Podcast 138: Accessible Herbalism for Respiratory Ailments

When thinking about how to start working with herbalism for respiratory ailments, you might get really focused on WHICH ailment it is, and which herbs are “good for” that ailment. As herbalists, though, we don’t work with diagnoses; we work with what we see. So whether it’s a cold, bronchitis, or asthma, we’ll respond to what we see, hear, and feel by choosing herbs to match the current state of the body. It’s not difficult once you start working with the plants!

Some conditions are dry: think of a racking, rattling cough, or just dry red sinuses. Those need moistening herbs, like the mallows and seaweeds. Some troubles are more wet in nature – like a really phlegmy cough – and they need drying herbs like sumac, thyme, and garlic. Can you see how just looking at “herbs for cough” wouldn’t sort those differences out for us? That’s the key!

In this episode we’ll discuss various presentations of respiratory ailments & herbs to address them. We’ll share a couple key formulae (one’s for a tea with garlic in it!) and a brief discussion of breathing exercises, too.

Herbs discussed in this episode include: sage, thyme, sumac, goldenrod, oregano, peppermint, pine, cedar, common mallow, marshmallow, hollyhock, lavender, chamomile, mullein, ginger, garlic, onion, cayenne, black pepper, horseradish, lemon, rosemary, seaweeds (e.g. Irish moss), & purple loosestrife.

This is part 10 in our Accessible Herbalism series! We’re sharing strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for marginalized communities. We want to empower people to take action in support of their own health and the health of their neighbors. The safe, accessible tools of holistic herbalism can fill in the gaps left by uneven access and affordability of conventional care. Working with easy-to-find, inexpensive herbs, with low risk of adverse effects and drug interactions, is something anyone can do.

We’re building a community health collective organizing tool out of this material as we go through the series. You can learn more about the project and find all the collected resources here:

Mutual Aid Resources

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:14):
Hi. I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:14):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:16):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:21):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:00:25):
All right, well, this is the 10th and final segment in our accessible herbalism project. And we’re really excited to be talking about respiratory ailments today, and how we can support both long standing, existing, chronic respiratory ailments and also infectious respiratory ailments, herbally.

Ryn (00:00:43):
Yeah. So, if you’re coming in in the middle, or close to the end, I suppose, this is part 10 in a series of our strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for folks who are medically underserved. The purpose of this series is to offer community herbal information in an accessible and inclusive way so that people can take action to support their own health.

Katja (00:01:05):
In a lot of parts of our country, there just isn’t accessible medical care. And in other cases, the medical care that’s available is understaffed. And so it’s really difficult to get quality care. So, we want to provide some tools and skills that will help fill this gap. Now this is not medical advice, but instead it is safe, accessible self-care strategies that will help to improve healthcare outcomes. We believe that all people have a right to accessible and high quality healthcare. And we also want all people to have the tools to care for themselves as well.

Ryn (00:01:40):
So our plan throughout this project has been to work with a relatively small number of easy to get inexpensive herbs. So, you do notice the same plants turning up in multiple episodes in different places. There are a lot of other plants that could work well too, but the ones that we’ve chosen are again, very effective and very accessible. We’ve also chosen herbs that are generally safe and don’t have interactions with medications unless we specifically make a note of them.

Katja (00:02:07):
And a printable version of this work will also be available at the end of the series. So, that’s now. Give us another week or two to just finalize that, along with information about how to start a community health collective and all kinds of other resources to support your community in doing this work. We’re making this all available free to all people, because we want everyone to have these skills.

Ryn (00:02:33):
And if you’d like to support that work or learn more about the project, then you can learn more at commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid.

Katja (00:02:41):
All right. Well, just one other thing we need to get out of the way before we get started. And that is to tell you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn (00:02:51):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice, no state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. And these discussions are for educational purposes. only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you in this moment, but they will give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Katja (00:03:11):
And we want to remind you that good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. This means that the final decision when considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours.

Ryn (00:03:24):
All right. So let’s talk about some breathing troubles. Some respiratory crud.

Katja (00:03:29):
Respiratory crud that, you know, lung crud. That is the technical term, I believe.

Ryn (00:03:36):
Yeah. Well, your respiratory system includes your sinuses as well. So when we talk about upper respiratory infection, that’s often like way up here in your sinuses and in your face.

Respiratory Ailments: Diagnosis Unnecessary, Deal with the Symptoms

Katja (00:03:47):
Yeah, exactly. Well, listen, there are so many different kinds of respiratory ailments. And the thing is that we don’t actually always know what’s going on in a respiratory issue without some medical diagnostics. Like, is it bronchitis? Is it pneumonia? Is it a cold or the flu? Sometimes it can be really hard to tell. And frankly, sometimes it’s more than one thing at once, or it’s multiple things in a progression, a bad cold when you don’t have enough time to rest and heal can progress into bronchitis. And then over time that bronchitis can continue to progress and be one way that you could develop COPD, for example. So from an herbal perspective, we’re not trying to diagnose any medical conditions here. Only doctors are allowed to do that. But we can work with what we see and what we feel in our bodies. And that is a really effective way to work, to help respiratory issues across the board.

Ryn (00:04:47):
Yeah, absolutely. So, as an example here, if you were experiencing a lot of wet, thick, like pasty kind of phlegm, that’s really hard to cough up. You don’t necessarily need a medical name for what’s going on there to find an herb that can help. And that’s because herbs aren’t really correlated to medical diagnoses. They’re correlated to things that we can see and detect with our senses. So that’s also particularly good because a lot of different types of respiratory ailments include a wet phlegmy cough, right? It’s not just one thing that looks that way. Lots of things look that way.

Katja (00:05:21):
Right. Many different things could include that.

Ryn (00:05:24):
Right. So if you have wet, thick phlegm, you need to get it up. You need to get it out of your lungs. And herbs that can help you to do that are going to be helping to thin out the pastiness of the phlegm. They’re going to help to break up clumps of phlegm into something that’s easier to motivate, to spit up and to cough out. And that’s going to be true regardless of the cause of that wet, thick phlegm. Even though many different conditions can cause that symptom, the herbs that will resolve that symptom will be appropriate across all the different underlying conditions, right?

Katja (00:05:58):
Right. So it’s not necessarily to say this is the herb you need for a cold, because some people might have a cold that has a dry hacking cough, and some people might have a cold that has a wet phlegmy cough. So, instead we don’t need to worry as much about what exact bacteria or virus is causing the issue. Instead we can say, I see a wet phlegmy cough. And I know some ways to support the body while it’s dealing with that particular thing.

Ryn (00:06:26):
Right. Yeah. So when we think about supporting respiratory issues, we’re going to stick to supporting what we see and what we hear and what we feel. You know, maybe you’re also taking an antibiotic to fight an infection or some other kind of conventional treatment. For the most part, that’s going to be just fine and it’s not going to interfere, right? We’re not trying to interfere with those medicinal pharmaceutical actions. At the herbal level we’re more interested in supporting your individual symptoms. And the herbs that we’ve chosen for this segment should all be fine, even if you’re taking antibiotics for a lung infection. And we have made notes about any other drug interactions as they come up.

Katja (00:07:04):
Yeah. You know, when you think about supporting those individual symptoms, one thing that it’s a little bit hard for us to sort of conceptualize is that those symptoms are often the body’s way of fighting the disease. When you have a bunch of phlegm that you need to cough up, in a lot of cases, that is the body fighting the infection, fighting the virus or the bacteria. And the phlegm itself is basically the trash from doing that work. And so the coughing up is trying to get that out of the body. Like great. I killed a bunch of bacteria and now we need to get it out of here. I don’t want to hold onto it. So that’s why we can say, especially in cases of respiratory ailments, that we want to look at what the symptoms are. Because in so many cases, those symptoms are really the body trying to fight. And when we support those symptoms, we are assisting the body in fighting what is going on. So let’s break this down to some of those most common symptoms, and look at what we can do to help them.

