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Easing congestion and thick coughs

In my last blog I shared with you ways to ease a sore or itchy throat and dry cough, but what about those thick chesty coughs and congestion so many of us are currently dealing with?

Let's dive into the icky sticky topic of mucous (stay with me here - I promise it gets  interesting!) 

So often in Western culture we reach for decongestants to reduce our symptoms but ironically this can sometimes make our cold or flu worse by stopping our immune system response. 

What is the function of mucous? you may be asking...

Well this slippery substance is produced by our mucous membranes and contains antibodies to each organism that has ever attacked your body, so it plays a critical role in your immune system.

Fun fact: A normal adult will produce about 1 litre of mucous a day!

Our mucous membranes are very permeable tissue and can be invaded easily by pathogens, so maintaining good mucosal membrane health is really important. 

During a cold or flu it is normal for mucous production to increase to help prevent pathogens from invading mucosal membranes. Your mucous helps to protect you, so as long as your mucous in thin and clear - let it flow!

 "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"
~ Benjamin Franklin

To support your mucosal membrane health long term drink plenty of water and ensure you receive adequate levels of Vitamin A in your diet. 

How do we deal with congestion and thick (productive) coughs?

We work with our bodies by getting the mucous flowing in the sinuses and out of the lungs. Remember that coughing (so long as it's productive) is important as your body is trying to get mucous out of the lungs.

Here are some great herbs and foods to help you with this process:

  1. Spicy foods - embrace the curry my friend!
  2. Onions and garlic
  3. Herbs such as Horseradish, Thyme, Ginger, Mustard and Cayenne Pepper 
  4. Elecampane is a wonderful herb that promotes the flow of mucous, especially from the lungs, and therefore can relieve coughing. I make a simple syrup using water, Elecampane and honey which is quite delicious but you can also visit a herbalist for a similar solution if you have persistent congestion. 

Steam is another great way to relieve congestion. A hot shower will do this, but if you want some additional pampering try a facial steam. I have included a recipe sheet at the bottom of this post for you :)

Facial steam herbs and essential oils

What about unproductive coughs where there is mucous in the chest?

Finally let's touch on unproductive coughs where there is mucous present but it is too stagnant and dry, and stuck in the lungs. You know that feeling where you can feel mucous there and you are trying to cough it up but it doesn't budge? 

Firstly we need to moisten and thin the mucous so it can get out and your coughing can stop. Herbs I find work well in this situation are Marshmallow Root, Licorice Root and Linden. Licorice Root has the added benefit of being antimicrobial so it will also help fight an infection. Licorice Root and Marshmallow are in my Throat + Cough Tea which you can find here. It's a very soothing tea and will help reduce throat swelling and irritation also.

Honey is another great way to soothe your throat, moisten your lungs and quell a cough. As I've mentioned before, make sure to get a raw, organic honey, locally sourced if possible. Commercial (grocery store) honey has usually undergone heating which gets rid of the really beneficial enzymes. (Also remember not to give raw honey to children under 2 years old). Simply enjoy it by the spoonful or add it to your tea. 

Secondly you want to encourage the flow of mucous once it's moistened. Ginger and oregano are my favourites for this - basically because I always have them in my garden (and/or fridge). A fresh ginger and honey tea works wonders and is so easy to make. Oregano can also be picked fresh and added to hot water to sip as a tea.

Note: I avoid Oregano oil as it's very strong and can actually do a lot of damage if taken internally at the wrong dosage. 

My Heal(thy) Self tea blend is packed with herbs to help unproductive coughs, including Ginger - to help increase the flow of mucous and fight infection; Linden - to moisten and promote mucus flow; and Siberian Ginseng - to help modulate your immune system.

Heal(thy) Self tea

So next time you're feeling unwell ask yourself the question: "what is my body trying to do and how can I support it so that it can fulfil its purpose?" 

I hope that you have found this information interesting, and I hope that it empowers you to work with your body to reclaim your health naturally. 

With love and healing vibes,

Linda x

Facial steam recipes



The information above is just a guide and not to be taken as personal advice. If you have any health concerns, always seek the advice of a general practitioner before consuming herbal medicine.  

The information in this article has been inspired by my teacher, herbalist Rosalee De La Foret in her course 'Herbal Cold Care'. Visit her inspiring blog here