Hi Sandra, I caught one of the winter bugs going around the office. Although the worst has passed, I'm still occasionally troubled by a cough three weeks on. My GP said it's bronchitis so antibiotics won't help. Is there anything natural I can take to get rid of it for good? Thanks, Martin.

Hi Martin, thanks for your question.

Acute bronchitis is one of the more common winter ailments and usually develops following a common cold, sore throat or flu. Most of the time the infectious agent is viral so antibiotics aren't helpful and the advice is to rest up and support your immune system to overcome the infection naturally. Very occasionally a post-bronchitis syndrome may develop that can produce a cough lasting several months.

Plant medicine is a great option for this type of infection because it works by supporting your natural immune response. Additionally, several plants contain phytochemicals that have broad-spectrum antiviral activity, meaning they can be helpful when pharmaceutical options are limited.

For bronchitis a combination of plants is best since there is both infection and inflammation in the bronchial passages. To clear the infection, relieve symptoms and speed healing I typically recommend the following:

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Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has both anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. It helps relieve bronchial spasms as well as clearing mucus from the lungs. We are fortunate in New Zealand to have access to very potent and pure Central Otago thyme. It is officially endorsed in European countries as a treatment for many types of cough, spastic bronchitis, catarrh, asthma and to support weak lungs in emphysema.

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) has mild antibiotic properties and helps to expel excess phlegm that is common with bronchitis. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant properties that allow it to soothe inflamed and painful mucous membranes in the respiratory tract. As well as being suited to acute bronchitis, it is also excellent for irritating dry coughs that are unproductive.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis): Despite sharing a name with the common confectionery, the medicinal plant version offers superior benefits to your health. This is the remedy to choose where a soothing, relaxing and cooling effect is required in the respiratory tract and lungs.

My other favourite plant for bronchitis would be Mullein (Verbascum densiflorum). Endorsed by the British herbal pharmacopoeia for use in inflammation of the mucus membranes, Mullein is also able to reduce fever making it suited to the early stages of a viral infection. It is also anti-tussive so a dose before bed can help with coughs that wake us frequently in the night.

Plant medicine for infection is usually taken in an oral liquid several times a day to ensure the active constituents remain in the body over a 24-hour period. Next time it would be best to begin at the first sign of illness, such as a sore throat, so that the immune system gets additional support from the outset. This can often stop the infection taking hold, limiting the time you spend unwell.

I hope your cough resolves quickly. If your condition persists or does not improve, see your leading healthcare professional.

References

Nabavi et al. (2015). Plants belonging to the genus Thymus as antibacterial agents: From farm to pharmacy. Food Chemistry 173, 339-347. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.10.042

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Gallagher, R. (1997). Use of herbal preparations for intractable cough. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 14(1), 1-2.