Most of us take breathing for granted.
Even if you don’t smoke or experience respiratory problems, an occasional lung cleanse should be part of your self-care regime. If you do smoke or have asthma or allergies, cleaning up the pipes is even more important.
Your Lungs Are Larger Than You Might Think
Although they fit perfectly inside your chest, the surface area of the lungs (inside and out) is 40 times larger than your external skin. They are made of a spongy material to allow flexibility and permeability.
We can live with only one but anyone who has had a lung removed will tell you that life isn’t the same afterward.
Within each lung are air tubes called bronchioles that are linked together via bronchial trees. At the end of each branch of the trees are small air-filled sacs called alveoli.
White blood cells in the alveoli filter irritants and invaders from the air, either destroying them or pushing them through the body for elimination.
Your lungs work hard to continually take in oxygen, filter it, and release it to the circulatory system to spread throughout your body. Expanding and contracting up to 20 times every minute without a break, it’s in our best interests to keep our lungs in the best shape possible (1).
Common Causes Of Respiratory Problems
Lung diseases include (2):
- Asthma – a condition in which bronchial tubes are chronically inflamed, narrowing passageways and restricting breathing. A severe asthma attack can be triggered by external factors such as seasonal allergies or stress. It’s estimated that 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma and its occurrence is rising. (3) Asthma is a chronic, lifelong condition; in extreme situations, it can be fatal.
- Bronchitis – inflammation of bronchial tubes that connect air passages of the nose and mouth to the lungs. Bronchitis is usually triggered by allergies or a respiratory infection (e.g., influenza) and passes within a brief period of time. Air pollutants are also a prime factor.
- Colds and other viral infections
- Cystic fibrosis – a genetic disease in which heavy mucus is produced in the lungs (and other organs), making breathing difficult.
- Emphysema – a progressive lung disease in which the alveoli are chronically inflamed, blocking air flow in and out of the lungs.
- Pleurisy – inflammation (and often fluid between layers) of the inner linings of the lung.
- Pneumonia – an infection in the lung that can be caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, and aspirated chemicals.
- Tuberculosis – the most common bacterial infectious disease in the world. It attacks the lungs and can damage the liver and kidneys. It can manifest different symptoms so is sometimes difficult to diagnose. The most common symptoms are similar to a flu that doesn’t quickly go away.
Symptoms of respiratory problems include:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Chest pain
- Local tenderness of the chest or back
- Coughing up phlegm or blood
- Symptoms of lung infection are similar to other types of infection: fever, cough, excess mucus, body aches, chest and throat irritation, and extreme fatigue.
Overworking Your Lungs
Toxins exist all around us, including in the air we breathe. Common dust, pollution from cars and factories, bacteria and viruses, airborne chemicals from various sources, and toxins expressed through geoengineering constantly surround the majority of people on the planet.
This is especially true for people who live in cities and densely populated areas, who are more likely to experience lung pain and breathing problems. Rural dwellers are not much better off, with all the farming chemicals floating around.
Additionally, many products used in the home can interfere with proper lung function. Household cleaners, talcum powder, stuff we track in from outside, fabric softeners, cologne, air fresheners, scented candles, dust, and animal dander are common irritants. Actually, indoor air can be a greater source of pollution than that outdoors with toxins that affect not only your lungs but also your brain. (4)
These are far from the only lung irritants out there. People who work with hazardous substances like asbestos and coal are at great risk of developing chronic lung illness. Also, long-term exposure to mold can cause congestion and bleeding in the lungs. (5) On the other hand, radon exposure is extremely hazardous and affects more than just miners: it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer (behind cigarettes).
“The public often underestimates the potential risk of cancer due to radon. This could discourage assessment and abatement measures in the home, as given that the general population does not see the problem. In fact, several studies have noted optimistic biases in the public’s assessment of radon exposure’s potential health risks. For the most part, the general public thinks radon exposure does not pose a risk,” writes the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. (6)
How Toxins Affect Your Lungs
From mild coughing to cancer, regular exposure to aspirated toxins is a serious concern for your lungs.
Consider this from The Daily Mail:
“a study involving Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, warned that plug-in air fresheners produce ‘considerable’ levels of formaldehyde: described by the US government’s National Toxicology Program as a known ‘human carcinogen’. It is most closely linked with cancers of the nose and throat and at the very least, it can also cause sore throats, coughs, scratchy eyes and nosebleeds. It is not the only chemical to fear in air fresheners. Other basic ingredients include petroleum products and such chemicals as p-dichlorobenzene, which hardly bring to mind summer meadows, vanilla pods and sultry spices. These ingredients have been linked with a raised risk of asthma in adults and children.” (7)
In light of the above, we should step back and take stock of the condition of the lungs from minute to minute.
