5 Herbs That Support the Respiratory System

Cold and flu season is here, and it can be challenging for our respiratory systems. It’s important to have herbal remedies on hand to support our health…and a plan on when to use them! The herbs we’re going to discuss in this blog have been used for generations for good reason. They make potent herbal remedies that can keep your respiratory system functioning at its best. It’s not enough to just know what these herbs do, though. You need to know how to use them and be confident in doing so. So let’s talk about it….

1. MULLEIN (Verbascum thapsus)

Mullein is perhaps the most popular respiratory herb. However, mullein does different jobs, depending on the part you’re using. For respiratory purposes, we want to use the leaves. The soft, fuzzy leaves of mullein have demulcent, expectorant, and tonic properties that do an excellent job of supporting your lungs. 

Basically what that means, is that mullein will help tone and strengthen your lungs, help you clear mucus more easily, and balance the moisture in the lungs. 

Mullein is generally considered a safe plant to take daily, or multiple times a day as needed. As I mentioned, the leaves are an important part of this plant in regard to the lungs. The root is reserved for back pain and the flowers are for ear pain. If you’d like to learn more about how all the parts of mullein work for your body, read this post.

To prepare mullein, boil 1 cup of water, place 1 tsp of mullein leaf in the water for 10 minutes, strain, and drink. It’s important to consume mullein as warm as you safely can to get the best benefits of this herb. For extra benefit, be sure to take long deep breaths of the steam, as herbal properties are also in the steam.


2. HYSSOP (Hyssopus officinalis)

dried hyssop on a wood table

Hyssop is a go-to herb for respiratory ailments. Its herbal properties include antiseptic, antiviral, carminative, decongestant, and expectorant properties that are all very important to restore easy breathing.

The decongestant and expectorant properties are the ones responsible for thinning super thick, stuck mucus that likes to hang out in the upper respiratory tract. That’s the mucus responsible for making you clear your throat constantly and makes your throat sore in the morning. 

The carminative property means that it expels gas. Typically we’d consider this to be a gut benefit, but as many of us have experienced after eating way too much Christmas dinner, severely bloated stomachs impede your breathing. Adding hyssop to your tea blend supports your lungs as well as your stomach with this property.

To prepare hyssop, drink it in an infusion prepared the same way as mullein. If you are experiencing a lot of mucus, adding hyssop to mullein and drinking it very warm would be a great combination for clearing mucus and supporting the lungs.

It’s important to know that while hyssop is considered a safe herb to ingest, its essential oil is toxic. Because of this, it’s recommended to avoid the use of hyssop when you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

3. Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Elecampane is very similar to Hyssop in its expectorant properties and its gut benefits. It contains inulin, which is a compound that feeds all the good gut bacteria that we want to have around. It also has antiseptic, diaphoretic, and expectorant properties. In fact, its expectorant property is so good, that I like to refer to it as “Herbal Robitussin”. 

Elecampane is my personal favorite herb for thinning hard-to-move mucus from deep in the lungs, clearing mucus in the upper respiratory system, and it works insanely fast. 

It’s such a powerful expectorant, that it also clears built-up mucus in the digestive and urinary systems as well. If you struggle with issues in those areas, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you’re harvesting elecampane yourself, the root is what you’re after. Wait until a frost or two has occurred so all of the good medicinal properties are dormant in the roots. Cut the aerial parts to the ground and compost them, then dig for the roots. They don’t go very deep, but they do spread out some. Start digging about a foot away from the plant to ensure you don’t damage the root system.

To prepare elecampane, you’ll need to either make a syrup with it, or a tincture. My personal favorite is a tincture because honestly, it’s easier and I allow plenty of time for it to steep so I don’t ever run out. But, it tastes awful. So, if you have kids, syrup is the way to go.

To make a syrup, you’ll need to make a decoction of elecampane first. Do this by boiling 1 quart of water, then adding an ounce of elecampane root. Reduce it to a simmer and keep it there, stirring frequently, until you’ve reduced it by half. Approximately 30 minutes. 

Once you’ve reduced it, let it cool some, then add raw honey. Don’t add the honey too soon, or you’ll burn away the good properties of the honey. Stir it until it’s blended at the consistency you’re looking for, then store it in the fridge for up to 6 months. Take 1 tsp up to 3x per day.

To learn more about Elecampane, click here.

Elecampane plant

4. Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Marshmallow plant and flower

Marshmallow is one of the best herbs there is for balancing the mucus membranes in the whole body, making it an excellent herb to reach for when you have chest congestion or a nagging dry cough. 

Its medicinal properties are anti-inflammatory, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, galactagogue, nutritive, and vulnerary. All that means it can calm, balance, and soothe all those sensitive mucus membranes throughout the body. It also has nutritional benefits as well!

Marshmallow is another one of those herbs that do different things depending on what part of it you’re using. The aerial parts of marshmallow are excellent for the respiratory system, and the roots are the best choice for help with the gut.

To prepare marshmallow, make it as you would mullein. In fact, add them together. Mullein, hyssop, and marshmallow together in equal parts. Do you see what we’re doing here? 

5. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging Nettle is the king of anti-inflammatory herbs! Its complete list of herbal properties is anti-allergic, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, tonic, and mineralizer. All of these properties contribute to nourishing the body and decreasing inflammation. When you add stinging nettle to the respiratory-specific herbs, you get a huge boost of support to the respiratory system. 

It also offers a multitude of benefits for the rest of the body. Nettles can help with rheumatism, respiratory allergies, asthma, skin conditions, inflammatory disorders, and anemia (when eating cooked nettles).

Stinging nettle can be prepared in multiple ways and the entire plant can be utilized. Tincture fresh nettle for a concentrated herbal medicine, drink it as an infusion by itself, or add it to a tea blend. Adding stinging nettle to the respiratory herbs would be a big help in lowering respiratory inflammation. 

There are no warnings associated with nettles. The only thing you should be cautious about is handling fresh nettle. The tiny hairs on the plant get under your skin and cause an itchy burning rash until they work their way out. To avoid skin irritation, wear long sleeves and gloves. 

stinging nettle leaves

These 5 herbs work wonderfully individually, but they are a powerhouse blend for respiratory support. To make an infusion that fully supports the respiratory system, mix equal parts of mullein, hyssop, marshmallow, and stinging nettle. Making an elecampane tincture and adding it to your infusion is a good option, or you can take it straight at 1-2mL up to 4x per day. If you prefer, elecampane syrup is a good option too.

Managing breathing issues is a scary business regardless of whether it’s from acute or chronic illness. Even though the herbs we’ve talked about here are incredibly helpful, it still may be necessary to get medical intervention. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, low oxygen saturation, bluish lips or fingertips, or if it takes a lot of effort to be able to breathe comfortably, please seek out emergency medical attention. Remember, herbalism and allopathy work really well together when done right, and that means being able to identify when it’s time to use herbal preparations, and when it’s time for a doctor. NEVER stop your medication without the involvement of your medical team, and be sure to do your research on specific herbs for any contraindications you may have. For a list of books that you can resource check out this post.

Be Blessed,



For an up close and personal look at the herbs we’ve talked about here, plus a couple more, check out my YouTube video.

We’ll take a walk on the farm, look at these herbs in the ground, and visit a few extra helpers that boost these herbs even more.

See you there!

share this post: