Five Ideal Plants for Respiratory Illnesses

Inhale, Exhale: Breathing Easy In Difficult Times

As you are well aware, the coronavirus, more commonly referred to as COVID-19, is a highly contagious respiratory illness. Health care professionals and scientists are scrambling to understand the nature of the disease. Federal governments are taking extreme measures in order to prevent its spread. As we all struggle with the unknowns and how this global pandemic affects us personally, professionally, and societally, we look to the power of science and nature to safeguard our health, and the health of those we love.

Plant science and medicine has played a huge role in the action we can take to prevent illness and treat it, should we fall ill.

Here are five of some of the many plants that have powerful anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and soothing properties. Several, if not all of these, can be found at your local grocery store, pharmacy, or alternative health business.

Photo: Valeriia Bugaiova

Great Plantain (Plantago major)

The Great plantain, native to Southeast Asia and Europe, is a species of the flowering plant in the Plantaginaceae family, that has been naturalized worldwide over the last century.  Unlike the plantain you may recognize from Caribbean cooking, the part of the plant used for medicinal purposes is the leaf.  It is widely used to treat bronchitis, bladder infections, hemorrhoids and colds, and can kill germs and reduce swelling in some cases.

Great plantain has a high mucilage (secretion) content, thus softening and hydrating the respiratory system. By coating the system from within, affected areas are soothed and able to heal. With its high levels of mucilage, it does double duty by not only soothing the lungs and esophagus, but by helping to kill infection and germs in the body.

Great plantain can also be extracted from certain plants and seeds as a gelatinous substance, to be used in medications or as adhesive. It can be prepared as a tea, or as a syrup when cooked down and mixed honey. This is a more shelf-stable and long term option.

Photo: Ante Hamersmit

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

Oregano is a flowering plant, found in the familiar mint family. It is native to temperate regions such as the Mediterranean and Eurasia, but can be found in just about everyone’s kitchen or garden today. It has been used for thousands of years to add flavour to our favourite dishes, and to treat a wide variety of health conditions.

Six strong antioxidants can be found in oregano, adding to both its intense aroma as well as its effectiveness. The antioxidants found in oregano help to fight free radicals, toxic substances found in our day to day lives from natural processes and environmental stress, which cause cell damage and have been linked to several diseases. In herbal medicine, it has been used for centuries to treat skin conditions, aching muscles, asthma, cramping, indigestion, diarrhea, colds, as well as to boost overall health and wellness. There is evidence to prove oregano can regulate blood sugar, fight bacteria, reduce inflammation, and even help to fight cancer.

If you are suffering from a respiratory illness, using oregano orally and through aromatherapy can be highly effective to inhibit harmful bacteria that cause infection, and to loosen up phlegm and buildup in the respiratory tract. Oregano is an incredibly strong plant with countless benefits, from antiseptic to sedative, to an antitussive (cough relief) or a natural expectorant (loosening mucus). This plant truly does it all!

Mullein (Verbascum)

The lesser known mullein is a wooly-leaved biennial genus, and is also found all over the Mediterranean and Eurasia. It has an noteworthy history as a favoured herbal medicine, and as a result is used in the treatment of many different ailments, mainly asthma, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and coughs and colds. Although more research is needed, and there is little evidence to show it does more than act as a mild astringent, or a topical soother, it does have cough suppressant properties, making it an ideal choice for respiratory illness. It also has antiviral properties used to help treat things such as herpes, influenza, and ear infections. It can be ingested or smoked, and can be found online or at your local alternative medicine shop.

Mullein deserves further clinical trials to better understand the depth and breadth of its benefits and uses.

Photo: Manki Kim

Echinacea

Echinacea, another genus plant, is found in the daisy family. Its species are found in Eastern and Central America, and have been used in medicine for centuries.

The leaves, flowers, stems, and roots are used to make supplements, liquid extracts and teas. Echinacea increases the number of white blood cells in the bloodstream, helping to fight disease and infection.  There is evidence to show it can boost your immunity, and even protect you against falling ill to begin with. It is most effective when ingested orally, and can be found in most places that sell food or drugs in North America.

Eucalyptus

The Eucalyptus tree, the third genus plant to top our list, is native to Australia, but grown all over the world today. It is widely known for its medicinal uses.

The leaves can be made into a fragrant tea, or essential oil for ingestion, topical use, or inhalation. It is a strong antioxidant, particularly high in flavonoids which protect against cancer, disease, and free radicals, and helps to relieve common dental issues, dry skin, promote relaxation, and act as a pain reliever. Furthermore, it can be used to treat dental issues, dry skin, promote relaxation, and act as a pain reliever. Its anti inflammatory properties and ability to decrease mucus and expand the bronchi and bronchioles of your lungs make it a perfect choice for those suffering from respiratory illness or asthma. It can be found in many topical decongestants, though can be toxic if ingested improperly.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We advise readers to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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