Even if we don’t smoke (or live with a smoker), work in a mine, or use commercial cleaners in our home, we are exposed to potentially poisonous elements and dust particle in the air we can’t help but inhaling constantly.
To naturally support our lungs, we can turn to certain plants to cleanse and detox these precious organs. Some are houseplants that purify our indoor environment. Others can be ingested to work their healing magic.
20 Lung Cleansing Recipes
Most of the recipes below are taken as teas because they’re easy to make, have beneficial steam, and are quickly absorbed.
For all lung detox tea remedies:
- you may use a cloth tea bag, tea ball, or strainer for the herb leaves
- use water filtered through reverse osmosis
- if adding honey, use the raw, unfiltered, organic, and local stuff
- cover the tea while steeping so beneficial oils don’t evaporate with the steam
1. Mullein Tea
The leaves and flowers of mullein are used by herbalists to treat respiratory ailments of all kinds, including asthma, cough, bronchitis, and pulmonary disease. Its phytochemicals act to detox and soothe bronchioles (air tubes in the lungs) and are effective natural expectorants (8).
Here’s how to make it:
- 2 teaspoons mullein leaf
- 1 1/2 cups filtered water
- 1 teaspoon dried spearmint (optional)
- 1-2 teaspoons honey (optional)
- Boil water and add mullein leaves.
- Add spearmint in a separate tea ball if desired.
- Steep for 15 minutes. Add honey to taste, if desired.
2. Eucalyptus Tea
Eucalyptus oil contains a natural antibiotic called cineole. The compound also has antiviral and antifungal properties.
“Surprisingly for an antimicrobial substance, there are also immune-stimulatory, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, and spasmolytic effects. Of the white blood cells, monocytes and macrophages are most affected, especially with increased phagocytic activity. Application by either vapor inhalation or oral route provides benefit for both purulent and non-purulent respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” (9)
Eucalyptus relaxes and expands the lungs and bronchioles, relieving congestion and discomfort—an exemplary natural remedy for chest infection.
Use small amounts of eucalyptus at a time, as it can cause nausea or diarrhea in larger doses.
Half a teaspoon per cup is all you need. Pregnant and nursing women and people with liver or gastrointestinal conditions should not take eucalyptus internally. Instead, inhale eucalyptus steam to treat respiratory ailments.
How to make eucalyptus tea:
- 1/2 teaspoon dried eucalyptus leaves
- 1 cup water, boiling
- Honey to taste
- Pour boiling water over eucalyptus leaves, cover, and allow to steep for 10 minutes.
- Add honey to taste (optional).
- Drink up to 3 cups a day.
3. Lungwort Tea
Lungwort is a lichen that got its name in the Middle Ages due to its lung-like appearance. Traditional use of this plant has found it especially supportive of the lungs.
It’s been used for treating bronchitis, asthma, and lung disease when taken internally. It’s also useful for, stomach and intestinal ailments, and kidney and urinary tract problems. Additionally, lungwort can be used topically to ease the discomfort of eczema, burns, and hemorrhoids (10).
To make it pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried lungwort. Steep covered for 15 minutes. Lastly, drink several cups a day to reduce pulmonary inflammation and promote healing.
4. Oregano Tea
The carvacrol in oregano is responsible for its decongestant abilities and histamine reducers, which promote lung health. An antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal herb, oregano also contains antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress in the entire body (11).
- 4-6 tablespoons fresh or dried oregano
- 2 ½ cups water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Cut or crush fresh oregano leaves to release their oil. Skip this step if using dried oregano.
- Add oregano and steep for at least 5 minutes.
- Drink hot and inhale the steam between sips.
5. Plantain Leaf Infusion
The plantain here is not the same plant as the banana-like fruit but is the seemingly omnipresent plantain weed that has spiky greens that grow wild. Plantain leaves stimulate mucus production, making them a superb remedy for a dry cough or throat irritation. In fact, studies have found plantain leaf very effective in easing bronchitis and gentle enough for children. (12)
Since you can find the herb in your backyard, this is one of the most convenient home remedies for lung congestion. Plus, plantain also supports the immune system.
Since you can find the herb in your backyard, this is one of the most convenient home remedies for lung congestion. Plus, plantain also supports the immune system, which is great if you’re fighting off an infection.
- Pour 1 cup boiling water over 3-4 tablespoons of dried plantain herb (or ¼ cup fresh leaves).
- Steep 15-20 minutes and drink immediately.
6. Elecampane Syrup
Also known as horse heal, this plant is an effective lung cleanser. Used in ancient and Eastern medicine for bronchitis and asthma, elecampane root is an effective natural expectorant. It contains inulin, a detoxifying phytochemical that coats and soothes bronchioles to allow them to relax, relieving wheezing and cough.
