Updated: Sep 22, 2020
There are MANY natural treatments and aids for companion animals suffering from asthma and other breathing difficulties. These options can greatly aid should guardians wish to use more natural options and avoid pharmaceutical drugs that often have a list of side effects and could even cause other diseases. This article explores various medicinal herbs that have many beneficial properties that address common symptoms of asthma and other breathing issues such as airway restriction, lung remodeling, mucus build up, inflammation and more.
Please Note this article is primarily focused on the plant and its parts versus Essential Oils. I personally do not recommend them due to the cats’ very sensitive Cytochrome P450 system.
MULLEIN scientifically known as Verbascum thapsus is a wonderful herb for expelling any kind of mucus that has built up in those suffering from Asthma and other respiratory like conditions (1, 2 ). Due to compounds called polyphenols found in plants (3), Mullein is also an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory (4) (5) and anti-bacterial. Other compounds that make Mullein so extraordinary include Saponins (6), Flavonoids (7), Phenylethanoids (8) (9) and Iridoids (10) that together have further anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antiviral properties. Much of this herb’s parts can be used including roots, flowers and leaves all of which can be
brewed to prepare a tea. Others have boiled the leaves in water for about 5 minutes to create a steam which is then inhaled. This can aid coughing and congestion often associated with asthma. It should be noted the seeds of mullein should be avoided however (10).
LUNGWORT also know as Pulmonaria officinalis While some herbs you can use most of its parts, lungwort is not one. Only the leaves should be used medicinally. Many properties found in Lungwort make it an excellent healing plant because it includes Saponins and Flavonoids. These include phytochemicals such as allantoin, a natural antioxidant (11) (12). Quercetin another natural antioxidant is also found in Lungwort and provides protection from tissue damage such as that in the lungs that can be caused by asthma (13). It also is anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, has vasodilation effects and is anti obesity (14) (15). Lungwort also contains kaempferol, another known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer, cardioprotective, anxiolytic (anti anxiety), analgesic (pain relief), and antiallergic (16).
Furthermore Lungwort has antibiotic properties which can help fight chest infections. Lungwort through its mucilage forming ability, helps to soothe and relax the lining and muscles of the respiratory tract helping to reduce inflammation for example in those with Asthma (17).
Consumption of Lungwort should be done so under doctor supervision as it contains
pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are toxic. While there are minimal side effects in the herbs' unaltered form when processed by the liver, in quantities over 10-20 mg, numerous reactions can occur in the liver affecting its function including proper metabolism, cell death and breakdown of fat. Unfortunately in doses lower when used on a regular basis can result in cirrhosis. While the main organ affected is the liver, other body systems are not free from potential side effects such as edema in the lungs and blockages in the veins (18.) Early signs of toxicity include digestive upset, noticeable veins, fever and jaundice (19).Therefore it is best to use in very small does and not long term (20).
IRISH MOSS also known as Red algae or Chondrus crispus is not a “moss” rather it is a seaweed. You may be familiar with its other name carrageen and its artificial version carrageenan. Irish Moss is rich in numerous vitamins and minerals including potassium chloride which is an important part of combating congestion as well as mucus build up. It is also a wonderful antibacterial and antiviral.
If you are familiar with commercial pet foods especially canned pet food, a common ingredient is carrageenan. It is included in canned food to thicken the product. Unfortunately it is synthetic and in several studies is used to induce inflammation (21) to study cancer (22). It is also known to cause digestive issues (23). The degraded and synthetic type CAUSES inflammation and cancer while Carrageen is an anti tumor and anti-inflammatory. Carrageenan is NOT Irish Moss/Carrageen per say it is a derivative of its isolated form Irish Moss. So while you do want to avoid the synthetic extracted and overly processed and degraded carrageenan, pure unadulterated carrageen can safely be used. 24
To use Irish Moss you can obtain dried or fresh plants. If it is dry, soak it before using to make sure dirt, sand or debris is washed away. If fresh, simply wash to remove the same aforementioned. After the plant material is washed you can put it in a pot of simmering water (25).
If your companion is on any medications that thin the blood do not provide this herb to them as Irish Moss itself is a blood thinner (26) ELECAMPANE also known as Inula helenium, Horse-heal or Elfdock. The family this herb belongs to is known for its ability to relieve symptoms of respiratory
distress such as bronchitis and asthma including mucus build up, cough, airway restriction and help fluids move out of the body. It also has antimicrobial ( 27) and antibacterial properties (28). The roots and rhizomes (stems that grow underground) contain sesquiterpene lactones, a substance found in many plants, that have been shown to have potent healing, antiseptic, relaxant, anti inflammatory and anticancer properties (29).
