"Trees are our closest relatives. What trees exhale, we inhale; They are half our respiratory system
Our respiratory systems (and our respiratory health), are directly linked with nature, in fact without it we wouldn’t be able to breath. Trees are therefore often referred to as the ‘lungs of the earth’ as they are responsible for turning carbon dioxide into the vital oxygen we need to sustain life. Nature is therefore vital for life and our respiratory health.
The environment in which we live in and thus the air we breath, directly impacts our respiratory health. The lungs are the internal organ most vulnerable to infection and injury from the external environment as it’s constantly being exposed to chemicals, pollutants, infectious organisms, fumes etc, which can all impact respiratory health negatively and irritate and impair the airways. Living in more urbanised areas, with less green space and less trees increases the potential risk to our respiratory systems.
Trees not only help clean the air, but many produce active ingredients called phytonicides, which are chemicals that when inhaled, have been shown to have a positive effect on different aspects of human health including respiratory health.
Nature also provides us with some abundant plants and herbs, which have been used for centuries to alleviate many common respiratory tract infections in people of all ages. These can provide some much needed relief and if symptoms are caught early enough, may also help reduce the severity of symptoms and improve respiratory health.
Our respiratory systems comprises of our nose, mouth, throat, voice box, windpipe, airways and of course the lungs, all of which work together to allow us to breath.
Keeping this system healthy and functioning efficiently is therefore vital to sustain life and allow us to maximize the oxygen we inhale in and the carbon dioxide we exhale. However respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are still one of the most common reasons for a trip to the GP. Many of these can be just a minor nuisance and will pass in a few days such as sore throats, common cold, laryngitis, sinusitis and minor coughs, all of which affect upper parts of the respiratory tract and are therefore referred to as upper respiratory tract infections. Lower respiratory tract infections are those that affect anything below the voice box, mainly the lungs themselves, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Natures Medicine for Alleviating Common Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
Whether you are experiencing the first signs of a cold, irritated by a sore throat or tonsillitis, started with a cough or suffering with your sinuses, chances are you want to take something that will help ease your symptoms.
There are many plants and herbs that can be effective in alleviating and easing these types of symptoms, whether it be pain relief, anti-spasmodic action (to ease coughing), soothing agents, decongestant, or an expectorant (helps loosen catarrh &mucus so you can cough it up more easily), nature’s medicine cabinet has something to offer. Read on to find out exactly how your respiratory health can benefit from nature.
This herb is one of the best when it comes to helping alleviate respiratory infections, especially upper respiratory congestion. It is a natural expectorant, so can really help to loosen and expel mucus that may be difficult to cough up without help. The active component of Thyme that elicits most medicinal effect is Thymol, which is found in thyme oil and been shown in research to have anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, all of which are vital in the fight against respiratory tract infections. It can help alleviate coughing, loosen mucus and the leaves can be chewed or made into a tea to sooth sore throats, tonsillitis and laryngitis. You can even drop 2-3 drops of thyme oil into water and use it to gargle with, or add it to hot water and inhale the steam. Some studies have even shown it may also be helpful in Bronchitis and many studies concluded that thyme ‘can be considered as a potential antimicrobial agent for the treatment of some respiratory tract infections’ and may also help reduce the severity and duration of infection.
This root with its distinct taste has been used throughout history for its medicinal properties and is very useful for respiratory health given its proven abilities as an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, antitussive (relieves coughing) and anti-inflammatory agent. The main bioactive component of Liquorice is called glycyrrhizic acid, which has has shown to be an effective expectorant, helping to loosen mucus from the airways and nasal passages. Liquorice is also classed as a demulcent (something that provides a soothing effect by covering mucus membranes in a protective film), so is helpful for sore throats, tonsillitis, laryngitis and general irritation of the airways. It also has a reputation for being helpful in cases of bronchitis, asthma and COPD, as some studies show it can help reduce airway constriction. It can be consumed as a tea, which can be made by the dry root (1-5g 3 x day) or a liquid tincture (2-5ml 3 x day) or a powder form. Liquorice should not be taken if you suffer with high blood pressure as it is a hypertensive and could cause blood pressure to increase further.
