Herbs that may be helpful
Several types of herbs may help people with bronchitis, either by treating underlying infection, by relieving inflammation, or by
relieving symptoms such as cough. For clarity, the table below summarizes which herbs are in
each category of action. Some herbs have more than one action. Herbs listed in the table have
not necessarily been proven to be effective. The herbs are discussed in more detail following
||Botanicals Supported by Clinical Trials
||Botanicals Used Traditionally
|Expectorant (helps remove mucus)
||Anise, horehound, horseradish, mullein,
||Chinese scullcap, ivy leaf,
||Elecampane, marshmallow, mullein,
||Echinacea (by stimulating immune system),
|Antitussive (relieves cough)
|Relieves bronchospasms or spasmodic cough
Expectorant herbs help loosen bronchial secretions and make elimination of mucus easier.
Numerous herbs are traditionally considered expectorants, though most of these have not been
proven to have this effect in clinical trials.
Anise contains a volatile oil that is high in the chemical constituent anethole and acts
as an expectorant.29
Horehound has expectorant properties,
possibly due to the presence of a diterpene lactone in the plant, which is known as
Mullein has been used traditionally as a
remedy for the respiratory tract, including bronchitis. The saponins in mullein may be
responsible for its expectorant actions.31
Pleurisy root is an expectorant and is
thought to be helpful against all types of respiratory infections. It is traditionally
employed as an expectorant for bronchitis. However, owing to the cardiac glycosides it
contains, pleurisy root may not be safe to use if one is taking (heart
medications.32 This herb should not be used by pregnant women.
Anti-inflammatory herbs may help people with bronchitis. Often these herbs contain complex
polysaccharides and have a soothing effect; they are also known as demulcents. Plantain is a demulcent that has been documented in
two preliminary trials conducted in Bulgaria to help people with chronic
bronchitis.33 34 Other demulcents traditionally used for people with
bronchitis include mullein, marshmallow, and
slippery elm. Because demulcents can provoke
production of more mucus in the lungs, they tend to be used more often in people with dry
Elecampane is a demulcent that has been
used to treat coughs associated with bronchitis,
asthma, and whooping cough. Although there have been no modern clinical studies with this
herb, its use for these indications is based on its high content of soothing mucilage in the
forms of inulin and alantalactone.36 However, the German Commission E monograph for
elecampane does not approve the herb for bronchitis.37
Geranium (Pelargonium sidoides) is an herbal remedy used in Germany, Mexico,
Russia, and other countries for the treatment of
respiratory tract and ear, nose, and throat
infections. In a double-blind study of adults with acute bronchitis, participants given an
extract of geranium had a significantly shorter duration of illness, compared with those given
a placebo.38 No serious side effects were seen. The amount of the geranium extract
used in this study was 30 drops three times per day, taken before or after meals for seven
Ivy leaf is approved in the German
Commission E monograph for use against chronic inflammatory bronchial conditions.39
One double-blind human trial found ivy leaf to be as effective as the drug ambroxol for
chronic bronchitis.40 Ivy leaf is a non-demulcent anti-inflammatory.
Chinese scullcap might be useful for
bronchitis as an anti-inflammatory. However, the research on this herb is generally of low
Antimicrobial and immune stimulating herbs may also potentially benefit people with
bronchitis. Echinacea is widely used by
herbalists for people with acute respiratory infections. This herb stimulates the immune system in several different ways, including
enhancing macrophage function and increasing T-cell response.42 Therefore,
echinacea may be useful for preventing a cold,
flu, or viral bronchitis from progressing to a
secondary bacterial infection.
Thyme contains an essential oil (thymol)
and certain flavonoids. This plant has
antispasmodic, expectorant, and antibacterial actions, and it is considered helpful in cases
of bronchitis.43 One preliminary trial found that a mixture containing volatile
oils of thyme, mint, clove, cinnamon, and lavender diluted in alcohol, in the amount of 20
drops three times daily, reduced the number of recurrent infections in people with chronic
Horseradish contains substances similar to
mustard, such as glucosinolates and allyl isothiocynate.45 In addition to providing
possible antibacterial actions, these substances may also have expectorant properties that are
supportive for persons with bronchitis.
Eucalyptus leaf tea is used to treat
bronchitis and inflammation of the throat,46 and is considered antimicrobial. In
traditional herbal medicine, eucalyptus tea or volatile oil is often used internally as well
as externally over the chest; both uses are approved for people with bronchitis by the German
Lobelia contains many active alkaloids, of
which lobeline is considered the most active. Very small amounts of this herb are considered
helpful as an antispasmodic and antitussive agent (a substance that helps suppress or ease
coughs). Anti-inflammatory properties of the herb have been demonstrated, which may be useful,
since bronchitis is associated with inflammation in the bronchi.48 Lobelia should
be used cautiously, as it may cause nausea and vomiting.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.
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