Runny Nose: Astringent Herbs

Ryn (00:08:13):
Yeah. Let’s start with the runny nose because that’s fun.

Katja (00:08:20):
Yeah, we both, actually, kind of have runny noses right now. Like maybe some little bit of cold or something going on.

Ryn (00:08:25):
There’s been a lot of handkerchiefs this week.

Katja (00:08:28):
Yeah, exactly. So when there is thin watery, mucus coming from the nose, sort of like a drippy kind of a nose, that is a state of laxity in the mucus membranes. It means that they are allowing too much fluid to ooze through. Now, the thing about your mucus membranes is that you really want them to be Goldilocks. If they’re too dry, they can’t do their job. And if they’re too leaky, they can’t do their job. Their job is to form a barrier of goo all along your nasal passage so that you are protected from bacteria or viruses who are trying to get into your body through your nose. So if you are too drippy, and the fluid, the mucus is just dripping right out of your nose, well, that’s not a very good barrier. The bacteria and the viruses can get through that. If you’re too dry, that’s not a good barrier either. So we want a nice Goldilocks, goo barrier. Snot. Basically a snot lining in your nose. So when your nose is too drippy, we’re going to need some astringent herbs. Herbs that are going to tighten up the snot, tighten up the mucus in your nose just a little to get you to that Goldilocks place. And there are some kitchen spices, sage and thyme I’m thinking of, that can really help with this.

Ryn (00:09:55):
Yeah. They basically helped to, like you said, to tighten things up so that the mucus isn’t so thin, so watery. And so that your nose isn’t so drippy. You can taste that even. If you take a sage leaf or if you make sage tea and take a sip of it, it has what we call an astringent quality. It’s a feeling like this, slurp, right?

Katja (00:10:16):
Yeah, like when you eat a banana that isn’t ready.

Ryn (00:10:19):
Yeah. Like a feeling of tightening. And you feel it on the tongue. But when you drink that tea or when you steam with these plants, that kind of effect is also going to happen in the mucus membranes, in your sinuses too.

Katja (00:10:32):
Now, there are also a couple of very common weedy herbs that you might be able to find growing near you. And I’m thinking about sumac and goldenrod. These also can tighten things up so that you’re not so drippy. Now, sage and thyme you can just get at the grocery store. And sometimes you can get sumac at the grocery store too. But you might find them growing around you. With golden rod you’ll work with the yellow flowering tops or with the leaves of the plant. And with sumac you’ll work with the fuzzy red berry, which is kind of on a spike that looks like a rhinoceros spike or a unicorn horn. This is why they call it staghorn sumac. And you can also work with the leaves. The leaves are actually more strongly astringent than the berries. On the flip side, the berries have a lot of vitamin C. So, you can work with both if you like.

Ryn (00:11:27):
Yeah. The berries definitely tastes better.

Katja (00:11:30):
Yes, they definitely do.

Ryn (00:11:31):
But if you want that strong astringency, the leaves are really going to get you there.

Katja (00:11:35):
Now you can take any of these as tea. You’ll just pour your hot water over it, and let it steep for a good 30 minutes. Now that seems like a long time. But in this case, we want the astringency to really deepen. If we do a short steep, we won’t get the full astringency. And, you know, this is just like if you have a cup of black tea and you leave the tea bag in too long. And then it gets really, really astringent. That’s going to work also. So, if you’ve ever experienced that, making yourself a nice cup of black tea, but then you get distracted and you come back 20 minutes later and the teabag is still in there and you taste it. And you’re like, Whoa, this is really astringent. Normally you would say, well, that’s not appealing. And you will feel disappointed because you didn’t attend to your tea. But in this case, that’s actually desirable. Because it’s that exact astringency that we’re looking for to tighten up the membranes in the nose.

Ryn (00:12:38):
Yeah. About that tea, especially with sage or thyme. If you make that tea, pour hot water on, but then allow it to get cool as it infuses. Then that may actually have even a stronger astringent effect on your mucus membranes. I’ve especially noticed that with sage. But you can try that with the other herbs as well.

Katja (00:13:01):
You know, and if you let it sit there and steep for a long time. You know, steeping it for 30 minutes, by then it’s going to be cooling off. Yeah.

Ryn (00:13:10):
You could take that same infusion, is what we call that. Whenever we’re working with an herb, aside from like green or black tea, and we’re making tea with it, sometimes we call it an infusion just to keep that clear. But anyway, right, so we can take those same water infusions of sage or thyme, goldenrod or sumac, and you could put them into a spray bottle and spray them directly, gently into the nostrils. You know, if you do that, you’re going to want to get a little spritzer bottle, a little spray bottle to work with. And you’re going to want to clean it really well every time. So if you’re going to do this many times a day, you might get a little annoyed about it. But it’s a really good idea to clean your nasal spray bottle every single time that you use it. And when we’re doing this with herbal tea like that, what you might do is make up that tea. Let it cool enough that it’s not going to irritate or anything, right? Put a little bit into your spray bottle. Maybe even just a half an ounce is going to be plenty in there. And then give yourself, you know, your spritzes. Do that thing. But then go ahead and clean that bottle and empty it until the next time you want to use it again. Now you can take that tea that you made and you can keep that around. If you want to make a good strong infusion and keep it refrigerated, it will last you two days in the fridge. But I wouldn’t go longer than that, especially for this nasal application.

Katja (00:14:31):
You know, and any way, you’ll be making tea for yourself regularly to drink. So, you can just, when you make the tea to drink, you can just pour a little off to be the tea that you spray into your nose. And, you know, black tea will work for this as well. Just make sure that you let it sit and really get that real tannin-y astringency so that you don’t really want to drink it. That’s exactly perfect for putting into your nose.

Ryn (00:14:59):
Yeah. Another option here is to do an herbal steam.

Katja (00:15:03):
This is our favorite.

Ryn (00:15:05):
Yeah.

Katja (00:15:05):
We love them.

Ryn (00:15:06):
Steams are really great, you know. A steam does make your nose run while you’re breathing it in. But afterwards, those mucous membranes do tend to be more tonified, more tightened up. And the nose tends to be less runny for awhile, after doing a steam. You may have experienced that if you have a runny nose and you go take a big, hot shower and blow your nose a bunch. But then you dry out and for at least a while you get some relief. So doing an herbal steam is like that, but even better, because the herbs are going to convey some antimicrobial effect. They’re going to have some other benefits for your immune response. So there’s lots of options here, you know, sage, thyme, oregano. Any of those like pungent spicy-ish, mint family plants like that are going to work out just great. Any herbs that have similar scent range as sage or thyme or oregano.

Katja (00:15:58):
Like rosemary, lavender. Yeah.

Ryn (00:16:00):
Yeah. And you might have wild plants around you, like monarda that have similar scents and flavors. You can work with those in the same way. But look, peppermint is also good for doing an herbal steam. If you live in a place where there’s eucalyptus around, that’s really fantastic. So it’s about the aromatic quality of the plant, right? Where you break the leaf or you crush it or rub it on your fingers and it has a good, strong smell coming off. Basically any plant that’s going to present that way for you is going to work here. We love to do this with pine needles, with cedar leaves. Lots of evergreens are really good for steams.

Katja (00:16:36):
Yes. And, you know, with pine needles, if you just go out after a storm, any kind of like windy day, there will be little branches with pine needles still on them that fell, you know, in the wind. So you don’t even have to climb up the tree to get them. Just go for a walk. Pick up a bunch. Come home with your bouquet of little pine branches and toss them in the pot to steam.

