Herbs to Protect our Lungs

The land is burning, and so are our lungs. Here's a list of my favourite respiratory protectors. Drink them up, and be sure to share them with the vulnerable people in your life such as small children, elders, and those who are immune compromised.

If you want to learn more about herbal medicine check out my online course here.

Steam Inhalation
Set a soup pot on the stove and fill it loosely with cuttings from aromatic trees such as branches of pine, fir spruce and cedar. Fill the pot with water to cover the plant material. Bring it almost to boil, then turn the heat down low. This steam inhalation fills your home with humidity which is needed by your respiratory system but also, aromatic plant compounds lower concentrations of toxic gases and chemicals in the atomosphere. The respiratory sytem benefits from humidification because the alveoli of our lungs need moisture for gas exchange, and the gooey thick mucous of our upper respiratory system is full of immune cells - we don't want to dry out! Breathing dry air can cause respiratory ailments. There's a theory that the toxic particules are pulled out of the air by plant compounds.  I cannot verify this, but what I do know is aromatic steam certainly feels good when my lungs are tight and painful from fire season.

Slippery Elm

Ulmus rubra 

Slippery Elm is one of the best herbs to coat and protect irritated and inflamed mucous membranes. It's easy to find as it's sold at most herb shops.  Traditionally it's used for gastric ulcers, colitis and harsh dry respiratory conditions. It is cooling, soothing, and lubricating so a perfect fit for those who feel like their lungs are tight, dry and hot.  I put a heaping teaspoon into warm (not hot) water. Stir. It gets thick and goopy. That thick mucilaginous stuff is part of it's good medicine. Drink it down. If the texture turns you off,   mix it in food or make a smoothie drink with it. Just don't cook it.


Althea officinalis 

Similar to Slippery Elm, this herb is rich in mucilage, cooling, moistening, sweet tasting. One of the reasons I love it so much is it has an lovely relaxant effect on the lungs (actually, the whole body) without being a sedative. It helps to heal tissue of the respiratory and digestive systems. I like to combine both Elm and Marshmallow if I have them on hand.

If you have the plant in your backyard, you can steep the leaves in hot water and drink as a tea.

Sambucus nigrans 

The berries of the elder tree contain powerful antioxidants that help protect the immune system, sinuses, and respiratory system. Make a strong tea of the berries and drink with a bit of honey to soothe the throat. This herb is a strong antiviral and antiinflammatory.  An article I wrote on elderberry here.

Verbascum thapsus 

One of my all-time favourite herbs. Make a strong brew of the dried leaves (and root if you can get them) but remember to strain through a fine meshed cloth as there are little hairs on the leaves that can irritate the throat. This herb is so soothing and relaxes respiratory constriction. This is in all my formulas for asthmatics. It's a true lung healer.

Elecampane or Osha
inula helenium & Ligusticum porteri

These two herbs are respiratory stimulants. I would only use them in small amount and in combination with cooling herbs such as slippery elm and marshmallow because they are hot and fiery. I'm including them here because they are broncodilators.  I would do one of these or the other, not both.

(elecampane pic below)

Reishi or Turkey Tail
Ganoderma lucidum & Trametes versicolor

These are both powerful mushrooms, and once again use what you have on hand. Where I live, Turkey Tails grow abundantly in our forests (pictured below). The best time to harvest is in the cool wet autumn, winter or spring. But if you can get your hands on a tincture or the dried herb of either of these, your body will be happy. If you find a tincture, take 2 tsp a day. If you have the dried mushroom, simmer it over night in a crock pot or several hours on the stove top, strain, mix with any of the herbs above or mint and add a little honey (because it's a strong taste) and enjoy a few cups a day. These mushrooms reduce inflammation and increase endurance and strength. They are powerful antimicrobials protecting against infection. Like all herbs, they have a vast range of action not just limited to respiratory health.

Other Support:
Stay indoors as best you can. There are harmful particles and toxic gases in air right now.

Use air condition if you have it.
Find a HEPA filtre if possible (via craigslist, Facebook groups, etc)

Use a mask.

Keep your kids indoors.

Close all windows.

Do not exert yourself! Get back to your exercise program when the smoke clears.

Avoid smoking - anything - to give your lungs a break.

Supplement extra Vitamin C & D right now.

The homeopathic remedy CARBO-VEG in a 30C potency taken once every 12 hours can be helpful if you have symptoms of "air hunger" or tight lungs, unable to take in a breath. It also helps the body remove toxins from the smoky air. (tip: you don't need to "believe" in homeopathy for it to work 🙂  )

May the winds be calm and may rain bless the Earth,



  1. Nancy Barsky on August 17, 2023 at 2:18 pm

    I also dry and burn mullien leaves as a bronchodialator. I have used them this way, burning them in a pan or cigarette paper, and inhaling the smoke. This helped with jagged coughing during bronchitis for myself and my dog!
    Your article gives excellent information for both harvesting and use of the plant.
    Thank you!

    • Seraphina Capranos on August 18, 2023 at 9:07 am

      Oh what great news Nancy! I’m so glad that helped you and your dog.
      Thank you for your kind words about this article!

  2. Kate on September 18, 2020 at 5:11 am

    This is an excellent article, and references simple herbs that most people are able to get their hands on. Thank you!

    • Seraphina Capranos on September 18, 2020 at 6:32 am

      Thank you Kate, glad you find it useful! I definitely wanted to include remedies that most people could find.
      Best wishes to you!

  3. Robert Birch on September 13, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    Such a breath of fresh air -all of your posts, Seraphina! Thank you! Such an honour to be joining your herbal program.

  4. Katie on September 12, 2020 at 9:36 am

    A link to this article was shared on Facebook for lung support during the Oregon 2020 fires. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • Seraphina Capranos on September 12, 2020 at 10:23 am

      You’re so welcome katie! Stay safe and well. My mind is focused on all this passing. May you be protected.

  5. Julia on August 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Hi there,
    Are these safe during pregancy ?

    • Seraphina Capranos on August 22, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      most are, however, I always recommend speaking to your midwife or a local practitioner who knows your health history and current state of health. Also, Aviva Romm’s book Healthy Pregnancy is amazing and has recommendations for all kinds of ailments in pregnancy.

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