Top 10 Herbs For Lung Health, Clearing Mucus And COPD

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Top 10 Herbs for Lung Health, Clearing Mucus, COPD, and Killing Viruses
Top 10 Herbs for Lung Health, Clearing Mucus, COPD, and Killing Viruses Graphic © Background photo: Pixabay (PD)

The respiratory system is a major, life-sustaining organ system responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the body and the environment. Oxygen is vital in keep our cells and tissues functioning – so any problems with our lung health can have detrimental effects on the rest of our body. [1]

According to the World Health Organization, chronic respiratory disease was responsible for more than half a million deaths in the Americas in 2019. [2] Specifically, over 3.23 million deaths globally were attributed to COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. [3]

Popular Youtube channel Respiratory Therapy Zone lists 10 herbs that could improve your lung health and improve your overall quality of life. Here’s the list together with our own scientific research:

1. Ginseng

First on the list is ginseng, a popular herb in Asia used to manage a variety of health conditions. Panax ginseng in particular has been linked to anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anti-cancer effects. Various clinical research studies have shown how ginseng could improve physiologic function and immunity, as well as chronic conditions such as diabetes. [4]

However, one of the highlights in ginseng research is how the herb has been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Because COPD is a lifelong condition without a cure, the effects of ginseng on its symptoms has been studied extensively, with very promising results. In 2022, a study reported that American ginseng was able to exhibit significant anti-inflammatory response as well as reduce oxidative stress in cases of COPD. [5] The same results were seen in an older study in 2014, where Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) had therapeutic effects on cases of COPD. [6]

2. Osha Root

Unless you are a herbalist, you might not be so familiar with Osha root, but it is an herb found in the Southwestern United States, commonly known as wild parsnip or wild celery. In 2016, Osha root extract was found to have significant antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties, able to protect human cells from oxidative damage. [7] It also has analgesic properties that can be beneficial for colds, sore throat, and inflammatory conditions such as bronchitis. [8]

3. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus oil is a very popular essential oil typically used in aromatherapy, but did you know that it actually has significant benefits that improve lung health as well? A study in 2010 reported that eucalyptus oil has significant antimicrobial effects against various microorganisms that affect the respiratory system, such as mycobacterium tuberculosis, staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and fungi. [9] The same study also found that eucalyptus also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, and spasmolytic effects, which can help with chronic respiratory conditions. The cineole content of eucalyptus can also help with expectorating phlegm or mucus.

4. Elderberry

Elderberry is one of the recently studied powerhouse herbs that help with respiratory illness. In 2021, elderberry was reported to be a safe treatment for viral respiratory conditions. The systematic review found that elderberry’s anti-inflammatory effects could reduce the length and severity of colds and reduce the risk of complications due to influenza. [10] In 2019, black elderberry was used in a clinical trial and found to significantly reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory tract conditions, particularly in cases of the common cold and influenza [11] Similar results were seen in a 2016 study on elderberry supplementation, revealing shortened cold durations and decrease in severity of symptoms among the study’s 312 participants. [12]

5. Astragalus

Astragalus is a staple herb used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine for a variety of different health conditions from fatigue to upper respiratory tract infections. [13] There have been numerous studies on the latter claim, showing how oral supplementation with astragalus was able to reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI); one study focusing on URTI among children with nephrotic syndrome. [14] In fact, in 2019 astragalus was found to have therapeutic effects against the influenza virus, exhibiting strong antiviral behavior. [15] The herb also has potential therapeutic value in cases of asthma, because of its ability to reduce lung inflammation. [16]

6. Horehound

Horehound is a perennial plant found in various parts of Europe and Asia. It is popularly used in traditional medicine as a mucolytic or expectorant, helping clear mucus from the lungs, as well as an anti-spasmodic and anti-tussive, able to attenuate the symptoms of asthma and persistent cough. [17][18] In 2007, horehound extract was studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities and showed how it was able to decrease inflammation in a chronic lung condition known as pulmonary fibrosis. [19]

7. Bergamot

Bergamot is another popular essential oil typically used in aromatherapy, extracted from the bergamot orange, a citrus fruit. It has numerous benefits rooted in the herb’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a novel supplement to fight heart disease and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), and potentially, respiratory problems by protecting lung tissue from oxidative damage. [20]

