The second part of my theoretical task for January, with my Springfield Sanctuary Apprenticeship, is to research the different types of cough, (wet/cold, hot/dry, spasms, nervous, pharmaceutical side effects). Then tell which herbs I would use for each type of cough and why.
A productive cough produces a lot of mucous (sputum) or phlegm. The mucous may have drained from the sinuses or nose, down the back of the throat and up from the lungs.
There are many causes of a productive cough such as,
Viral illness, as in the common cold. The mucus drains down the back of the throat triggering coughing. Postnasal drip.
Infection. An infection of the upper airway passages or lungs. The productive cough may be a symptom of bronchitis, sinusitis, tuberculosis or pneumonia.
Chronic lung disease such as in COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The productive cough could be a sign this disease is getting worse or there is an infection.
GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, can cause productive coughing which may awaken you from sleep. Stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.
Smoking or other tobacco use can cause a productive cough. A sign of damage or irritation to the esophagus, throat or lungs.
A nonproductive cough does not produce sputum and is dry. Often developing toward the end of a cold or after exposure to an irritant, like smoke or dust.
Various causes of nonproductive cough
Viral illness. A dry cough may last for several weeks after a common cold. Often worse at night.
Bronchospasm, especially common at night. May be caused by irritation, causing bronchial tube spasms.
Allergies may cause a nonproductive cough. Often accompanied by sneezing.
Ace inhibitor medicines, used to control high blood pressure. Examples are captopril (Capoten), lisinopril (Zestoretic, Zestril, Prinivil)
Work environment fumes, chemicals and dust.
An inhaled object, such as food, or small object.
Nervous cough also called Habit Cough. Correlated with stress.
Herbal Helpers for Coughs
Angelica root– Angelica Archangelica- Warming and and stimulating to the lungs. Helpful expectorant for cold, stuck phlegm
Anise seed-Pimpinella anisum- Breaks up congestion, eases coughs. Useful expectorant for stuck phlegm.
Asafoetida root- Ferula asafoetida –Ayurvedic medicine teaches us this herb is good for nervousness and spasmodic coughing.
Cayenne – Capsicum frutescens – very hot, pungent and drying, antiseptic and antibacterial. I don’t know if there is science behind this theory of mine, but if I have a spasmodic, tickly kind of cough in my throat, a pinch of cayenne in water will stop it in it’s track. I wonder if it is because a counter irritant action similar to what happens when I use cayenne to stop the itch of shingles..does it suppress the chemical impulse that sends the message to the brain to cough? Don’t know but it works.
Cherry – Prunus avium. P. serotina – antitussive, and anti inflammatory. Useful especially in dry and irritating coughs. Bronchitis. Bark, twigs and fruit and stems of fruit are all useful.
Chickweed, Stellaria media – Her saponins work at a cellular level increasing absorption and permeability. The lungs are helped by the saponins to absorb healing nutrients and to remove the wastes and blockages more readily.
Coltsfoot, Tussilago farara – Tussis is cough in the Latin language. Used for all sorts of coughs, but especially for moistening a irritating, hacking dry cough and loosening phlegm for expulsion. Stimulating expectorant for tight chest and thick phlegm. Anti- spasmodic. Combine with thyme and elecampane for persistent coughs. Make it into a syrup and it is more moistening than the tincture or tea.
Comfrey – Symphytum officinale - Mucilaginous for tight, dry, irritated cough
Elderflower – Sambucus nigra – Beneficial in hay fever/allergy combined with nettle tops. Elderflower helps breaks up congestion and soothes inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Can be used with coughs that are productive too. Antiviral, anti-catarrhal
Elecampane – Inula helenium-Stimulating expectorant, decongestant, anti-inflammatory. Respiratory tonic to ease asthma and bronchitis. Expectorant and antiseptic. Can be taken long term to help heal in chronic conditions.
Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus globulus- in a diffuser or used with a vaporizer or in a pot of steaming water, the essential oil helps break up congestion, and calm spasmodic coughing. Fights infection. Useful made into a salve to spread over the chest and back (the lungs) to help with moving mucus.
Fennel seed – Foeniculum vulgare -Sedating expectorant. Helps loosen congestion and make a cough more productive. Calms the dry, hacking cough of bronchitis. Also good for nerves, so calming to the body under stress of the condition causing the cough. Good for the nervous or habit cough.
Garlic- Allium sativum- Stimulating and warming expectorant for congested bronchial and catarrhal, ‘cold’ chestiness. Antibiotic and antiviral sulfur compounds help break up stuck mucus.
