Herbs for Respiratory Health
by Dr. Janet McKenzie, ND, MBA, BSn

Botanicals are like the “green” version of pharmaceuticals and many drugs are  initially developed from plant extracts. When used in their natural form, herbs tend to have fewer side effects than drugs because of the balancing effects of their numerous constituents. Caution is still warranted when using botanicals, however, since some have the potential to be toxic at certain dose levels.

Peppermint, an herb commonly used in many products for its wonderful flavour, has antimicrobial properties1 and relieves muscle spasms2 such as those that can occur in airways during coughing. Menthol is a highly active constituent of peppermint, known for its ability to suppress cough3 and produce a cooling sensation in inflamed tissues4.

Eucalyptus is also an herb traditionally used to ease respiration. It is known to have antimicrobial properties5 as well as analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects6.

Rosemary is not only a delicious culinary herb; it is also used medicinally in the treatment of respiratory conditions characterized by coughing and seems to have antibacterial, antifungal activities.7

Camphor is another traditional cough remedy. It eases air flow and reduces fits of coughing.8 Breath is life – make each breath the best it can be.

1 Iscan G, Kirimer N, Kurkcuoglu M, et al. Antimicrobial screening of Mentha piperita essential oils. J Agric Food Chem 2002;50:3943-6.
2 Haen, E. [Expectorants, antitussive agents, bronchospasmolytic agents. Therapy of obstructive respiratory tract diseases]. Med Monatsschr.Pharm 1989;12(11):344-355.
3 Laude, E. A., Morice, A. H., and Grattan, T. J. The antitussive effects of menthol, camphor and cineole in conscious guinea-pigs. Pulm.Pharmacol 1994;7(3):179-184.
4 Eccles, R. Menthol and related cooling compounds. J Pharm Pharmacol 1994;46(8):618-630.
5 Takahashi T, Kokubo R, Sakaino M. Antimicrobial activities of eucalyptus leaf extracts and flavonoids from Eucalyptus
maculata. Lett Appl Microbiol 2004;39:60-4.
6 Silva J, Abebe W, Sousa SM, et al. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of essential oils of Eucalyptus. J Ethnopharmacol 2003;89:277-83.
7 Newall CA, Anderson LA, Philpson JD. Herbal Medicine: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London, UK: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.
8 Laude EA, Morice AH, Grattan TJ. The antitussive effects of menthol, camphor and cineole in conscious guinea-pigs. Pulm Pharmacol. 1994 Jun;7(3):179-84.

Janet McKenzie is a graduate of the University of British Columbia School of Nursing, Queen’s School of Business and the Canadian School of Naturopathic Medicine. She has practices in Hamilton and Toronto, and teaches at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.