their content of mucilage and occasionally volatile oils.

The pharmacopeias abound in plant remedies and most of the herbs still in the British and American official lists are expectorants, anti-tussive or decongestants. However, the allopathic focus on effect has meant the dropping of the tonic remedies. Pulmonaries provide Phytotherapy with the possibility of strengthening both tissue and function in addition to addressing the symptoms of respiratory disease.

Tonics for the Lower Respiratory System
Herbs that are known as pulmonaries, or amphoteric expectorants have a beneficial effect upon both the tissue of the lungs and their functioning. Important remedies include
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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
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