Ryn (00:16:59):
Yeah. So for doing an herbal steam, if this is unfamiliar, it’s really easy. So first you’re going to bring a medium sized pot of water to boil on the stove. Just the water, right? And then you’re going to take that pot and bring it to an area where it’s going to be comfortable for you to sit with your face over the pot. And you’re going to get a handkerchief for yourself, because you’re absolutely going to need that while you’re under there. So go over to the pot and cover yourself and the whole area with a blanket or a big towel or something so that you’re kind of like in a tent under there. And then you’re going to take the cover off the pot and you’re going to throw in a big handful of your aromatic herbs. And then you’re going to breathe in that steam as deeply as you can. And if you can inhale through the nose. If you can only breathe through one nostril, that’s fine. If you can sort of get a little breath, but not a whole thing, then kind of like take a little sip of air and then, okay, get the rest for yourself, right? Right. But just try and get some air and steam moving through the nostrils. In a moment or two, your nose will run. Your sinuses will open up a bit. You’ll be able to take some good deep breaths through there. But we do want to have that steam air moving right through the nostrils to get down into the lungs.

Katja (00:18:10):
Yes.

Ryn (00:18:10):
And you want to stay in there for like 10 or 20 minutes or so. As long as it’s still has good, strong smell and potency and steaminess and everything, you’re getting a lot out of it. So if you can stay in there for 10 or 20 minutes, that should do the job. And then after that you don’t have to throw out the infusion that you’ve made in your pot there. You could drink it, you could soak your feet in it. You could pour the whole thing into a bathtub and soak in it. You’ve got lots of options with that, but there is still some good stuff left over. So you don’t want to just pour that out and leave that behind.

Katja (00:18:47):
Right. Worst case if you happen to drip some snot into it or something, and you don’t really want to drink it, then let it cool completely and water your plants with it. Because they will also be very happy. Now a steam like this is also going to be super helpful any time that you are dealing with congestion as well. So congestion is kind of the middle point between a drippy nose and a dry achy nose. So anytime that you are stuffed up, anytime that your sinuses feel blocked or full, any of that kind of a time is a great time for a thyme steam or an oregano steam or whatever you have on hand.

Ryn (00:19:31):
Yeah, for sure.

Katja (00:19:32):
Honestly, I think that, that particular, the idea of a steam is going to keep coming up through this whole segment. And it really is such an effective way to work for so many different problems. And a big part of the reason is because when we breathe in the herb on steam, we’re getting the herbs into direct contact with the actual place that’s having a problem. And especially because what we’re breathing in is the volatile oil component, the smelly part, and that part of the plant tends to have strong antimicrobial activity. That means that you’re getting that sort of topical anti microbial, anti infection action that wouldn’t necessarily get to your lungs if you just drank the tea and expected it to go all the way through your body and come back to your lungs. But when we breathe it in, it is getting all on the nasal passages, up into the sinuses, and all throughout the lungs. So that’s why this is such an effective method.

Dry, Irritated Sinuses: Demulcent Herbs

Ryn (00:20:39):
Yeah. All right. So let’s shift gears a little bit and look at what happens when the nose and the sinuses are dry and irritated and achy. So if that’s happening, the best thing to do is work with demulcent herbs infused into water. So demulcent herbs, that means plants that when we infuse them into water, they make the water more viscous, more kind of thick.

Katja (00:21:03):
A little slimy.

Ryn (00:21:03):
In some cases, yeah, if you leave it really long, they can get kind of slimy in there. But these herbs help to improve your absorption of water that you’re drinking. And they also help you to use water more efficiently inside the body, so that you don’t get dried out. And especially they help to bring water to places that have gotten dry, whether that’s in the lungs or in the sinuses, or elsewhere in the system. So all of the plants in what’s called the mallow family work really great here. The most common one that people talk about as an herb is marshmallow. And that’s really excellent and also very beautiful. But there are a lot of others that may be easier to find, right? So common mallow is a pretty widespread herb. And once you get to identify it, you start to see it in lots of places.

Katja (00:21:50):
Especially in cities and suburbs. It grows in places where there’s a lot of people very, very easily. It’s not the sort of plant that you find like in a forest.

Ryn (00:22:02):
Yeah. So common mallow is a nice one there. And then hollyhock is also in the mallow family. And that can be a big plant with lots of leaf material and giant flowers.

Katja (00:22:12):
It’s funny because common mallow is a very small, like, low to the ground sort of crawling or creeping plant with little tiny flowers. And hollyhock is like taller than me with enormous flowers and huge leaves. But they’re in the same family. And if you were to eat the leaves of both plants, you would say: Oh, they’re really, really similar.

Ryn (00:22:37):
Yeah. So you might have those growing in your neighborhood. You might be able to purchase marshmallow root or leaf if you’ve got a local herb shop or are able to buy some herbs online. So those are all good options. Another one to consider is hibiscus. Hibiscus can be helpful as a demulcent as well, though it’s not as strongly moistening as any of the other plants we named there.

Katja (00:23:00):
Yeah. You know, okra and the seaweeds are going to fall into this category as well. They may not be as delicious as hibiscus, but they certainly are super moistening. So if you can get your hands on those, they will also be very useful.

Ryn (00:23:18):
Yeah. So all of these are going to be most moistening when they’re taken as what we call a cold infusion. So that’s really simple. Take two tablespoons of the herb you’ve got, put it in a pint size mason jar, and then fill it up with room temperature water. Let that infuse for four to eight hours, and you will notice that all of the liquid has thickened up a bit. And that’s where you’re going to get that really soothing moistening hydrating action in your system.

Katja (00:23:46):
You know, different plants will thicken the water different amounts. But even if it’s one that doesn’t thicken it up as much, when you feel it with your fingers versus feeling just plain water, you will feel it is like silkier or almost like there’s lotion in it, as opposed to regular water that doesn’t have that feeling. And it is that extra little bit of sliminess, whether it is something like okra or marshmallow root, and it makes a lot of sliminess, or something like hibiscus that makes a smaller amount of sliminess. It is that sliminess that is going to be so helpful.

Ryn (00:24:31):
Yep. That’s where it is. All right. Another thing that can help out a lot here is steams. Yep. Again, but gentle ones this time. So rather than working with those hot kind of sharp scented herbs, like thyme or oregano, for the dry aching nose we prefer plants like lavender or chamomile. I guess we’re in the floral range, but they’re just much gentler on irritated sinuses.

Katja (00:24:59):
You know, not only are they gentle, but also they have a very healing action. Chamomile in particular has a vulnerary action. That means it stimulates cells on your skin and on your mucus membranes to grow over damage and to heal up that damage. So, you know, when you are feeling just dry and really achy, just the moisture of the steam will feel good. But then on top of it to have an herb like chamomile in there, it will smell nice, but it will really stimulate actually healing that irritation. So it isn’t just, Oh, right now this feels very soothing, but it is, this feels very soothing and it is creating a long term benefit.

Ryn (00:25:48):
Yeah. Really good. So yeah, so a steam like that can be really great. And look, if the air in your house is dry, that’s probably contributing to this problem, right? Your house or where you work too. As herbalists we like to think about the whole being, right? And that’s the person, but also their environment, like their whole context. And so it’s often the case that we’ll try to get a person’s whole story and like, okay, so where do you live? Where do you work? I can just remember some clients who like, their desk in their office space was like right under a vent. And they were having all these dryness problems because they were getting dry air blown right into their face all day long, you know? Anyway. So, if your house or your working space is really dry, then it’s a great idea to get a humidifier. And that’s, you know, one way to go about it. Another simpler option is to just take a pot of water and keep it on the radiator. Or keep a pot of water or tea gently steaming on your stove for a part of the day. Just to get a little more moisture into the air and have that for you to breathe too,

Katja (00:26:58):
You know, even something as simple as when you take a hot shower, don’t turn the fan on. But leave the door open and just let all the steam go into the house. That also can be an effective way to just raise the humidity in the house.

