Herbal strategies for pneumonia/bronchitis

So this is my 18th day with this condition which I finally concluded about a week ago is pneumonia. This is what is called walking pneumonia or atypical pneumonia. There is no fever and I am not limited to bed rest. It began with a sore, mucus-filled throat the morning of Wed. Dec 31, and led hours later to a chill in the back, weakness and general inflammation (touchiness, surface sensitivity) as well as knife-like stabbing pains randomly over the surface of my body, especially in/around the ears. (This is referred to as wind-chill in TCM and is evidence of a recently contracted illness still at the surface of the body. It is treated with Ephedra, Fresh Ginger and other warming diaphoretics — surface relivers).

The condition involves:

  • Spastic coughing fits that go on and on, especially at night. They interrupt sleep or prevent it.
  • Coughing up small to large chunks of white phlegm; blowing out small to large masses of bright yellow-gold phlegm from the sinuses.
  • Inflammation of the inner/middle ear and eustachian tube, which closes with inflammation and will not open until the inflammation is controlled.
  • Drainage of mucus from the head into the throat, which tickles and triggers hacking cough.
  • Inability to breath cool air; sensitive in changes of air temperature from one room to another. Cooler air triggers coughing.
  • Low appetite. Coughing pushes all the energy out through the lungs, not much left in the interior gut for digestion.
  • Fatigue, weakness.
  • Soreness of the muscles around the rib cage from so much coughing.

Proper herbal therapy can prevent relapse and chronic bronchitis.

The big concern with pneumonia is relapse. My opinion formed from observing others and listening to their experience is that relapses are caused by two things:
(1) not clearing the lungs/head/sinuses fully of phlegm. Some of it can harden, especially with dehydration and can encrust the lungs/sinuses like plaque. This preserves a nasty substrate for the infecting agent that may not be reached even by antibiotics. (Think about it: water transports antibiotics and everything else in the body; if mucus gets dried and glues to tissues, how can you heal?)
(2) not boosting the immunity (Wei Chi in TCM, surface defenses) well enough to plug the holes in one’s defenses. That’s how it got in to start with: immune system ‘leakage’ like a roof with holes that drips when it rains.

The HERBS for pneumonia & bronchitis

The key to success is using numerous herbs at ordinary bottle recommended/standard doses OR using 1-2 herbs at very large doses 2-6 times the standard amounts.

  • Licorice root: for all conditions in which there is difficulty breathing, possible infection, low energy.
  • Eucalyptus leaf: antiseptic/antibiotic for lungs; aromatic acts as energy regulator (as citrus or carminative aromatics would) to cut mucus loose for expectoration; best taken as tea brewed covered 15-20 minutes and drunk straight down.
  • Mint or Citrus peels if not using Eucaplytus: an aromatic to cut the glue-like hold mucus has on your tissues in necessary. In my experience there is nothing better than the Chinese blue/green (unripe) Tangerine peel called QingPi for keeping mucus from gluing to your insides and staying there. If you use Mint teas, be sure to brew them covered 15-20 minutes and drink quickly while inhaling the vapors. You can make that tea with 2-4 tea bags.
  • Marshmallow root: soothing, lubricating for the lungs in inflamed/dry conditions; indication: any blood in sputum or urine.
  • Fenugreek seed: use especially in early infectious stages and when coughing power seems weak and great efforts bring up only small bits of the thicker phlegm; antiseptic for lungs; strengthens yang (functional power) and boosts hormones (aphrodisiac).
  • Thyme: both stimulant and relaxant this expectorant is also anti-spasmodic; its warming nature helps it to combat both cold (runny/clear) and hot (thick/colored) phlegm conditions.
  • Elecampane root: for when mucus is so great it is causing nausea and there is bloating and poor appetite; may only need it for a day or two to get things going; warming in nature, so it is for those who are a bit chilly and weak.
  • Wild Cherry bark: anti-tussive for coughs that go on when there is little cause (no real phlegm left). Of course, it can help combat phlegm conditions and hindered digestion as a result of such conditions. NOTE: don’t boil it because its medicine is killed at that high a temp. Steep it in steaming hot water for 1 hour (or overnight covered tightly) or simmer very gently 30-45 minutes.

