Stimulating Expectorants

Posted on January 6th, 2011

I want to follow up on my last blog by going into greater depth with some of the expectorant herbs, specifically, stimulating expectorants like Osha, Elecampane, and Grindelia. Then in the next blog we’ll discuss relaxing expectorants and anti-tussives like Wild Cherry, Mullein, and Pleurisy root.

Many of the stimulating expectorants are either aromatic and spicy or resinous and sticky, or both. Aromatic herbs have a dispersing energy and help break up thick mucus. But the resinous herbs are even stronger at breaking up stuck phlegm.

One of my favorite herbs to fight viral infections and clear mucous is Osha. With a taste like spicy celery, it has a warming and drying energy to help break up and dry out mucous. But I do try to use Osha in moderation as it only grows at high elevations in the Rocky mountains.

Osha works best for upper respiratory infections where things haven’t gone too deep in the lungs yet, where the infection is still in the nose/sinuses or just creeping into the lungs. Osha does work for allergies as well, but I usually use other herbs like Ragweed leaves or fresh Nettle leaf tincture.

The drying quality can be very useful here, and I only use it when there is some congestion, but to avoid overdoing it, Osha combines nicely with Licorice or honey as a syrup without hurting its medicinal use.

Elecampane is my favorite herb for deep lung issues like bronchitis or even pneumonia. With a bitter and a “deep” aromatic flavor with a resinous quality, Elecampane helps drag out gunk from deep in the lungs, heating things up and getting them moving like warming up refrigerated olive oil.

When I lived in upstate New York with those cold damp winters, I used this herb all the time as I would see at least a dozen bronchitis cases during the coldest months. Now that I live in North Carolina with a more variable winter, I don’t tend to use it as much. Still, a great herb for actively cleaning out the lungs, whether for acute or chronic lung issues. It was used historically for chronic “catarrhal” conditions, with catarrh meaning congested phlegm.

Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) is actually a stronger expectorant and good for tenacious sticky mucus. It is highly resinous, so works best as a tincture (resins are not very water soluble). Gumweed buds are so sticky the white resin is visible on the outside. It grows abundantly all across the western third of the U.S. This is a classic example of how resins tend to direct to the lungs and help break up phlegm, as seen in the classic White Pine Cough Syrup, which uses for medicine the same sticky sap you get on your shirt when you lean against a pine tree.

Next time we’ll get more into herbs that either soothe or suppress excessive coughing.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with lungs, expectorants, bronchitis


claire - January 16th, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Thanks for this great blog - only just came across it. Studying medical herbalism (in the UK) so very helpful... thanks.
CoreyPine Shane - December 8th, 2013 at 12:43 PM
Thanks Claire!
Aurora Camardella - November 23rd, 2013 at 1:25 AM
Thankyou for info. I am an asthmatic. Tonite my son has a stuffy nose. I tell my 13 year old "how important the nose is. She says we don't need a nose because we can breathe through our mouth.No, daughter. We need our nose to be clear of anytging that will obstruct breathing. My mither is correct all along.
Tony - February 13th, 2014 at 2:57 PM
Most posts I have read only talk about mucous in the respiratory tract. What herbs are good for expelling mucous from the entire body, i.e. the brain area?
CoreyPine Shane - February 20th, 2014 at 3:11 PM
I'm sorry, I am not following you. How could one get mucous in the brain?

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