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Breathing Deeply March 1, 2008

So often we take our breathing for granted. But for those with allergies and asthma, breathing can be an effort, may create anxiety and is something they may think about often. Breathing problems present themselves for many reasons; genetic weakness of the lungs, compromised immune system, complication from other disease processes, food allergies, environmental allergies, smoking, adrenal weakness, and poor digestion.

If we look to Chinese medicine, we find that the lungs are in charge of taking in of the Chi from the air and enlivening the vital force of the body. The oxygenation of the system along with the chi, or vital force of the food, blends together to create the force we use to live our lives.

In this system of medicine, the lungs are paired with the large intestines. This pairing shows us that if digestion and elimination are impaired then the lungs will not function as well. In the last stages of digestion, the large intestines help to absorb the vital force of the food, discerns what is not needed and sends that to the colon for elimination. If the intestines are compromised, then we may have poorly digested food that enters the blood stream, provokes the immune system, thus, create inflammation and allergy responses. This poorly digested food may also create sludge and mucous in the system which may find its way eventually to the lungs.

Because the lungs like to be slightly moist and warm, cold dry air can affect them adversely – some people may get an asthmatic response when exposed to this type of environment. On the other hand, hot, dry air such as found in a desert environment, smoking or excess exposure to second hand smoke can also impair lung function – not to mention the tar and by products of smoking imposing themselves in the lung tissue.

Depending on the pattern that presents itself, the herbal therapies can vary greatly. For example, if a person has dryness of the lungs, then herbs such as marshmallow root, licorice root, and slippery elm can be taken to remoisten the tissue.

Here is a formula for dryness and dry cough. These herbs are nourishing and moistening to dry lungs. They will also lubricate, soften and release any mucus that may have become dried, hardened and stuck in the system.

Mild spices such as cardamom and ginger are good to add to the demulcent herbs listed above. The spicy herbs bring warmth to the lungs and move the energy.

Here is a dry cough formula:

Marshmallow root 2 parts
elecampane 1 part
licorice root 1 part
anise seeds ¼ part
cinnamon ¼ part

Take one tablespoon of the herbal combination and let it steep in one cup of boiling water for 20 - 30 minutes. Strain and drink 1/4 cup 4 times a day. Add honey to the tea if you would like enhance its soothing properties.

If the pattern that presents itself has lots of mucous, feeling of coldness, and dampness, the formula should have a spicy warm nature and can help treat cough, vomiting of mucous, and asthma. They will also help to unblock energy channels in the body which may cause nerve damage such as strokes, paralysis and tremors. Here are some herbs for this:

osha root

The following formula tastes nasty but will help with breaking up the mucus:

elecampane 2 parts
thyme leaves 1 part
grindelia 1 part
licorice root 1/2 part
anise seeds 1/4 part

Gently simmer one ounce of the combination for 20 minutes in 3 cups of water, strain and drink 1/2 cup of the tea 4 or 5 times a day. Add honey if desired. Or purchase the herbs in tincture form, blend them together and take two droppers full in ginger tea.


These herbs will help to sedate a cough and can ease coughing spasms that may leave a person exhausted or in pain and may be combined with some of the other herbs in the above categories.

wild cherry bark
anise seeds

For those of you who have never heard of Elecampane, Inula helinum, here is some information on it. Elecampane was one of the most important herbs to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It has many fables connected to the origin of its name: the famous Helen of Troy was said to have her hands full of the herb when she was abducted by Paris; another tale states that the herb sprang from her tears. To the ancients elecampane was regarded as almost a cure all for ailments such as digestive upsets, sciatica and menstrual disorders. Today it is used almost exclusively for respiratory / digestive problems.

Elecampane has an unusual taste to it. At first it tastes slightly sweet, then bitter and then spicy. It certainly is not an herb that you would sip while reading a good book ! You can use it in formula as stated above for mucousy conditions or you can take the herb by itself -one dropper full of the tincture of elecampane or 2 capsules of it with some warm tea made from ginger root. This can be taken three or more times per day depending on the severity of the condition.

Elecampane has the added benefit of aiding and strengthening digestion. As stated above, according to Chinese medicine, mucus is formed from the poorly digested foods. If our digestion is functioning correctly and optimally then we will not form toxic buildups in our system which in turn creates excess mucus and various debilities. The tea as stated above can be taken for nausea, vomiting as well as with coughs with copious phlegm.

Elecampane is a very beautiful and easy to grow plant. We have a number of them in our gardens and are always having to pot up and sell the excess babies! Its leaf structure looks similar to comfrey. In the summer it sends up a flower stalk that can reach 5’ in height. The flowers are a brilliant yellow similar to a small sunflower.

Elecampane is safe to take with no noted contraindications.

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