Elecampane is not recommended for pregnant women.
Here’s how to make this natural cough remedy:
- 2 tablespoons dried elecampane root
- 2 cups water
- Lemon juice
- Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan.
- Add elecampane and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat.
- Once the liquid is reduced by half, strain and squeeze all the liquid out of the herbs.
- Add honey and lemon to taste and cool.
- Store leftover syrup in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
- For children under 14, give a 2/3 teaspoon every two hours or 2 teaspoons for older folks.
7. Lobelia Tincture
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata.)is a very strong and complex herb, also called Indian tobacco. It can be used as a tobacco substitute to help quit smoking. Lobeline is a substance in lobelia that is a mild stimulant like nicotine but is not addictive. Lobelia is also an anti-spasmodic and expectorant (13).
Lobelia also induces vomiting to remove toxins. Because of this, the herb is potentially toxic in large doses. It’s recommended that you only take the herb under medical supervision.
8. Chaparral Tea
NOTE: this herb is not advised for long-term use or for people with liver disorders.
The chaparral herb relieves lung irritation and moderates histamine response, making it extremely helpful for bronchitis and colds. In addition, this plant contains an antioxidant substance called NDGA (nordihydroguaiaretic acid) that reduces the ability of abnormal (cancer) cells to generate energy.
Taken as a tea, chaparral is a natural expectorant (14).
For tea, steep 5 tablespoons of dried leaves and stems of chaparral per quart of boiling water.
9. Peppermint Steam Bath
Menthol, a compound in peppermint, is an anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory compound. As such, it relaxes the respiratory tract. Peppermint steam cleans mucus (and the toxins it contains) from the lungs, detoxifying your organs. In fact, it’s one of the best essential oils for colds.
To use, pour boiling water into a large glass bowl and add 3 drops of peppermint essential oil. Place a towel over your head and the steaming bowl (don’t put your face too close!). Close your eyes and inhale the vapor until the steam dissipates. Blow your nose regularly to get rid of the mucus that will flow right out. It’s great for a stubborn head cold too!
10. Osha Root and Horehound Syrup
The osha plant is indigenous to the Rocky Mountains and Mexico. The herb has been used by American Natives for centuries for respiratory system support and acts as a natural cough remedy (15). The roots contain camphor, a natural expectorant. Osha root increases circulation to the lungs, making breathing easier and removing residual toxins from smoking (16).
Because of is camphor content, osha root should not be continually used for extended periods of time, as it can damage the liver. Pregnant and nursing women should not use osha root as it can stimulate uterine contractions.
On the other hand, horehound is a bitter but efficacious expectorant and mild anesthetic that soothes sore air passageways (17).
Here’s the homemade syrup recipe:
- An ounce of Horehound
- 2 cups of water
- 2 cups honey
- One ounce powdered slippery elm bark
- The juice of one lime
- 1/2 cup brandy
- Several tablespoons of powdered osha root
- In a small saucepan, bring the water and horehound to a boil.
- Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
- Strain herbs and boil tea down to 1 cup.
- Add honey and stir over low heat.
- Remove from heat and add slippery elm, lime, and brandy.
- Add osha root, mix, and bottle.
- Take a tablespoon or two as needed.
11. Hawthorn Healing Infusion
This plant has been well established as a herb for heart health. (18) Harwthorn berries contain antioxidants that are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and promote blood flow. These qualities are also important for preventing fluid build-up in your lungs and cleansing them.
Do not take hawthorn if you are on heart medication or blood thinners.
- 1 oz by weight dried Hawthorn flower and leaves
- 4 cups boiling water
- Pour boiling water over hawthorn and steep for 48 hours.
- Strain, squeeze and drink warm or iced.
12. Thyme Syrup
A 2016 study of the effects of thyme on bronchial pathways concluded—without a doubt—that this herb is among the most protective and supportive of the lungs:
“Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is used traditionally to prepare herbal remedies possessing expectorant, mucolytic, antitussive and antispasmodic properties…Thyme extract might be an effective treatment of chronic diseases based on inflammatory processes when hypersecretion of mucus overwhelms the ciliary clearance and obstructs airways, causing morbidity and mortality. Moreover, thyme extract, evaluated in H460 lung cancer cell line, demonstrated to induce cell cytotoxicity in addition to reduce inflammatory cell signals.” (19)
- 2 to 4 ounces thyme leaf and flower (fresh is best but dried will do)
- 1 quart of water
- 1 cup honey
To make the syrup:
- Combine the thyme and water in a small saucepan over very low heat.
- Simmer with the lid ajar until the liquid is reduced by half. You should be left with about 2 cups of strong thyme tea.
- Strain out the herbs, cool slightly and add the honey.
- Stir and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.
- To use, take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon every couple of hours until the cold or the cough subsides.