Ginger- Zingiber officinale- Anti-inflammatory, warming expectorant. natural antihistamine
Goldenrod- Solidago ssp.- It is a drying, astringent, anti-catarrhal, and anti-inflammatory for mucous membranes.
Horehound – Marrubium vulgare- Sedating expectorant. Useful in continuous coughs with gagging and choking. Demulcent, anti-spasmodic. Mixes well with peppermint, or catnip
Horseradish – Amoracia rusticana – Hot and pungent and stimulating. Good to thin mucus congestion for both the sinuses and lungs so it can get eliminated. Gets the digestion warmed and going too, which is beneficial as a cold, sluggish digestion system can contribute to cold/wet mucus coughing.
Hyssop – Hyssopus officinalis-Stimulating,warming expectorant, anti-viral useful in coughs from the flu, colds, bronchitis, mild asthma. A nervine. Useful for thin watery phlegm and coughs associated with bronchitis. Similar action to horehound but less bitter. Mixes well with peppermint or catnip. Good as a tea or steam inhalant
Lavender – Lavandula ssp. - Sedating expectorant. Helps you relax and sleep
Licorice root- Glycyrrhiza ssp. – anti inflammatory, cooling expectorant, demulcent, antitussive
Lime, Linden, or Basswood here in the U.S. – Tilia ssp. – Calming and relaxing, helpful in a cough that keeps you awake with bronchospasms.
Lobelia- Lobelia inflata – stimulant to the respiratory system and expectorant.
Mallow- Malva sylvestris – Marshmallows cousin. Demulcent, soothing to inflamed tissues with a dry cough.
Marshmallow – Althea officinalis- Demulcent and soothing to inflamed tissues with a dry cough. Useful for coating the mucus membranes in the GERD type of coughs. Expectorant
Mint – Mentha ssp. – Mints have dual energetic patterns of both cooling and heating, stimulating then soothing. I use catnip, Nepeta cataria, usually for the children, or peppermint, Mentha piperita, when formulating cough formulas. I recommend it for those dry, hacky, spasmodic coughs. Mints have an anesthetizing quality that helps calm them. Mints are decongestant and anti-inflammatory. Teas and steam inhalation both work well.
Mullein – Verbascum ssp. – Dry, irritable coughs and that tickle in ones throat. Cooling and astringent for thick, hot catarrh.
Nasturium – Tropaeolum majus- flowers and leaves have antimicrobial sulfur compounds. A good anti-catarrh recipe I use from James Wong is to make a nasturium and garlic clove vinegar for easing congestion.
Nettles, stinging nettles – Urtica dioica – Nettles have an antihistamine effect that make them invaluable for allergic reaction/ hayfever/ mild asthma coughing.
Onion – Allium cepa and cultivars- Onion honey syrup or onion poultice. The antibiotic and antiviral sulfur compounds ease inflammation, and help break up stuck mucus. Expectorant
Peach leaves- Prunus persica- Bronchitis, whooping cough. It’s a sedative and antispasmodic. Can help calm the dry, constant cough. Combines well with red clover, passionflower or wild lettuce to make an even more powerful medicine.
Pine- Pinus strobus, P. palustris and other spp. – Pine needle tea, pine resin tincture or just chewing on a piece of resin can help get stuck, thick mucus moving. Strongly antibacterial, it increases the effectiveness of the coughing and then helps halt it. Put some fresh pine needles in a pot of steaming water and inhale the vapors for use as a decongestant.
Plantain – Plantago major, P. lanceolata – Good for hot, dry coughs. Bronchitis, and the cough that lingers after a cold. Demulcent and has an antihistamine effect which helps hayfever/allergies. Combines well with mint and elderflower. Clears heat and inflammation. Stimulating expectorant.
Pleurisy Root, Butterfly Weed - Asclepias tuberosa – I have been finding myself adding this native plant to many cough formulas. I like it that much. Eases inflammation and is a stimulating expectorant. Good for wet coughs due to upper respiratory infection. Stimulates the lymphatic system circulation, especially around the lungs. Can be used to induce sweating during a fever. Coughs can aggravate the lining around the lungs, called pleurisy, a painful condition this herb is used traditionally to treat.
Rabbit Tobacco, (Life Everlasting, Cudweed ) – Gnaphalium obtusifolium – useful in coughs with bronchial spasms, asthma , dry coughs, stimulating expectorant.
