Natural Remedies for Respiratory Infections

Last time, we talked generally about both upper and lower respiratory infections, respiratory hygiene, and important factors that increase the risk of disease in a survival community.  We also delineated how to tell the difference between colds and influenza.

Anti-Viral Medication and Antibiotic

In certain cases, anti-viral and/or antibiotic medications may be useful to treat these conditions, but what happens in a long term survival situation when supplies of manufactured drugs run out?  Even if used judiciously, even ample quantities will eventually be depleted. Without the ability to produce them synthetically, we will have to consider natural substances that might help alleviate various respiratory symptoms and strengthen the body’s immune response.

Historically, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and other antioxidants taken regularly are supposed to decrease the frequency and severity of respiratory infections.  Many studies confirm their usefulness, although the amount of down time due to colds/flus per year was only decreased 1 day in one study.  Despite this, antioxidant support of the immune system can be obtained through good nutrition or supplements and should be part of any survival food storage strategy.

Natural Remedies and Respiratory Infections

Most natural remedies are meant to target individual symptoms, such as nasal congestion or fever. There are, however, a number of alternative treatments for various respiratory infections that are reported to help stimulate the entire immune system. Consider these essential oils:

  • Geranium
  • Clove Bud
  • Tea Tree
  • Lavender

To use these oils, you would use a procedure called “direct inhalation therapy”. Place 2-3 drops on the palm of your hand. Warm the oil by rubbing your hands together, and then bring your hands to your nose and mouth. Breathe 3-5 times slowly and deeply. Relax and breathe normally for 2 minutes, then repeat the process. Wipe any excess oil onto throat and chest.

Many herbs may be helpful when used internally as a tea.  Popular ones for general respiratory support are Elderberry, Echinacea, Licorice root, Goldenseal, Chamomile, Peppermint, and Ginseng.  Additionally, antibacterial action has been found in Garlic and Onion oil, fresh Cinnamon, and powdered Cayenne Pepper. Other options include raw unprocessed honey, lemon, and apple cider vinegar, which are often added to one of the above herbal teas.

Other than general treatments, there are several good remedies to treat specific symptoms associated with colds and flu. To treat fever, for example, consider teas made from the following herbs:

  • Echinacea
  • Licorice Root
  • Yarrow
  • Fennel
  • Catnip
  • Lemon Balm

The underbark of willow, poplar, and aspen trees are known to be a source of Salicin, the essential ingredient in aspirin.  Strip off the outer bark, take several strips of the green underbark and make a tea out of it.  It should work as aspirin does to decrease fever, although it is difficult to figure out how much Salicin you’re getting.

Other strategies to combat fever include sponge baths with water and vinegar. It has also been reported that slices of raw onion on the bottom of the feet are effective in some cases (wear socks to hold them in place).  I haven’t tested this last method myself, so I would love to hear from people who have tried it. Although I can’t tell you if it is effective, I can tell you that it probably isn’t very practical.

Others have used herbal  aerosol “spritzers”. Combine several drops of Chamomile, Lavender or Thyme essential oil with water and spray on the chest, back, arms, and legs (avoid spraying the face). The cooling effect alone will be beneficial in those with fevers.

To deal with the congestion that goes along with most respiratory infections, consider using direct inhalation therapy (described above) or salves with these essential oils:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Rosemary
  • Anise
  • Peppermint
  • Tea Tree
  • Pine
  • Thyme

Another inhalation method of delivering the above herbs or even traditional medications involves the use of steam. Steam inhalation is beneficial for many respiratory ailments and is easy to implement.  Just place a few drops of essential oil into steaming water and lower your face to inhale the vapors.  Cover the back of your head with a towel to concentrate the steam.

Herbal teas that relieve congestion include:  Stinging Nettles, Licorice Root, Peppermint, Anise, Cayenne Pepper, Sage and Dandelion. Mix with honey and drink 3-4 times per day as needed.  Fresh horseradish is used to open airways by taking ¼ teaspoon orally 3 times a day. Plain saline solution (via nasal spray or in a “neti pot”) is also used by both traditional and alternative healers.  Beware of using unsterile tap water in a neti pot; there have been reports of a parasitic disease (Amoebiasis) caused by inappropriate usage.

For aches and pains due to colds, try using salves consisting of essential oils of:

  • St. John’s Wort
  • Eucalyptus
  • Camphor
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Arnica (dilute)

Helpful teas to relieve muscle ache include:  Passionflower, Chamomile, Valerian Root, Willow underbark, Ginger, Feverfew, and Rosemary. Drink warm with raw honey 3-4 times a day.

For the occasional sore throat, time-honored remedies include honey and garlic “syrups” and ginger, Tilden flower, or sage teas.  Drink warm with honey and perhaps lemon several times a day.  Gargling with warm salt water will also bring relief.  Licorice root and honey lozenges are also popular in decreasing painful swallowing.

Although the herbs described in this article have all been known to be helpful, it is important to remember that individual response to a particular herb differs from person to person.  Also, the quality of an essential oil may differ dependent on various factors, including rainfall, soil conditions or the time of year harvested.

Many of the herbs discussed in this article are easy to grow in your backyard; many are happy to grow in shady areas and don’t take up a lot of space.  Some might even be natural inhabitants of your area.  A good strategy for hard times is to learn what plants can be used to treat medical issues and plan to include them in your medical arsenal.  I’m sure that I haven’t touched on every possibly therapeutic herb; please feel free to add your favorite home remedy in the comments section below.

Bottom Line: Make it your goal to get a medicinal herb garden going next growing season.  If you depend only on conventional medicines, you’re not using all the tools at your disposal to treat illness.  If you expect to stay healthy in troubled times, you owe it to your loved ones to have every option at your disposal.

Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy

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