Ryn (00:27:15):
Yeah. That’s actually also a good thing to do it. It reduces viral transmission in that same area.

Katja (00:27:25):
Yep. They like a dry environment. They don’t like a humid environment. It doesn’t mean that no viruses can live in humid places, because if that were true, then no one in Florida would ever get a cold. But it’s just anything that we can do to make it harder for a virus to survive or a bacteria to survive, even if it’s just a little bit harder. Every thing that we add on that makes their life and their job more difficult, makes it easier for us to defeat them. So, that’s good.

Ryn (00:27:58):
Yeah, totally. You know, actually, keeping more house plants in your house will also raise the humidity level in the house as well. So more plants.

Katja (00:28:10):
More plants for everyone. Yes. All right. So, you know, whether you are feeling this dryness in your nostrils, just because what you’re dealing with right now is super dry, or if it is right around the holes of your nose, because you’ve been blowing your nose a lot, that irritation is really miserable. So, in that case, just a nice, simple salve. Maybe you have some calendula that you grew and you can infuse it into oil and make a salve with that, or some chamomile or plantain. Even if you get an all natural lip balm, preferably unscented and not colored, but a very, like all natural one. Even that can be very soothing around the nose. Though don’t then put that also on your lips. Like maybe use your finger to put it on your nose, just to try to keep it a little cleaner. And lanolin is also a good choice. So, you can often find lanolin sold under the brand name Lansinoh in the baby care section of a pharmacy, because it’s really helpful for the pain and dryness that you get from breastfeeding. But honestly it is fantastic any time that you have dry or raw, irritated skin anywhere on your body. Plus it’s not too expensive, and one tube of it will last forever. You use a very tiny amount. One other thing that I like about lanolin is that it’s a little bit sticky. You know, if you think about lip balm, it sort of glides on. But then the next time you blow your nose, it’s gone. Or like a nice salve, that’s great. But the next time you wipe your nose, you’ll wipe it right off. But lanolin is a little bit sticky and it stays with you a little bit longer. So that can be a real benefit.

Dry Coughs: Demulcents

Ryn (00:30:15):
Yeah, for sure. All right. So staying in the realm of dryness, let’s move on to the lungs and talk about dry coughs. So demulcent infusions, once again, herbs like mallow or even okra, those are all very helpful for the dry cough, right? When you…

Katja (00:30:33):
Oh, sorry, for the same reason.

Ryn (00:30:35):
For the dry anything.

Katja (00:30:36):
Yeah. For the dry anything, because that mucus membrane, sure, it starts at the beginning of your nose. But it goes all the way down through your whole lungs. So if you have dryness in your nose, we want something that’s going to help replenish the moisture and heal that mucus membrane. But if you have a dry hacky cough, that’s dryness in the lungs. So we want the same thing. We need the same work to get done. And that’s why we can turn to the same herbs here.

Ryn (00:31:04):
Yeah, for real. And we make it the same way. Make a cold infusion and drink that down. In this case for the cough, if that’s really where you’re feeling it, then adding honey is a good idea. Honey adds an extra soothing effect in the throat and conveys some of that over into the lung as well. I mean, honestly, even just a small spoonful of honey all by itself can be effective to calm a dry cough. Think about like, you know, you’ve had a cough you’ve been dealing with it. And then you go and lay down and suddenly .

Katja (00:31:34):
Yes, like you just can’t stop.

Ryn (00:31:36):
And then it’s one of those things where it’s like, Oh, it stops, it stops. I’m about to fall asleep. Right? It keeps you up. Zombie over to the kitchen, grab a little spoon, get a little honey and just take that. And usually that’ll take care of you.

Katja (00:31:50):
Yeah. At least long enough to fall asleep. And then in many cases once you fall asleep, you kind of won’t cough for a while. It relaxes that spasm impulse. But if it’s really bad then just keep the honey next to your bed.

Ryn (00:32:06):
Sure. All right. Oh, another herb I wanted to mention here. If you have the plant mullein growing in your area, mullein leaves are particularly good for dry cough. So we’re going to make an infusion of those leaves in water and just drink that freely. Drink that abundantly. With mullein leaf when you make the infusions of it, you do need to strain that really well. An extra fine filter is good. A coffee filter is usually the simplest thing to use there, because there’s a lot of like really tiny hairs on mullein leaves. And if those get into your tea and you drink them down, they can irritate your throat and make you cough more. So that wouldn’t help. But what effect mullein has is that it directs moisture from the body into the lungs to lubricate them and to loosen them up. So it really, again, it moves that fluid right to where you need it. Yeah.

Katja (00:33:00):
And then here a gentle steam is going to be effective as well. Again, because we want to bring more moisture to this dry situation. But we’re going to go with those gentle herbs. The chamomile, maybe a little lavender, because if we were to work with thyme or oregano, in this particular case, they have such a sharp heat to them that it might be irritating to that dry cough. And it might be very uncomfortable. So in this case, we want to do the steam. We want to bring in the moisture, but we want to go with the gentle herbs, like chamomile and lavender.

Wet Coughs: Pungents

Ryn (00:33:39):
Yeah. Right on. You know, and remember along with the moisture they bring, they’re also delivering some anti-inflammatory activity right there as well. And when it’s that dry cough, a lot of times the cough reflex is coming from inflammation, from irritation in the lungs rather than from a need to expel something. So when we switch that around, when we have a wet phlegmy cough, like you are coughing because there’s something to expel. And so if we can support the body in that expulsion, the expectation, then that will solve the cough. So working on the symptom is working toward a real resolution. So yeah. So when the cough is wet and there’s a lot of phlegm coming up, we want pungent herbs. Pungent is like a flavor description that we use for plants.

Katja (00:34:26):
Right. I think the best description or like the best example of a pungent flavor is garlic. Yeah. You know, garlic, it’s not bitter. It is hot. It’s not exactly spicy. That thing in between bitter and spicy is pungent.

Ryn (00:34:43):
Hmm. Yeah. So pungent herbs, right? Garlic. Yes. Ginger, cayenne, black pepper. Never sleep on black pepper.

Katja (00:34:51):
Yes. It turns out that it’s really good medicine.

Ryn (00:34:53):
Black pepper is mighty, right? But also there’s a pungency to thyme and oregano and sage, that range of herbs that we’ve mentioned a couple of times before as well. So, anything that’s in that spicy, pungent, aromatic kind of flavor range there is going to help out. And that’s because they bring heat, and also like when we say heat, we also mean blood circulation. They bring that towards the lungs, and that helps to break up the phlegm and make it easier to cough out. And these herbs also have some secondary effects that can help with the cough too. So, ginger helps to relax spasms so that you only cough when you need to. You get the effective cough of getting the phlegm out, but not like extra coughs just from agitation or tension in the lung.

Katja (00:35:40):
Oh, that’s so helpful too, because a lot of times when you have a wet phlegmy cough, you also get a lot of rib pain. Because that cough is a deeper cough and the muscles all around the ribs are doing a lot of work. And so if you can have something that will relax so that you only cough when you really have something to cough up, and you don’t just keep coughing and coughing and coughing, that can just be so, so wonderful when you’re so sore from coughing.