When it comes to asthma and other respiratory conditions, Elecampane also helps promote the health of the lung tissue.
The herb can be found in many forms including as dry product and tincture. The roots can be used for a tea as a dry product in whole or powdered form and the flowers can be infused (30).
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia or BHP recommends to cut up ¼-½ of a teaspoon of the root to 1 cup of water and simmer covered (31). It should be noted that high intake of this herb can cause digestive upset including loose stool, vomiting and nausea. It should not be used for those that are pregnant or nursing mothers. Because it's drying in nature if the cough is dry, do not use it (32).
GOLDEN ROD also known as Solidago canadensis or Solidago virgaurea. Goldenrod has a long history of treating many illnesses and diseases including asthma and reducing inflammation, muscle spasms and combating infection associated with the airways. (33) Goldenrod’s medicinal properties come mainly from Saponins and Flavonoids antioxidants such as Quercetin and Kaempferol (34) (35). Saponins also have anti-inflammatory properties (36) The antioxidant abilities are so extraordinary that it’s more powerful than Vitamin C (37, 38, 39, 40).
Goldenrod does have a bitter taste and is considered a diuretic so if this herb is consumed it is best to supply and ensure lots of water is being consumed alongside the herb.
There are several ways to use Goldenrod. A tea can be made by steeping 1-2 teaspoon of the dried herb in about ⅔ cups of water. There are also tinctures available. Owners should be aware that there may be drug interactions with this herb with the following medications:
Medical supervision should be sought for those suffering from high or low blood pressure, bone disease, allergies, disease where fluid is retained such as around the heart and lungs or those with other heart and kidney illnesses. (41, 42)
HAWTHORN or also known as Crataegus oxyacantha is known to have wonderful antioxidant properties (43).
The extracts of this herb have protective effects for inflammation of the airways helping to reduce the production of cells that promote inflammatory responses, allergic reactions and mucus production. Therefore it is a very important herb for Asthma (44, 45). The Flavonoids that contain anti-inflammatory properties also contain antioxidant properties as well and with its bronchodilating functions, this herb is a sure go to for Asthma (46).
Deborah Frances a Naturopath is the most well known for using Hawthorn for Asthma (47) however, even practitioners have been documented dating back to the early 1800’s for its use in respiratory conditions (46). Pretty much all parts including “Hawthorn leaf, flower, berry, and thorn” can be used (48).
LICORICE also known as Sweet Wood and Sweet Root has been a known treatment and
natural remedy for coughs and asthma related symptoms. It has many beneficial properties that can help those with asthma including anti inflammatory, antiallergic, antioxidant and antimicrobial benefits (49). It also contains glycyrrhizic acid, a Saponin known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. In various studies Glycyrrhizin found in Licorice Root has been shown to provide beneficial and long term effects on the lungs in animal models. In one study animal models seemed to recover from all long term lung remodeling in those affected by asthma (50). Other studies have shown a great reduction in hypersensitive responses in asthmatic animal models such as relaxation of the airways and inflammation in the lungs (51).
Licorice comes in many products including dried herb, tinctures and extracts.
It should be noted that side effects from using licorice can occur therefore the content of glycyrrhizic acid should not exceed 10 mg and frequent use is not practiced for extended periods of time. Side effects would include high blood pressure and swelling from excess fluid. Any companion animal with conditions requiring “cardiac glycosides, blood pressure medications, corticosteroids, diuretics, or monoamine oxidase inhibitors” should also avoid using Licorice (52).
That being said in safety studies it has been shown that blood pressure and serum potassium levels were not really affected however it's always best to err on the side of caution (53).
HORSETAIL also known as Equisetum Arvense. Horsetail is notably known for helping to provide strength to bodily tissue such as those of the lungs. It is known to have anti inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, antifungal and anti congestion properties (54). In allergic asthma, histamines cause a reaction in the airways to constrict allowing mucus to build but horsetail has an amazing ability to block the histamines and their effects (55). One of the most common ways to use horsetail is as a tea. Simply infuse 2-3 teaspoons of the herb with 2-3 cups of water. In addition to drinking horsetail as a tea one can also breath in the steam while steeping the herb. The juices of the plant can also be used and have been shown to aid in respiratory disorders as well (56).
It should be noted that the raw stalks of the horsetail plant should not be consumed. It contains thiaminase which is an enzyme that binds to thiamine destroying it in the body (57.)