Reference: Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, CA, ND


Bulk herbs/powders:
· http://www.herbco.com/
· http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/
· http://www.starwest-botanicals.com/

Powdered concentrates:
· http://www.goldenlotusherbs.com/

I’m not pursuing the standard medical diagnosis and treatment.

I have not been to a medical doctor. I have been unable to breathe the cool outdoor air and am staying indoors for now. I have no desire to either spread this around or be exposed to other infectious agents while my immunity is compromised. Nor am I going to take antibiotics. I have not had antibiotics for nearly three decades and simply will not use them.

My wife had a round of antibiotics with this condition (we’re both struggling through it now) and though she has gone back to work, she is still not well. Standard medical procedures for this are chest x-rays, which I will not exposes myself to while in a weakened condition, particularly since I was over-exposed to x-rays a year ago after a run-in with an automobile.

I believe there is a false sense that MDs offer ‘stronger’ medicine and we run to them out of desperation — understandably — when we are miserable.

Thank you, Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator.

I also believe that stronger medicine is Larger Doses of Appropriate Herbs. I take up to 1 Tbsp of Licorice root powder at a time. It has incredible expectorant power for those blockages that bottle-neck at the junction of that upside-down Y that comes out of the lungs. My breathing gets wheezy and dry. So then I take 1 Tbsp of Licorice powder (you can mix it into honey) — no matter how much I’ve already taken that day. In just a few hours it will kick out that blockage and let me breathe freely again … but wait, there will be more. More phlegm, more blockages. My advice …

Be ready with lots of Licorice root (powder or extract) LOTS of it!

Garlic is great, but its not for all infections.

Garlic tea that first day had a disastrous effect for me because of the inflammation in the upper respiratory area that was worsened by Garlic’s heating stimulation and kept me up all night leading to a migraine. Garlic is a hot herb that is toned down to ‘warming’ by heat/cooking, but still remains a strong stimulant and yang tonic (generally contraindicated in inflamed/fever conditions unless you are very chilled).

It is important to respect each herb that is strong enough to act as medicine. Such herbs are also strong enough to harm if misapplied. Since I did not have a temperature and had chills the Garlic seemed a natural choice since I wanted to ‘kill’ whatever had infected me. However, the inflammation I was experiencing called for something different. Maybe Olive Leaf extract would have been more helpful if I had only had some. Just a reminder to choose our herbs carefully based on the whole picture.

Marshmallow and Fenugreek

I used them in 2:1 ratio to keep the lungs from drying out and to dig out the phlegm congestion. This is concentrated phlegm considered ‘hot’ in TCM — colored phlegm that comes out in chunks. (Streaming clear mucus is ‘cold’ and requires warming herbs to dry it up). That means you want to choose herbs that have a more soothing, cooling effect, not heating/stimulating herbs.

Licorice Power!

What is working best now is large doses of Licorice to maintain expectoration since the phlegm comes in small to large white lumps that can literally get bottle-necked trying to leave the chest, leading to difficult, suppressed breathing and lower energy. Nothing is better for that than Licorice. It is neutral in its energy and is particularly effective for conditions of the lungs and digestive system. I took 1 Tbsp (in 3-1 tsp amts) of Licorice powder late last night. I was able to sleep and produced the largest expectoration of white phlegm in a huge lump this morning. Biggest one yet. Now I am able to breathe deeper again without triggering coughing spasms. In fact, last night was the first night my sleep was not interrupted by coughing fits.