Ryn (00:36:09):
Yeah. Oh, you know what? I also wanted to mention that evergreen’s here are also really excellent. And you can make needle tea, you can make, well, whatever kind of evergreen you’ve got. If it has needles or scales or whatever kind of leaf. But all of those are also going to help out and bring in that antimicrobial effect, bring in that stimulating effect to immunity right there in the lung. So lots of options, right? You might have some of these herbs in your kitchen right now. Others might be easy to find at the store or just around you or to grow. You could always grow yourself cayenne peppers.

Katja (00:36:47):
Yes.

Ryn (00:36:47):
And you don’t need a lot, right? If you have, if you grow a…

Katja (00:36:50):
Just one little one cayenne plant is enough. It will make enough peppers for your whole year.

Ryn (00:36:55):
Yeah. You’ll be all set. Okay. So how to work with these plants, right? We can add them to food for one thing. And you do need substantial quantities, right? We say spice it like you mean it.

Katja (00:37:06):
Yeah. We want garlic breath. We don’t want to just be like, maybe there’s some garlic in here. But we want to be like full on dragon, you know, all the way garlicky.

Ryn (00:37:17):
Yeah. So definitely don’t overlook that method of working with these pungent, spicy, warming, stimulating immune boosting plants. Those are all good in that format, but we can also make them as tea. So here’s a formula that I often make when I have a respiratory infection coming on, or, you know…

Katja (00:37:35):
Or one that won’t leave.

Ryn (00:37:35):
Or when I’m in the middle of fighting it off, you know. So I’ll take one thumb sized piece of ginger and chop that up. I’ll take two cloves of garlic and chop those up. You can peel the paper off, but you know, chop them up. I’ll take a tablespoon of dried thyme and one to two teaspoons of honey. And all of that will go into a container with a quart of boiling water. Pour that all in there, let that infuse. It doesn’t have to be too long. It could just be, you know, 10, 15 minutes. Basically until it’s cool enough that you can drink it. Go ahead and pour that through a strainer into your cup and drink that down. It will be pungent. It will be strong. It will have intense flavor for you, but it does the job.

Katja (00:38:21):
It’s a little weird because it’ll taste like you’re drinking tea that tastes like dinner. And either that’s very appealing if you’re a very savory kind of person, or it’s kind of weird, but it works.

Ryn (00:38:36):
Yeah. I make this sometimes with just the garlic and the thyme, and that’s very strong and very like I’m drinking a pizza slice. I don’t know what’s going on. When you add the ginger, when you add the honey to it, that makes it more palatable. It adds a little sweetness to the heat and everything. So that’s more appealing to more humans. But feel free to take that basic recipe and play around with it. Maybe you swap the thyme out and put pine needles in instead. Maybe you add a bit of black pepper in there when you’re infusing it. But you’ve got a lot of options there, just something to get you started.

Katja (00:39:07):
Yeah. Now because of the garlic and the ginger, this formula can thin the blood. So that’s fine if you’re not taking blood thinners. But if you are taking a pharmaceutical blood thinner, then be a little bit cautious with this tea, because you can get sort of an add on effect. The blood thinner that you’re taking, plus some extra blood thinning might be too much for your body. So, if you’re going to drink a whole quart of this a day, which is what you should, even two quarts to really fight off an infection, that would probably be too much if you’re also taking pharmaceutical blood thinners.

Ryn (00:39:49):
Right. So use some caution there. All right. Another helpful preparation for the the wet phlegmy cough situation is what we call fire cider. So this is simply a vinegar infusion of pungent herbs. So it’s helpful in the same way as working with tea of those pungent herbs or eating them in food in big quantities. But with fire cider you can make it ahead of time. And then once it’s ready, it’s easier to carry around with you. You know, it’s going to be a liquid remedy and you could carry an ounce or two in a bottle around with you, and just have it easy to take.

Katja (00:40:22):
Yeah. You don’t have to like boil the water and make the tea and everything.

Ryn (00:40:25):
Right. So to make your own fire cider, all you need to do is take some chopped, fresh or dried herbs and put them in a jar. Cover them with apple cider vinegar, close up the jar, and then let the herbs macerate in there for about two weeks. We often do this in mason jars. And if you do that, most mason jars have metal lids. And what you want to do is put a piece of wax paper under the metal lid before you screw the ring on down. And that helps to prevent the vinegar fumes from degrading the coating on the underside of the lid, you know, that kind of white coating on there. And that can degrade if it gets exposed to vinegar fumes, and that puts some gross stuff into your medicine. So you put a piece of wax paper under there and it prevents that from happening. So once that fire cider has infused, then you can strain out the liquid and you can bottle it up. And then take that by the spoonful, like three to five times a day if you’re dealing with this kind of wet, heavy lung condition. You’ll have a bunch of leftover plant matter in there, right? So you strained off the liquid, you’ve got the plant matter leftover, and you could take that and you could boil that up into a spicy kind of a broth base, you know, and make soup out of that. You could also take that plant matter and run it through the blender. And maybe mix it with a bit of honey and make like a spicy chutney kind of a thing.

Katja (00:41:46):
Yeah. I really like just putting it a spoonful at a time into some chicken broth and making like a spicy chicken broth, which I should be drinking a lot of anyway. So…

Ryn (00:42:00):
Yes. All right. So what are these herbs that we’ve infused into vinegar to make fire cider? Well, some common ingredients include garlic and onions, horseradish, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, and all the other hot peppers, you know, habanero, jalapeno, all of that kind of thing. You can put citrus in. Lemon is pretty good in fire cider, thyme, rosemary, sage oregano, all of those kinds of things. There’s lots of room to create your own personal recipe. Just remember the idea. We want herbs that have that pungent flavor, horseradish, garlic, ginger, turmeric, all of that kind of thing. Some aromatics are nice, like the rosemary and thyme, a little citrus now and then is good. You can even throw rose hips in there for that sourness.

Katja (00:42:48):
Vitamin C. The key here is just that we’re trying to get the heat in there. And honestly, when you take some of this, you can just drink a little bit all by itself, plain. Sometimes, you know, you don’t even need to drink it. You can just take the lid off and smell it. And it is going to just clear out your sinuses, and really, especially if you’re super congested, it’s just going to knock all that out. So that’s the effect that we’re looking for here. Which means that if you don’t happen to have horseradish today, that’s no problem. Just put extra garlic or extra onion. Any of those are going to give you that feeling of clearing out your sinuses. So, it doesn’t have to be a very precise, exact formula that’s exactly the same every time. You know, some people even like to put turmeric in there.

Ryn (00:43:41):
Yeah. Oh, one other thing, when we make fire cider, sometimes we put in a bit of honey and some folks do that. We’ll often do that right from the very beginning, you know? So we’ll have like the herbs, a bunch of vinegar, and then a bit of honey added into that. Other folks like to do that, like, you’ve infused it, you’ve strained it, you’ve got the liquid. And then you add honey just to the liquid there, but either way is fine. Especially as long as you’re doing something with the leftover plant material, then you’re not going to lose out on anything you put in.

Katja (00:44:12):
Yeah. It’s definitely, basically the leftover plants are pickles at that point. Now it’s just pickled onion, pickled garlic, all that stuff. So eat that right up. I find that a little honey kind of takes the edge off. So if, if the idea of drinking a spoonful of vinegar makes your stomach kind of a little queasy, that’s when I find the honey is very helpful to just sort of smooth out that sharpness.

Ryn (00:44:41):
Yeah. You don’t need a lot. I mean, it’s usually not like one to one vinegar to honey it’s more like one to five or something.

Katja (00:44:48):
Yeah. Like a little bit of honey at the bottom and then the rest all the way vinegar.