8. Lavender

Lavender oil has gained popularity for being an effective relaxant, able to reduce stress and anxiety when used in aromatherapy or even when brewed as tea. While most literature primarily reports lavender’s analgesic properties, this is rooted in the herb’s strong anti-inflammatory property. Studies published in 2021 found that lavender essential oil was an effective, natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral agent, particularly against influenza and lung infections caused by the multidrug resistant bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. [21][22]

9. Peppermint

Peppermint tea or essential oil is an excellent way to soothe irritated respiratory passages but it also significant antimicrobial properties that can help with respiratory infections. In vitro studies report that peppermint has significant antimicrobial, antiviral, antiallergenic, antioxidant, and even antitumor actions. [23] In 2002, a study reported that the antimicrobial activity of peppermint could be used in conjunction with drug therapies for pulmonary tuberculosis. [24]

10. Mullein

Mullein, the last herb on the list, is a flowering herb typically found Europe, Africa, and Asia and used in traditional Pakistani and Turkish medicine. Similar to the other herbs on this list, mullein’s therapeutic potential is due to anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antitussive, and expectorant activity of the herb, attenuating the symptoms of various respiratory conditions (e.g. hoarseness, tonsilitis, colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis). [25]



[1] Canadian Lung Association. Respiratory system.

[2] World Health Organization. Chronic respiratory disease burden.

[3] World Health Organization. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

[4] Kiefer, D. (2003). Panax Ginseng.

[5] Lin, H., et. al. (2022). Protective effect of total Saponins from American ginseng against cigarette smoke-induced COPD in mice based on integrated metabolomics and network pharmacology.

[6] Shergis, J., et. al. (2014). Therapeutic potential of Panax ginseng and ginsenosides in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

[7] Nguyen, K., et. al. (2016). Investigation of the cytotoxicity, antioxidative and immune-modulatory effects of Ligusticum porteri (Osha) root extract on human peripheral blood lymphocytes.

[8] Juarez-Reyes, K., et. al. (2014). Antinociceptive activity of Ligusticum porteri preparations and compounds.

[9] Sadlon, A. & Lamson, D. (2010). Immune-modifying and antimicrobial effects of Eucalyptus oil and simple inhalation devices.

[10] Wieland, L., et. al. (2021). Elderberry for prevention and treatment of viral respiratory illnesses: a systematic review.

[11] Hawkins, J., et. al. (2019). Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials.

[12] Tiralongo, E., et. al. (2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.

[13] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Astragalus.

[14] Zou, C., et. al. (2013). Astragalus in the prevention of upper respiratory tract infection in children with nephrotic syndrome: evidence-based clinical practice.

[15] Liang, Y., et. al. (2019). Astragalus Membranaceus Treatment Protects Raw264.7 Cells from Influenza Virus by Regulating G1 Phase and the TLR3-Mediated Signaling Pathway.

[16] Yang, Z., et. al. (2013). Astragalus extract attenuates allergic airway inflammation and inhibits nuclear factor κB expression in asthmatic mice.

[17] Ahvazi, M., et. al. (2018). A Taxonomical, Morphological and Pharmacological Review of Marrubium vulgare L., An Old Medicinal Plant in Iran.

[18] Jovin, E., et. al. (2008). Chemical composition and antioxidant capacity of Marrubium peregrinum L. from Vojvodina (Serbia).

[19] Abidi, A., et. al. (2022). Tunisian Horehound ( Marrubium vulgare) Aqueous Extract Improves Treatment of Bleomycin-Induced Lung Fibrosis in Rat.

[20] Ferlazzo, N., et. al. (2015). Flavonoid Fraction of Orange and Bergamot Juices Protect Human Lung Epithelial Cells from Hydrogen Peroxide-Induced Oxidative Stress.

[21] Abou Baker, D., et. al. (2021). Antiviral activity of Lavandula angustifolia L. and Salvia officinalis L. essential oils against avian influenza H5N1 virus.

[22] Pandur, E., et. al. (2021). Anti-inflammatory effect of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Mill.) essential oil prepared during different plant phenophases on THP-1 macrophages.

[23] McKay, D. & Blumberg, J. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.).

[24] Shkurupii, V., et. al. (2002). Efficiency of the use of peppermint (Mentha piperita L) essential oil inhalations in the combined multi-drug therapy for pulmonary tuberculosis.

[25] Blanco-Salas, J., et. al. (2021). Searching for Scientific Explanations for the Uses of Spanish Folk Medicine: A Review on the Case of Mullein (Verbascum, Scrophulariaceae).

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