The beautiful and aromatic honeysuckle plant can be found weaving through hedgerows and woodlands come the summer time, and found in many parts of Europe. Both the flowers and leaves of the honeysuckle contain salicylic acid, the main component of aspirin, so can be helpful in reducing inflammation including that associated with respiratory infections. Research has shown this plant contains over 140 chemical compounds many of which we know to be beneficial to health and others that need further investigation. Used traditionally for upper respiratory tract infections, honeysuckle has been used in Chinese medicine for hundereds of years for potection against influenza infections, and in recent years, clinical studies of the acids and flavonoids extracts found in honeysuckle have shown to suppress influenze A viruses, but more research is needed on humans. However this little plant is considered as having huge potential to be developed into an antiviral agent to protect against not just influenza, but other viruses too, so watch this spot! It also has proven antibacterial and antiviral properties and can be useful for alleviating cold symptoms and easing sore throats. Why not make this wonderful honey suckle sorbet to help ease a sore and irritated throat. It can also be consumed as a tea and the flowers can also just be eaten on a salad.
A familiar site amongst countryside hedgerows in the autumn, the wild blackberry is more than just a tasty berry. The different parts of this plant have shown to exhibit pharmacological activity including being an anti-viral, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent, as well as containing an abundance of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, which all have a positive effect on respiratory health. The plant itself contains many phytochemicals including, flavonoids and tannins, the latter of which are known to have a soothing action and reduces inflammation in the mucus membranes, so useful for sinusitis, general colds and relieving sore throats. Drinking and gargling with blackberry leaf tea can be helpful. The blackberries themselves are high in vitamin C (essential for boosting immune function) and also contain salicylic acid (found in aspirin), helping to reduce pain and inflammation. Why not get your foraging basket out and make a medicinal blackberry syrup ready, if needed, to fight off those respiratory infections.
The root extracts from Marshmallow plant have a long tradition in their use for supporting respiratory health and can offer fast relief to certain respiratory symptoms. Studies have shown it can also be helpful in lower respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and COPD as it has shown potential for being able to dilate the bronciholes (airways in the lungs). Coughs of all kinds, but especially dry coughs, can benefit from marshmallow and both severity and duration of coughs have eased with its use. Marshmallow has shown to offer anti-inflammatory properties and is also classed as an immune stimulant so can help increase resistance to infection and disease and is often used to help protect against colds and flu as well as alleviating the symptoms of them. If sore throat, tonsillitis or pharyngitis is your symptom then gargling with marshmallow root tincture or powder diluted in water or drinking marshmallow root tea is very helpful, as it contains a gelatin-like substance called mucilage that coats and lubricates the throat and mucus membranes providing a soothing action.
"We must turn to nature itself, to the observations of the body in health and in disease, to learn the truth"
Rosemary, Lemon & Honeysuckle Soothing Sorbet:
The combination of these three natural ingredients make an excellent medicinal sorbet that can help sooth sore throats, reduce repiratory inflammation and kill bacteria as well as aid the break up of mucus in the throat and respiratory tract.
Rosemary contains a powerful polyphenol called Rosmarinic acid, which has shown to have antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities, which have proven to benefit respiratory health and thus the respiratory system, including the lungs. Lemons are a great source of vitamin C (required for good immunity), provide anti-bacterial properties and the citric acid in them break up and reduces mucus.
You will need:
700g of fresh honeysuckle blossoms
380g of sugar
550ml of water
2 tbsp honey
100ml of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon (add more if you want more zing)
2-3 sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped (you can also buy food grade rosemary oil, which can be added instead if you prefer)
1-2 Tbsp vodka (although this is optional, as alcohol doesnt freeze it helps to keep the sorbet smoother and less ‘rock hard’. Vodka has no taste so is a good choice here, but other flavoured alcohol can be used instead if you wish)
How The Pine Tree Can Help Your Respiratory Health
Whether you inhale it, ingest it or rub it on, pine has a long history of use in traditional medicine, specifically for upper and lower respiratory problems including coughs, colds, hoarseness, bronchitis and sinusitis / blocked noses. There is no mistaking that woody scent of pine when you enter a pine forest, and even just inhaling the phytonicides produced by the pine trees has shown to boost immunity, which is one reason why forest bathing can have such a positive effect on health. Find out why the pine tree is so great for respiratory health and immunity and how you can best utilize it in your natures wild medicine cabinet
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