Ryn (00:44:52):
Yeah. You’ll be all set. Now again, if somebody is taking blood thinning medications, they should be careful about fire cider because it can have a blood thinning effect. And honestly, that’s coming from the vinegar itself, from the garlic absolutely, from ginger yes, from turmeric yes, from a lot of the plants we put in there. They have their own blood thinning quality. So, the preparation as a whole it really does have that activity. And if someone’s taking a pharmaceutical blood thinner, then they should use a lot of caution. They should consult with an herbalist or find other methods to resolve their issue.

Katja (00:45:24):
Right. You know, but if you are taking a pharmaceutical blood thinner and you want to work with these herbs and get that effect, a steam is going to do the same job. So it’s not portable, right. It’s not portable, but it will not have a drug interaction. So you won’t have to worry about that part. It’s really safe to do regardless of what medications you’re taking.

Ryn (00:45:48):
Yeah. So steams are fantastic for a wet cough. And especially here with the more drying herbs is what we’d want to go with. So thyme is really good for that. Sage and rosemary are excellent. Oregano is quite powerful in that regard. Pine and cedar leaf are really good. So yeah, all of those herbs as a steam, those are really, really helpful when you’ve got that wet lung crud going on.

General Help for Infectious Respiratory Illnesses

Katja (00:46:13):
That’s the technical term. All right. You know, there’s a list of these things that are going to be helpful for all infectious illnesses, right? So this is going to be the fire cider the ginger and garlic and thyme tea and all of the herbal steams. They’re all going to be helpful in the case of infectious illness, because they all have that smelly part, right, that aromatic aspect. And that’s where the antimicrobial action is. So each one of them gets the antimicrobial action to your lungs a little bit differently, but all of them are going to help fight whatever pathogens are causing the infection. So whether you don’t have the infection yet, and you’re trying to strengthen your body to help prevent it, or whether you did get sick and you are trying to assist your body in dealing with it, when you work with these things — especially all of them, right? A steam, fire cider, or garlic and ginger and thyme tea — all three of them are going to help your immune system to kill the pathogen, the virus, the bacteria, whatever’s in you so that you don’t have to do all of the work yourself. You will have to do some of the work yourself, but you’ve got an immune system for that. It’s just that it’s going to help the immune system kill off these pathogens so that it’s going to be less for your body to have to do. And your illness will be less strong, less severe, than it might have been otherwise.

Ryn (00:47:55):
Yeah. Right. And you know, let’s highlight garlic just for a quick moment, and recognize that when you get garlic breath it’s not just because the smell of garlic is in your mouth or coming up out of your belly. What’s happening is that you’ve ingested the garlic, and some of these smelly sulfur containing chemicals that are in the garlic are moving through your body. And the way they leave your body is actually through the lungs rather than through the urine or the bowels or whatever else. So when you get garlic breath it means that the garlic you ate has moved through your system, and now it’s leaving your body via the lungs. But the cool thing is that it’s still anti-microbial on the way out.

Katja (00:48:35):
Right, because it’s still smelly.

Ryn (00:48:36):
Right. Yeah. So when you get garlic breath, you know that you’ve delivered a good dose of anti-microbial herbal power, right where you need it.

Katja (00:48:45):
And, you know, when we think about garlic as such an important component in so many recipes across so many different cultures, this is part of the reason why. Because especially, you know, before we had heating and indoors, wet respiratory infections were super common. I’m not really sure they were any more common than they are today, because honestly they’re pretty common today too. And maybe we have just traded one set of risk factors for another.

Ryn (00:49:19):
Sure. Yeah. I mean, if you’re standing over a fire before chimneys were invented, which was surprisingly late…

Katja (00:49:24):
Yeah, exactly. Or, you know, like, okay, if we’re living mostly outdoors, well, it’s cold and wet. But when we’re living mostly indoors, then we’re cooped up inside with the sick person.

Ryn (00:49:35):
Yeah. Every era has their own.

Katja (00:49:37):
Right. I think there’s this mythology that people used to be sicker, and I’m not certain that’s a hundred percent true across all time. But regardless, one thing we see is that throughout history, garlic has been important in many cultures just in regular food. And that is such an important way to have an acknowledgement that, Oh, we need to have strong, healthy lungs. And one way we can do that is just to eat garlic every time we eat dinner.

Ryn (00:50:08):
So the thing, though, about garlic and the fire cider and, you know, most of the herbs that we’ll do those steams with is that they’re going to be hot and drying in their effect on the body. And if you have a lot of snot and wet phlegmy cough, that’s great. That’s just exactly what we want. But if you are already feeling dry, even though it’s a respiratory like infectious issue, it could be dry sometimes, right? So if that’s happening for you, you might need to balance out those hot and dry herbs that we’re working with to activate immunity, to fight the infection. We’re going to need to balance them out elsewhere in the day, right? So especially for somebody who runs dry all the time, has a hot constitution, we’re going to need to balance those effects out. We do want to get those herbs in, but we’re going to look elsewhere in that person’s life to see what we can add in to make a nice balanced effect. Right? So if we add a bunch of hot dry stuff, we can add some cooling moistening stuff and retain that center. So a simple way to do this here is to alternate between drying and moistening remedies as you move through your day. So, you could have some garlic and ginger and thyme tea. And then after that we could go ahead and have some demulcent infusion, some moistening herb.

Katja (00:51:26):
Right, like marshmallow or whatever. You know, you don’t only have to switch between two types of tea. You can do this in your food as well. So, maybe you drink some hot tea or some fire cider or something that is going to really be hot and drying, but also strongly antimicrobial. And then you balance that out with some broth that has seaweed or okra in it, so that you’re getting that moistening action to help soothe any irritation to the mucus membranes.

Ryn (00:52:01):
Yeah. Broth is excellent for this because, well, it’s water-based. But also a broth tends to have a decent amount of good quality fat as well, right? Especially if you make your own.

Katja (00:52:11):
Well, and protein even.

Ryn (00:52:12):
Right. Yeah. And when it comes to moisture balance, we do think a lot about staying hydrated, but also, I dunno, oil-iated? You need to have adequate fats and oils in your diet and in your body to stay hydrated as well. So with broth you can kind of get everything covered all at once. That’s really nice. Yeah. So if in that broth you’ve got some seaweed in there, some okra or something like that, those are going to be moistening and soothing to the mucous membranes. And on top of that, they too help to improve your immune response. So, really simple.

Relaxants for Non-Infectious Breathing Difficulties

Katja (00:52:46):
All right. Well, let’s just talk for a minute about some things that are not infectious. And asthma can really kind of be the example here, because there are there’s actual asthma, and then there are things that kind of look like asthma. Other respiratory conditions that give you that feeling of constriction, that feeling where it’s hard to breathe, there can be all kinds of different causes for that. Everything from pleurisy, which is sort of like a very, very dry inflammatory condition in the lungs, or it could just be the asthma that you were born with and you’ve had ever since you were a kid. So anytime that we’re looking at a situation where it’s difficult for someone to breathe, and there’s a lot of constriction, then one of the first things…and to be clear that for a person with asthma, we’re not going to work with any of these things in a way that is replacing their inhaler, for example. This isn’t like Oh, don’t take whatever medicine. Just do these herbs instead. That’s not what we’re trying to say here. These are going to be herbs that are going to support healthy lung function in a tight constrictive situation. So we’re looking for these herbs that give a relaxant action. The more that we can relax the lungs, the less often that you’re going to need a rescue inhaler. You may still need your every day medication, but the more that we can get into that relaxed lung state, the less often that we’re likely to have those acute situations that require a rescue.

Ryn (00:54:35):
Yeah. And, you know, a really great herb here is actually chamomile.

Katja (00:54:38):
I love chamomile.