It is also advised that pregnant or nursing companion animals should not use horsetail as well as those with urinary/kidney stones or heart conditions. If horsetail is used at high doses you may notice your companion suffering from nausea, fever, skin issues, abnormal heart rate and muscle weakness. Do not use with licorice nor as long term use. (58) NETTLE also known as Urtica dioica
Studies have shown Nettle has great anti inflammatory effects (59). Nettle was used after inducing astmatic symptoms in research models. The cells usually responsible for inflammation and oxidation to lung membranes and other lung damage were instead found to be reduced in treated patients (60). Stinging nettle hairs also contain a range of other chemicals that can affect humans, including acetylcholine and serotonin. Nettle can be used in several ways. The juice from the roots and/or leaves can be dried and burnt. The seeds and flowers can also be used and crushed into a powder (61). The leaves can be found in freeze dried form as well (62). If consumed in high amounts common side effects of nettle include digestive upset, urinary conditions and hives/rashes. It's important to note that Nettle may interfere or react with medications such as blood thinners, for high blood pressure, diabetes or heart conditions (63, 64).
MARSHMALLOW ROOT also known as Althaea officinalis L (65)
Marshmallow root has been known for many years, even thousands to help soothe coughs and other signs of respiratory disorders like bronchitis and asthma. In addition it is great at breaking up and expelling mucus. Marshmallow root like many other beneficial medicinal herbs contain Flavonoids. Not only does this mean Marshmallow root is a great antiinflammatory it is also an antibacterial that works through the usage of phages. These phages are cells that consume bacteria and other not so good particles in the body (66, 67). These abilities are thanks to anti-inflammatory, antibacterial (68) and antioxidant properties that can protect against free radicals that are responsible for damage within the body. These antioxidants are so powerful they even surpass chemical antioxidants like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) (69). Many parts of marshmallow root including the leaves, flowers and roots can be consumed with much of the beneficial aspects coming from the sap substance that this herb produces (70). Studies in animal models have shown the herb’s ability to relax muscle spasms in the airways as well (71). This obviously is very important for animals with airway restriction due to Asthma.
There are several ways to use this herb. The leaves when dried can be infused into tea (70) but can also be used to make extracts and tinctures as well as pills and syrups (72).
While some report no side effects some have reported minor digestive upset (70). It may also prevent the proper absorption of pharmaceutical drugs and other herbs. It's advised to take marshmallow root a few hours before using other medicinal products such as drugs for diabetes and disorders that require lithium treatments (72). While side effects are minimal it is best to start at low doses and slowly increase. Increasing fluid intake as well as taking intermissions from its use can also prevent the onset of side effects (73).
HYSSOP also known as Hyssopus officinalis is known to treat Asthma and coughs (74).
According to respected Traditional Persian Medicine (TPM) textbooks and backed by traditional scientific studies, Hyssop is one of several herbs that is the most effective in treating Asthma and other respiratory based conditions. It is a known anti inflammatory, antioxidant, anti allergy and can correct muscle restriction and changes in the tissues and structure of the airways (75). Other studies show antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties as well (76). Another study showed that in animal models Hyssop regulates the immune system against allergy based Asthmas as well as encourages the expulsion of fluids like mucus from the lungs (77). This opens and helps lubricate the airways as well. Hyssop is thought to work by affecting and balancing out T helper cells, a type of white blood cell that affects the immune response helping to prevent the overproduction of inflammatory signals.
Another study showed that animal models given hyssop had a significant reduction in eosinophils, a type of white blood cell in the the respiratory tract as well as production of mucus indicating its immune regulating effects (78, 79, 80). Several other studies have also shown that Hyssop influences cytokines or cells that include the immune system such as influencing the body’s balance and inflammation which otherwise can increase mucus build up, damage of airway tissues, promoting airway constriction and other negative results that can further badly affect Asthma (81, 82, 83).
Hyssop can be used in several ways such as infused as a tea or in the form of a tincture. An herbal tonic can also be created by taking the dried or fresh herb, adding it and honey to a jar and filling the rest of the jar with apple cider vinegar to marinate for several weeks (84, 85). As one can see there are many options to choose from to help your companion manage their asthma that address many aspects of the conditions. With the help of scientific studies we can observe the effects these herbs have on both human and animal models, oftentimes not only preventing specific symptoms from Asthma, but even reverse damage that has been caused. Before you reach for those pills or inhaler, definitely consider a medicinal herb.
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