Red clover- Trifolium pratense – Blood cleansing and improves elimination. Useful in moving mucus out of lungs. A soothing expectorant and anti inflammatory useful in bronchitis and other coughs. (caution, if you are on blood thinners consult your physician or health care provider)
Red poppy – Papaver rhoeas – Soothing, sedating, helps sleep. Soothes a hacking cough. Useful for a cough that keeps you awake or is spasmodic or irritating.
Rose – Rosa ssp. – Cooling, supports immunity, helps elimination. Helpful for coughs with cold or the flu and for chesty coughs where the mucus seems stuck. Useful also in case of a cough associated with grief. I would recommend it to someone that had a nervous cough, also.
Sage – Salvia officinalis – Loosens phlegm in the upper respiratory tract making it easier to expel. Use it in a pot of water and inhale the vapors, inhalation, or just drink as a tea.
Slippery Elm – Ulmus fulva – Coats and soothes inflamed tissues. Especially useful in hot/dry coughs. Also helpful in the GERD type of coughs.
Sweet Gum bark – Liquidambar styraciflua – Gentle expectorant. Combines well with lobelia, which relaxes the bronchial tubes and allows the sweet gum to move the mucus out. Combines well with ginger, wild cherry, hyssop, rabbit tobacco, and mint .
Thyme- Thymus vulgaris – For immune building. Bronchitis, lung infection coughing. Antiseptic, antibiotic, expectorant. Combines well with plantain.
White deadnettle, Archangel – Lamium album –It’s mild astringency is useful for coughs with phlegm and catarrh.
Wild ginger- Asarum canadense - Stimulating expectorant. Helpful in digestion too,
Wild Lettuce – Lactuca virosa, L. serriola – Sedative and cooling. Soothing to dry, irritating coughs and whooping cough. Relaxes a spasmodic cough and helps one sleep.
Herbal Traditions and Coughs ( a few examples)
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that many times grief, sadness, suppressed grief, feelings of lack of power all can manifest in the lungs. And that the lungs and large intestine are partnered in elimination. Things to look for is a cough with no direct cause, such as listed in the above section of productive and non productive coughs, might suggest to look at the emotional well being of the person with the cough and at their bowel elimination. I touched a bit on this with the GERD, but the subject goes deeper. Rose is one example that might be helpful and lung nourishing foods such as ginger, sweet potato, cabbage, onion, walnuts, pears, radish, black pepper, rice, radish, cinnamon, cardamom, miso, and leek, might be of benefit.
In the Tibb tradition, again we find a correlation between emotional character and temperament with breath. Also digestion being involved. Again a lengthy subject that I might expand at a later date. For now. an examples only. Roughness of the lungs from smoke or dust or loud shouting. Remove the person from the cause. Moisten the lungs with syrups, in equal parts, of barley and marshmallow; mix in a glass of water with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and almond oil added. Each type of cough is treated differently and other modalities used besides herbs might include cupping, purgatives and emetics.
David Hoffman reminds us that one factor that can contribute to congestion is the mucus content of the diet. A build up of catarrh, mucus, are sites where metabolic waste and toxic material build up, so again, we see a connection with the digestion and coughs/mucus. He suggests with holding mucus forming promoters such as, dairy, eggs, grains, sugar, potatoes and other starchy roots.
Part of my practical task was to decoct some cherry bark and then mix in other herbs I feel appropriate for a cough syrup. Well, I used wild cherry bark in syrups frequently this winter when flu and colds brought coughs pestering my family and have one in my refrigerator right now! This one was for Lily, who had a viral infection with fever, hard coughing and copious mucus production, recently. It contains, wild cherry bark, horehound, rose, fennel, elderflower and I added a bit of pleurisy root tincture and chickweed tincture to each dose as given.
Remember, coughs are a natural process the body has to rid itself of irritants, such as mucus, so the goal isn’t always to suppress it. Try to use the herbs that will assist the body in doing it’s work of coughing easier. When a cough is hard on the person, it’s continual, spasmodic and they are getting weakened and can’t get restorative sleep, is the time to move on from the gentler helpers to the stronger ones.
I have discussed herbs I am familiar with using, but there are many others herbs useful for coughs. I might expand this at a further date as I learn more and use others, such as Skunk Cabbage, which does grow here, but I have not used yet.
Herbal and Honey Hugs to all who visit Comfrey Cottages
David Hoffman – The Herbal Handbook, Holistic Herbal
James Wong – Grow Your Own Drugs
Hakim G. M. Chishti. N D. – The Traditional Healer’s Handbook
Rosemary Gladstar – Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health
Penelope Ody – Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs
Julie Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal – Backyard Medicine
Darryl Patton – Mountain Medicine
Michael and Lesley Tierra’s blog