Ryn (00:54:38):
Yeah. Chamomile is a good choice for this. For the best effect, though, for this purpose, we want to deliver it as a steam. Although remember after steaming you can drink that tea. And I think it’s a good idea for asthma, because look, when your lungs are tight and constricted it’s a lung problem, but it’s also going to become a mental/emotional problem. You know, it’s going to become stressful. It’s going to become agitating. It’s going to get you amped up and chamomile can help to relax those kinds of tension as well. So just a brief little foray into other elements of health that might be relevant. But again, a chamomile steam is really excellent for this. It really does relax the lung tissue, help you to breathe more deeply, and it’s a very friendly.

Katja (00:55:24):
Yes. Ginger is also going to be super, super helpful here, and really ginger over time. Ginger has strong anti-spasmodic activity. It’s very, very relaxing, and it builds over time. So that sort of, whether it is the feeling of nausea — we mentioned before that ginger can be helpful with nausea — whether is that spasmodic kind of cough where you’re just hacking and hacking and you can’t stop coughing, or whether it is the light constant tightness that makes it hard to breathe. All of these different things, ginger can relax and over time can really reduce the baseline constriction so that if you’re accustomed to being sort of this tight most of the time, like it’s this hard to breathe most of the time, then after working with ginger for a few weeks or a month, then it’s like, Oh, a little less hard to breathe most of the time. And over time that keeps improving. Plus ginger brings warmth and circulation. And that in and of itself is also relaxing, but more importantly it’s bringing better oxygen flow and nutrients to the lungs to improve the health of the lungs themselves. When you’re really tight and constricted, it’s not just that it’s hard to breathe. It’s also hard for blood to get into the area. So you’re not getting a really good exchange of oxygen in the blood, but also your lungs aren’t getting food, and that’s important.

Ryn (00:57:05):
Yeah, absolutely. Now sometimes asthma can manifest with dryness in the lungs as well as the tension that’s there, right? So in that case, once again, infusions of our demulcent herbs, like the mallows and the seaweeds, can be very helpful to release that dryness and to bring some fluid into the tissue there. Mullein leaf, again, is particularly helpful for directing that moisture in the body toward the lungs and correcting dry states that are affecting them. So that’s a really excellent herb if it grows around you. Another one that’s wild but really common in a lot of parts of the country is called purple loosestrife. And purple loosestrife is another excellent herb for building up respiratory resilience. That’s one that if you had it growing around you, and you could gather it and have that on a consistent basis and be able to take that over time is where that would work the best. It’s really true for all of these, because again, we’re not looking at like rescue remedies for asthma, where it’s like, get you out of an attack right now. There are some herbs that can do that, but for today thinking more about plants for building lung strength, building resilience. And honestly, we’ve been talking about asthma, but these herbs would also be helpful if you have other kinds of chronic lung issues. The obstructive pulmonary troubles, COPD, purple loosestrife is really helpful for that. Mullein is a good choice there. Ginger in any of these cases is going to be a good herb to choose. So, you know, think of this over the long run. But these herbs really can make a big improvement when you get that consistency.

Katja (00:58:42):
Right. Really anytime when it feels like it’s hard to breathe. It doesn’t matter what diagnosis is attached to that hard to breathe so much, because all of these herbs are helping to relax that constriction, relax the tightness, and bring more blood into the area so that you’re getting that better oxygen exchange.

Breathing Exercises to Strengthen the Respiratory System

Ryn (00:59:06):
Yeah. So a number of choices there. Alright. Last thing we wanted to talk about was breathing exercises, because regardless of the specific health issue that’s at play here, the respiratory system can always be strengthened through breathing exercises, right? So breathing is interesting and unusual because it’s something that you can completely ignore and let your autonomic nervous system run for you without any of your interference. But you can also choose to breathe or, or to hold your breath whenever you decide. So it’s a place, and that’s relevant because like the road runs in both directions. By that I mean that when you’re stressed, agitated, scared, something like that, that’s going to influence your breathing. And it’s going to become fast and tight and everything like that. When you’re calm and relaxed, you’re going to breathe nice and long and slow and loose. But if you intentionally change the way that you breathe, that is going to run the road in the other direction and have an influence on your state of stress response, your state of mental and nervous excitation. So, when you’re feeling stressed out, if you can breathe long and slow, that will actually help to kind of like run around your circuits everywhere and say, all right, calm down and turn everything down. Turn off the alarms, right? We can settle in.

Katja (01:00:31):
It’s because when you take long, deep, slow breaths, you actually change the types of hormones that your body is sending. And you’re switching from the stress hormones to the rest hormones. So when you’re taking a deep breath, the message that your body is getting is things are okay. I can calm down. When you’re taking quick, shallow breaths, the message hormonally, the hormones that are sending through your body are the hormones that say we’re in trouble. It’s time to be stressed out. And so that also is really cool because this is a thing that we can learn to do. It’s a very accessible way to change our hormone behavior, which kind of blows your mind a little bit, because we don’t think of hormones as something that we can really change just by changing the way we breathe, but they really are.

Ryn (01:01:27):
Yeah. So when we’re breathing intentionally, you know, thoughtfully as an exercise, we want to do what’s called belly breathing, and that helps you get a much deeper, fuller breath. So with that, what you’re going to do is you’re going to kind of breathe down into your belly and let your belly expand as you’re inhaling. That’s letting your diaphragm, which is this like sheet of muscle right here. Let that expand downwards for you. And that will pull the lungs down and open them. So when you breathe in your belly should expand first. And then once that’s expanded as much as it can, and you breathe down as much as possible, then at that point, your ribs can start to expand outward. Kind of like they’re opening away from each other and expanding like circularly, like a barrel or something.

Katja (01:02:12):
Right. And these are things that you should play with. Play with what it feels like to breathe deeply. What does it feel like to breathe your normal every day kind of way? Where does the breath stop. For most people the breath sort of stops just like right above your heart. Just in the normal kind of you’re just sitting there and you’re not getting the air all the way down to the bottom of the lungs. So really feel like can I breathe so that I make my lungs big through my back? You know, can I breathe that I make my lungs expand out the front of me, or out underneath my arms, out side to side? And just sort of play with it.

Ryn (01:02:57):
Yeah. One way to feel it is to put a hand on your belly and one hand on your sternum. And as you breathe in, you want to feel the hand on your belly moving first. And then after that, the one on your sternum can start to feel some movement under it. So that can just be a way to experience what you’re doing.

Katja (01:03:14):
Honestly, it’s okay if you don’t breathe through your belly first. There’s so many different ways. So, if that is uncomfortable for you, then do it in reverse. Try and fill up your whole lungs and expand them in different directions. I know that there’ve been times in my life that breathing into the belly felt very uncomfortable. So if that’s the case, that’s okay. But what we’re trying to do is breathe so that you fill the lungs with fresh air right down to the very bottom, so that you are able to move the diaphragm out of the way, spread the ribs as much as they possibly can. And a big part of the reason here, when we’re talking about respiratory health, is that just like if you close up all the windows in your car, and it’s like, you know, you don’t go in there for a little while. Maybe it’s a hot day or something. And then you open the car and it smells gross. It just smells stale in there. That happens in your lungs. When we only breathe to the top of the lungs and we don’t get the fresh air all the way down into the tippy bottom parts of the lungs, then there’s old stale crud just sitting at the bottom of your lungs. And some of it might be bacteria. And some of it might be viruses who are just hanging out there, having a grand time and not getting disrupted at all because you’re never breathing them out. So really breathing the air down to the very, very bottom parts of the lungs multiple times a day is going to help improve your lung health. And if you haven’t tried this ever before, or if you have a chronic lung condition that makes it harder or painful to breathe, then this is going to be a slow process, right? You may simply just try to breathe a smidge than you normally do for a little while. And then later a smidge more than that. Your lungs are almost like a muscle. My brother plays concert tuba. And in his training to play tuba, which requires a huge amount of air, he had to get one of those, they call it an incentive respirometer, or…

Ryn (01:05:48):
Inspirometer?