The Strategy:

  • Ease coughing and make it more productive. The body is coughing for a reason. Just suppressing the cough with OTC cough suppressants will prolong the illness and probably get us into worse trouble. Some herbs like Wild Cherry Bark, Chickweed are anti-tussive, but also expectorants so they can get the job done, not just suppress.
  • Reduce and eliminate inflammation with whatever anti-inflammatory works. My body likes Naproxen sodium (brand name, Aleve). Naproxen 220 mg taken twice daily has nearly eliminated all the severe inflammation of the inner/middle ear that was creating so much pressure I was wondering if/when my ear drum would burst. Swallowing was painful and eating had become nearly impossible. A couple doses of Naproxen and it was under control. I am continuing to take it twice daily with no side effects and no toxicity. I also drink two strong cups of White Tea daily, so that may be why.

    NOTE: before ‘natural medicine purists’ jump in about toxic chemical NSAIDS, this anti-inflammatory was identified as beneficial to me and not harmful in any way by applied kinesiology (Muscle Response Testing). The task is to identify what the body says it likes and can handle without residual problems. That is where good body intuition comes in and methods like applied kinesiology.

  • The eustachian tube is actually very narrow and very short, less than 3 mm in diameter and less than 1½ inches long. When inflamed it closes, preventing drainage. Anti-inflammatory remedies are the only thing that will treat this effectively and prevent possible damage to the inner ear/ear drum.

    Echinacea might be able to effectively address inflammation, but only if taken in large doses every 2-3 hours. That is just too much herb taking for me considering all the other stuff I’m taking.

    NOTE: avoid Echinacea that has been extracted or preserved in alcohol. Alcohol destroys the effectiveness of Echinacea. You might get some benefits, but the immune cell boosting effect is cancelled by alcohol which destroys those essential compounds.

  • Completely clear the lungs/head/sinuses of phlegm — eventually. This takes time and it is a job to keep the upper hand. Herbs taken in large enough doses can be very effective at doing this. Herbs like Marshmallow, Fenugreek, Licorice, Chickweed, Mullein, Eucalyptus can keep things moving out and not get blocked. The key is often in taking large doses. The usual recommendations on herbal product labels will not be enough. You will need to take 2-3x that amount if you are relying on that herb alone (say, Licorice) for your strongest effect.
  • Plug all the holes in my Immunity defenses. This one also takes time and is actually not accomplished at the front-end of such an illness. The most important thing is to protect yourself defensively while kicking out the phlegm. The phlegm is there to contain and neutralize the infectious agents that the body has identified as harmful. Kick out the phlegm and you will kick out the mass of germs.

Boosting Immunity with Herbs

Then there are a number of herbs that we can use to boost immunity. Yes, Echinacea can do this, but it has been over-harvested and I don’t recommend running to it for every condition as some people seem to want to do. Get some serious tonic herbs (adaptogens) like Astragalus, Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps. These fortify the Wei Chi as it is called in Chinese medicine. This is the defensive energy at the surface of the body.

I am looking at using some things I’ve never used before, especially those produced by Host Defense … I figure if my usual approach with my usual tools is not working, time to get some new ones.

I consider this illness a challenge of sound, logical strategy and wisely applied home methods and herbal medicine. I won’t bore you with every detail or daily reports. But I will blog about the successes and failures of my approach overall.

Hopefully you can reduce your time with this type of illness and boost your immunity to avoid future setbacks or relapses.

Be well.


Forgot to mention The Institute for Traditional Medicine (Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D.) has a great page on phlegm-resolving herbs: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/phlegm.htm
And I am also using Blue/green citrus peel/QingPi to help break up the phlegm blockage, as well as Burdock seed, an anti-inflammatory detoxifier that also has some expectorant effect. Because of its cold nature I only take the Burdock seed every other day.



About Kannon McAfee

Poet, herbalist/healer, professional astrologer. Kannon means Kwan Yin -- healer. So I approach my work and others with a healer's heart. I'm dedicated to advancing astrology as a soul-oriented science. My specialty is birth chart interpretation and rectification.
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One Response to Herbal strategies for pneumonia/bronchitis

  1. Marshmallow root is also used for skin healing, smoothing hair and improving digestion. It’s wonderful!

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