Herbs for Lung Health

As fall and the metal element roll in, so too does the season of the lungs, which are associated with grief and sadness. With COVID still a threat, and the fires on the west coast continuing to rage, your lungs are at greater risk than ever. It’s so important to do everything you can to support and protect them—now and always! In TCM, the lungs are considered the first line of defense against disease, protecting the immune system against external pathogens, and helping to tonify—or increase and balance—the qi and blood in the body. There are a few ways to make sure you are protecting and supporting your lungs:

  • Wear a scarf: Even when you think you don’t need one because it’s not THAT cold, protecting your neck–known as the “wind gate” in Chinese medicine–is very important in the fall. In Chinese medicine, the wind is “the carrier of one hundred evils.” When the acupuncture points (wind points) on the back of your neck are exposed and vulnerable to the wind and cold, pathogens can enter, causing us to get sick. We call the invasion by pathogens a “wind-cold attack” in Chinese medicine. A very simple way to protect yourself from this wind attack and to prevent yourself from getting sick this fall is to wear a scarf, covering those points, and giving yourself an extra layer of defense!
  • Eat warming, even spicy or “pungent” foods: garlic, ginger, mustard greens, sweet potato, cardamom, miso, chili, radish, black pepper—these are just a few of the foods that you should incorporate into your diet this season.
  • Practice Breathwork: The fall is a great time to let go of anything that is bogging you down. Sometimes it can be hard to do this—getting rid of stuff, or ideas about ourselves, or people that don’t serve us—all this can be very emotional. Practicing breath work regularly can help your nervous system more readily accept the changes. There are many breath exercises available online, including this one from Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
  • Get acupuncture! Acupuncture can help nourish and strengthen your lungs. It can also clear any qi blockages throughout your body, blockages that may be affecting your lungs and leaving them open to attack by external pathogens. Your acupuncturist can also suggest holistic changes to your routine that will help support your lung health.
  • Herbal Medicine: Finally, try incorporating some of the following lung-supporting herbs into your diet! Cordyceps, peppermint and Huang Qi are all fantastic at combating and preventing numerous imbalances in the lungs. Read on to find out more about them, why they are so effective, and how best to use them.

Cordyceps: Cordyceps, called Dong Chong Xia Can in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is a medicinal mushroom that is used as a tonic for increasing vitality. It’s actually not a mushroom in the traditional sense, but rather a fungus that grows on caterpillars found at high altitudes in northeastern India. I may have lost you at the idea of a half-mummified caterpillar strangled by a mold, but believe me: it’s an incredibly healing herb that may be effective in combating numerous diseases, including cancer, asthma, inflammation and autoimmune conditions. Acupuncture Today notes that it “enhances overall immunity by increasing lymphocytes [types of immune cells that make antibodies, kill tumor cells and control immune function] and natural killer cells and the production of interleukin [a protein that regulates cell growth], interferon [proteins that alert your body to the presence of a virus] and tumor necrosis factor.” In TCM, cordyceps benefits the kidney and lung meridians in relation to a variety of health issues such as fatigue, low libido, night sweats, lower back pain, and it resolves phlegm and other respiratory ailments.

The best part is you definitely don’t have to suck down an old caterpillar: Cordyceps comes in many easy-to-take forms, such as tinctures or powders that can simply be mixed into your beverage of choice. Try adding some Anima Mundi Cordyceps Mushroom Powder – Real Organic Cordyceps Mushroom Powder into your tea, matcha, coffee or oatmeal. I promise you, it’s tasty!

Huang Qi: Also known as Astragalus root or Milk Vetch, Huang Qi is a plant whose root is used to tonify the qi and blood. Like Cordyceps, it is an adaptogen, which means that it doesn’t have just one use: it can be used to fight various diseases and stresses, but it is known to increase stamina and immune function and fight the common cold (itself a type of coronavirus). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the immune system is also known as wei qi, the body’s defense against disease. Huang qi is one of the herbs that fortifies the body’s wei qi, keeping it strong and fighting against harmful bacteria, germs and viruses. Acupuncture Today cites a recent study in which participants’ white blood cell count significantly increased while taking Huang Qi. White blood cells are produced by your bone marrow to help your body fight infection.

The best way to use Huang Qi? Make it into a tea! Or even cook it into some chicken soup for the ultimate warming effect. But most importantly: check in with your acupuncturist/herbalist to see what their recommendation is for dosage. Everyone’s immune systems are different and a trained practitioner will know what will work best for you, and may mix it with other herbs into a formula for maximum healing.

Peppermint: You may already be a peppermint convert, using it in your daily routine as a calming, stomach-settling agent. But it’s also effective at eliminating wind heat, part of the five “climates” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the cause of sore throat, colds, and fever. Studies have shown that as an essential oil, it actually inhibits pathogenic bacteria such as certain strains of salmonella and staphylococcus, and has been shown to kill certain fungi and viruses.

There are numerous ways to incorporate peppermint into your life: as an essential oil, it’s wonderful to place into a diffuser and experience its focusing, grounding, and lung-supporting effects all day. But you can also ingest peppermint as a tea. Nothing against the dried stuff, but once you try a fresh peppermint tea, you’ll never want to go back:

  • Take a few fresh leaves (around 7) and clean them in cold water
  • Crush the leaves in your fingers to release their oils and aroma
  • Place the leaves in a mug
  • Pour boiling water over the leaves and let steep for around 10 minutes.
  • Enjoy!