Art by Bonnie Rose Weaver
Herbs to Support the Lungs
When we inhale, our lungs take in oxygen and deliver this vital element to every cell in our bodies. Yet the exhale is just as important; it is a route of excretion crucial to overall health. A good inhale, followed by a good exhale, followed by a pause supports both our lungs and our nervous systems. What’s more, since the carbon dioxide we exhale is used in photosynthesis, our breath is part of our ancestral interdependence with plants.
Make it easier on your lungs by avoiding heavy particulate matter. This includes but is not limited to: indoor sources like wood smoke, cooking smoke, flour dust, hair spray, recreational smoking or vaping; outdoor sources like car exhaust, sawdust, pesticide spraying, lawn mowing, etc. If you live or work in areas with heavy particulate matter in the air, cover your mouth and nose when possible and consider a steam (this method is outlined in Resources below) to help your system clear out what you have inhaled. Some bioregions are also experiencing heavy pollen blooms, or recent widespread wildfire smoke, so that is aggravating respiratory systems as well.
Herbs for the lungs can warm, cool, moisten, or dry; to name just a few actions. It is very important to be mindful, especially as we are dealing with a virus that attacks the lungs, that we pay attention to what these herbs are doing and not just take a bunch of lung herbs that are actually working against each other. Be careful to not overly dry, or overly moisten the lungs, and take into consideration pre-existing conditions.
Verbascum* (mullein) Tea Tinc
Superb lung tonic; gentle, safe support to overall lung function with affinity for the cilia, which are attacked by COVID-19. Strong choice for preventative, acute use, and repair of lung health. Note: Strain through a coffee filter/clean cloth to remove fine hairs that can irritate the throat.
Althea* (marshmallow root) Tea
Soothes dry throat or cough, nourishes and protects mucous membranes in the body. Combine cold infusion with juice if the mucilaginous texture is unpalatable.
Inula** (elecampane) Tinc
Chronic wet lung issues, wheeziness; warming and drying; indicated as prevention for someone with a preexisting lung condition, or as acute treatment if illness progresses to pneumonia stage.
Glycyrrhiza** (licorice) Tea Tinc
Moistening and soothing, indicated for dry cough; antiviral (theoretically, may block virus from attaching to ACE-2 linkages); promotes mucous membrane repair; protects dendritic cells (part of immune function); cold. Not for safe for those who have high blood pressure; not safe with most pharmaceutical meds.
Grindelia*** (gumweed) Tinc Oil
Supports lung function, especially with impacted mucus.
Thuja*** (cedar) Steam Tea Tinc Oil
Immune stimulant; antiviral with affinity for the respiratory system; brings up impacted mucus; neutral temp. See steam protocol in Resources section. Not safe for high-dose or long-term internal use. Alternately: evergreen needles/leaves of any kind, i.e. pine, juniper, redwood.
Angelica archangelica** (angelica) Tea Tinc
Expectorant (helps get mucus up and out), indicated for a mucous-y wet cough; helpful for wet gurgly digestive upset; warming.
Eucalyptus** (eucalyptus) Steam Tea Oil
Expectorant with antiviral activity; helps open up blocked airways; indicated for asthma and bronchitis; regulates inflammation in the body. Essential oil in a carrier oil or infused oil can be applied to chest / back / nose as a decongestant; warming. Not recommended when pregnant or nursing. See steam protocol in Resources section.
Preventative Care Practices | Herbs to Support Immune Function & Lymph | Herbs to Support the Lungs | Herbs to Support the Liver & Digestion | Herbs to Support the Nervous System | Early Infection Phase | Resources | Clinical Herbalists | Sourcing Herbs
Key to Plant Entries
Tea infusion made with leaves, flowers, and other airy bits: steep in boiled water, covered, for 20 mins; standard therapeutic dose: about 5g/day, or 1 small palmful
Tea decoction made with stems, bark, berries, roots, and other dense bits: gently simmer, covered, for at least 30 mins, up to 24 hrs; standard therapeutic dose: 5g/day, or 1 heaping Tbsp
Tea cold infusion: cover herb with cold water and let sit overnight; standard therapeutic dose: 5g/day, or 1 heaping Tbsp
Tinc a tincture is an extraction in alcohol; for medicinal mushrooms, should be a double-extraction; preventive dose (staying at home): 8–10 drops 1x/day; preventative dose (leaving the house): 10–12 drops 2/day; acute doses range from 1 drop to 1 tsp per dose, up to 6x/day, depending on the plant, the preparation, and the person; consult a more experienced person if you need guidance
Succus fresh plant/leaf/flower juice preserved with alcohol
Elixir alcohol-free extraction, often made with honey and/or apple cider vinegar
Steam pour boiled water over plant material in a large bowl, tent head with towel and inhale deeply for 3–5 minutes, 3–5x/day
Oil plant material, fresh or dry, infused into carrier oil for topical use
* Safe for most people
** Avoid if pregnant or nursing; however, exceptions may be made depending on gestational phase and/or dose. For more questions, seek expert advice, as dosing or specifics on this topic is outside the scope of this guide
***Not safe for long-term internal use by anyone. Recommended for short-term use by generally healthy individuals
A Note on Sustainability and Choice of Herbs
In our clinical practices we prioritize the use of weedy, widely available herbs, the ones in our gardens and kitchens, and we have focused on those plants here. In an effort to respect Indigenous knowledge and resources, we avoid commercial use of sacred Indigenous plants as well as plants from traditions and geographies that we are unfamiliar with.
That said, because of the best information currently available on herbal protocols for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, some herbs in this document are widely used in TCM and come from that tradition, and some come from Indigenous medicine traditions.
We have deliberately excluded some herbs that are Indigenous to Turtle Island (aka North America) and are at risk of becoming endangered due to overharvesting and habitat destruction, including Lomatium, Ligusticum (Osha), Anemopsis (Yerba Mansa). We do not believe these herbs should be widely used, even though they would likely be supportive for this illness, and you will see others recommend them. We urge you to never use these herbs unless you can verify that they have been organically grown (instead of harvested from the wild, or “wildcrafted”). For more information about endangered and at-risk plant species, please see United Plant Savers.
We believe the herbs we have included in this guide will do what we need clinically and can be used without threatening the long-term population health of herbs that are crucial to Indigenous healers and their communities.
Please use your best judgement in sourcing herbs with an eye to upholding traditional knowledge-keepers, prioritizing Indigenous access to traditional medicines, and safeguarding sustainability in the widest possible sense. While this is certainly an urgent situation, it is not the first and it will not be the last, so we must work collectively to uphold the highest ethical standards of practice.If we want the herbs to take care of us, we must in return take care of them.
To download a PDF of the full “Get Radical, Boil Roots” guide, sign up for the Long Spell email list:
It can also be viewed as a live google doc (copying and printing not enabled).
For more about my orientation to energetic herbalism, self and community care in these times, and my top herbs for the pandemic, check out my recent interview on the home|body podcast.