Cough is one of the most common symptoms of winter. It starts with just one person at a workplace or school, and soon it becomes a whole symphony. Cough can be painful, distracting, irritating, and even steal sleep from your night, right when you need rest the most to heal.
The cough itself is not a sickness but an attempt of the body’s immune system to get rid of a foreign pathogen irritating the lungs. That is why we work not to suppress the cough but to make it productive so the body can eliminate the toxins from the lungs.
When you think about cough as a mechanism of eliminating pathogens from the lungs, it becomes clear that cough is a detox mechanism.
Since cough is not the cause of the dis-ease but a symptom, you want to understand the underlying conditions that create the cough. Herbalists call these conditions the energetics or the pattern that the life force (vitality) moves through the body.
Although there are six patterns of the vital forces, two are most relevant to coughs:
- Wet congested cough. There is plenty of mucus in the respiratory tract, but the mucus is thick and heavy.
- A dry, scratchy cough is a sign of not enough mucus production.
Sometimes when you have a cold, you will have a wet congested cough for a couple of days, then all your symptoms disappear, but a dry cough will linger for a couple of weeks.
You Do Not Want to Suppress Your Cough! You Want to Support Your Body Self Healing Process.
How to support your body’s self-healing process?
If your cough is wet and congested, you want to add warm, drying, and relaxing herbs. You also want to use herbs that will thin the mucus so it will be easier to expel the mucus and pathogens from your body. Herbs that are warming, drying, and relaxing are aromatics.
For a dry, scratchy cough, you want to use herbs that will support mucus production. These herbs are called demulcent herbs and are mainly cooling and moistening.
Aromatic herbs for wet congested cough:
Aromatic herbs are herbs that contain essential oils. Aromatic herbs work in ways that might seem contacting but are not. Aromatic herbs work on cough by first making the cough stronger, deeper, and more productive, followed by relaxing the muscles around the lungs.
Herbalist Guido Masse writes about the effect of aromatic on smooth muscles:
“Aromatic plants have the ability to both stimulate and relax – and that, depending on the context, either effect may be elicited.”
Another quality of aromatic herbs is that they are antibacterial and antiviral, making them an excellent medicine for the winter.
Two aromatic herbs for cough:
Thyme is commonly used in cooking, but not many people know that thyme has a long tradition of use medicinally. Thyme is used for bronchitis symptoms, whooping cough, and catarrhs of the upper airways. A study showed that a syrup made with thyme and ground ivy could reduce the inflammatory symptoms of acute bronchitis
“It purgeth the body of phlegm and is an excellent remedy for the shortness of breath.” –Nicholas Culpeper.
Hyssop is a warming and stimulating herb with a pungent taste. Hyssop was traditionally used to get things moving! Think about moving stagnant thick mucus. Hyssop also has the added value of acting as a diaphoretic; it increases the body’s temperature and pushes sweat and toxins out through sweating. Hyssop was found beneficial for inflammation of the airways and chronic asthma.
The best way to use aromatic herbs is in tea, infused in honey, or as an oxymel.
Two Demulcent herbs for dried cough:
Marshmallow is a moistening and cooling herb that is my first to go herb when thinking about a dry, irritating cough. Marshmallows contain polysaccharides (sugars) that form a gel that moistens and soothes irritated tissue when they contact water. Marshmallow root was found to be a very effective remedy for chronic dry cough.
Marshmallow leaves can be used in tea. A cold infusion of the root will make a slimy substance that is very healing but I find hard to ingest.
Mullein leaves are soft and velvety, giving you an idea of what it does in the body. Mullein can soften rough edges. Mullein is specific to a dry cough that shakes the entire body.
Mullein infusion is indicated for dry, harsh, hacking coughs, weak lungs, kidneys, and as nervous system support. It is a great herb for hoarseness, bronchitis, whooping cough, asthma, hay fever, and respiratory conditions in general.
The best way to use mullein is an infusion. Add a handful of mullein leaves (crushed) to a quart mason jar. Fill with warm water and cover. Let sit for 20 minutes, strain and drink.
Mullein leaves are covered with tiny silver hairs. These hairs can be irritating if present in the tea. Herbalist Jim Mcdonald recommends pressing your mullein tea in a french press to ensure that your tea does not contain these leaves.