Katja (01:05:50):
Yes. An incentive spirometer. That’s what it’s called. And it’s basically this little plastic tool that you breathe into, and it has some sort of expanding chamber. And it tells you how much air you breathed into your lungs and then breathe it back out again. And the idea is to sort of make it a game and try to make it a little bit more the next time and a little bit more the next time. And they give these to people who are recovering from chronic lung conditions, or some kind of really acute lung condition. But also professional musicians work with them, which I learned because of my brother. And so it’s fascinating to think about it that way, that it takes time and it takes some work at it, just like an exercise of any kind. But you can increase how much air fits into your lungs over time if you just work at it. And it’s free. So that’s pretty exciting.

Ryn (01:06:51):
Yeah. Pretty good. Like any other exercise, there’s a couple of little alignment points that are helpful for this one. A big one is to not let your shoulders and your traps rise up when you take an inhale. You’ll often see people doing that when they’re having a lot of trouble breathing.

Katja (01:07:07):
Yeah. The shoulders go up towards the ears.

Ryn (01:07:09):
Yeah. there’s actually like connections that run through your clavicle here and connect to the top of the lungs. So you’re literally trying to like move your lungs around by shrugging your shoulders and lifting your trapezius when you do that. So we try to keep the shoulders down and back as you take these deep breaths.

Katja (01:07:27):
It’s actually pretty amazing though, that the body can compensate. The body can adapt. And if it is hard to breathe by pushing the diaphragm down, your body’s like fine. I’ll pick my shoulders up, and I’ll make some space for the air that way. I mean, bodies are amazing things. But in this particular case, what we’re trying to do is encourage the diaphragm to move down. So, in the period of time where you’re practicing the exercise, it’s good to try to keep the shoulders down.

Ryn (01:07:58):
Yeah. And usually when we’re doing breathess exercise, we try to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. If you’ve got a bunch of phlegm and stuff stuck in there right now, snot, whatever, then that might not be possible. But when it is, that’s what we try to do. So just a couple of examples of what a breathing exercise could look like. A simple one is just slow in, slow out, right? As long, slow breath, inhale through the nose. Long, slow exhale. Okay. Pretty straightforward, right? With this one, I’d say explore different positions, right? Try it sitting where you are, try it standing, try it laying down in various positions, try it when you’re reaching up and overhead to see what happens with the feeling of the deep breath that way. It can help you to notice places in your body or in your rib cage or even in your lungs where there is some constriction, a place where you might need to get a little stretch, a little more movement to loosen up. Another thing to do is to get into a kind of constrained position and to do deep breathing. So either like to be twisted around or bent over or curled inward. It makes it harder to take a good deep breath. But what this can do is get more movement in places in your rib cage or in your belly that weren’t moving before. So when you curl all in up in yourself and try to take a deep breath, you don’t have a lot of room to move your belly. So your ribs have to expand a lot more to get a full breath in. So that can help you to feel that. And also just as a sort of internal stretching exercise, this actually does a lot for your organs and for your kind of viscera to get those moving around a little bit more freely. So if you twist one direction and take a deep breath, make sure you go the other way. Get one on that side too. There’s a breathing technique called square breathing that is very helpful if there is anxiety or panic and you’re trying to do that shift of your mental and emotional state through breathwork. So with square breathing, what you do is you inhale nice and slow. You hold for the same amount of time it took you to breathe in. You exhale for that same amount of time. And then you hold for that amount of time. So if you were like a little turtle cursor moving around, it would be like an equal length of distance and time each way around. Right. So inhale…

Katja (01:10:19):
Right. You can imagine yourself drawing a square,

Ryn (01:10:22):
Hold, right? Exhale. Hold, right? And it makes that square pattern.

Katja (01:10:29):
It could make any pattern you want it to, but a square is easy.

Ryn (01:10:33):
It could be a diamond.

Katja (01:10:33):
Yeah, exactly. But a square is easy to visualize. You can, you know, if it helps you to be more interesting, you can make your square be colors or whatever.

Ryn (01:10:44):
Yeah. So that pattern of like those long measured breaths with the holds in between, measured holds in between, that really does rapidly move you out of that stress response state into the rest and digest state. This is even a good thing to do before you have meals, you know? Get your body ready to eat.

Katja (01:11:02):
Yeah. It’s so hard to digest food when you’re stressed and it’s free to take some deep breaths before you eat.

Ryn (01:11:10):
Yeah. The last one I wanted to is breath holding work. This is especially good if you have chronic lung weakness, chronically short of breath, often feel difficulty in getting a full breath or like you get easily winded. This is one way to to strengthen your oxygen absorption capacity. So it really is just to breathe in and hold for as long as you can. And it works even better if you breathe in, hold for as long as you can, and then breathe out. But instead of like breathing in right away, wait, just hold on to it. Okay. And then, alright, Okay. I got a good breath, right? So, that last moment is going to be difficult, but it does really help a lot to stretch your hold times longer and longer if you add in that extra moment.

Katja (01:11:58):
And you know, when you first try this, you might only be able to hold your breath for like three seconds. That’s fine. That is completely fine. It doesn’t matter how many seconds you can hold your breath for when you start. Just that, okay well, hmm. Can I do it for three and a half the next time? And it might take you a while to get to four, but that’s okay. That’s just what we’re moving towards.

Ryn (01:12:23):
yeah. Be gentle with yourself, right? You can hold your breath so long you get dizzy. So, you know, be sitting down, be lying down somewhere to be as safe as possible with this exercise. You may also find it very helpful to take 10 or 30 deep breaths before you start to hold. That will oxygenate your system and give you a lot more space to hold your breath in.

Katja (01:12:46):
It’s kind of like doing warmups before you play your sport. You know, it’s like warming up the lungs by taking some deep breaths and then saying, all right. All right. All right. Now how long can I hold this?

Ryn (01:12:58):
Yeah. And it’s always good to finish your breath holding practice with a number of long, slow, deep breaths, just to make sure everything’s in there and circulated well again. So with practice, you’ll be able to hold longer, and you’ll also feel more resilience in your lungs as you go along. Yeah. Alright. So yeah, there you go. A bunch of herbs to think about, some breathing exercises. Thinking about the energetics of the respiratory system. Hot and cold, moist and dry, tense and lax, and choosing herbs to address those patterns. And remember, it’s all about the pattern. It’s what you feel, what you observe, what you hear in your own breath or if you’re listening to somebody else’s. Those are the things that guide your choices, right? Like we set up at the top, it’s not about herbs for the flu virus and herbs for the cold and herbs for the asthma. It’s herbs for the presentation.

Katja (01:13:49):
Yes. Herbs for this person with a lot of snot falling out of their face right now.

Ryn (01:13:56):
That’s what it is.

Katja (01:13:56):
Yes.

Ryn (01:13:57):
All right.

Katja (01:13:58):
All right. Well, I hope that you have enjoyed this series. We really enjoyed putting it together. We’ll be back next week with some exciting new things that we have planned for you. So tune in then to find out what they are. I was just going to spill the beans, but I’m not going to do that. I’m one of those people who can’t keep a secret. Cannot, like if I get a person a gift, I can’t buy it ahead of time because I will totally be like, Oh my goodness, this is what it is. So, look at me. I’m not going to, I’m just going to tell you you have to wait.

Ryn (01:14:33):
You’re doing great, but we better stop. It’s going to slip out in a moment. Yeah. Great. Thank you for listening. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other.

Katja (01:14:41):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (01:14:41):
And we’ll talk to you again soon.

Katja (01:14:45):
Bye Bye.

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