Breathe Easy: Kitchen Herbs for Respiratory Health ll By Megan Anderson

Supporting health with everyday tools is much easier than you may think. Herbs, in particular, do not always come in complicated concoctions with exotic ingredients from far-off places. Many of the aromatic plants used to flavor foods are not only delicious but offer a myriad of health benefits as well. Here we take a look at herbs and foods for respiratory health that are easily found at the farmer’s market or in the grocery store. 

Please note that this is only a guide, and should not be used to replace medical advice. 

Onion Allium cepa

Onions, one of the foods most commonly used to flavor savory dishes, are one of the best herbal allies for lung health. There are even historical anecdotes of onions being hung throughout homes to ward off flu epidemics. Interestingly, herbalist Matthew Wood also cites onions as helpful for feelings of social alienation, as well as shock from financial setbacks or feelings of loss. 

Considered a “warming” food, onions are particularly helpful in cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, and chest colds where mucous is hardened and therefore difficult to expectorate. The volatile oils in onions have an affinity for the lungs, warming and loosening phlegm. 

Eating foods with cooked onions is beneficial, but if you’d like to take it a step further, a poultice can be made by chopping and roasting the onions, letting them cool a bit, and spreading them across the chest. The chest is then warmed and the vapors readily inhaled, increasing respiration. If you’d rather not spend your afternoon with onions slathered across your chest, raw onions can be juiced or pureed and blended with honey, and taken by the spoonful. Honey is naturally moistening and antimicrobial, which supports the action of the onion. Note that raw onions should not be placed on the skin as they may cause irritation. 

Garlic Allium sativa

Like onion, garlic is a member of the lily family, and is decidedly the more warming of the two. Anyone who has eaten raw garlic can attest to how spicy it can be. Like onion, the oils present in garlic have an affinity for the lungs, thus the phenomena we call “garlic breath.” 

Garlic acts similarly to onion in its ability to warm and loosen mucous in the chest. In addition to this, garlic is particularly antimicrobial. Allicin, a component in garlic, has the distinct ability to target and kill “bad” bacteria, while the natural sulfurs present support the GI tract by enabling beneficial bacteria to thrive. It is therefore helpful for respiratory or digestive upset due to bacterial infection. There is also evidence that supports garlic’s ability to ease symptoms of high blood pressure and heart disease. 

Cooking with garlic is an easy way to reap its benefits for lung health. However, the antibacterial properties are best preserved in its raw state. A small to medium clove of garlic can be minced and mixed with a spoonful of honey, swallowed and washed down with water, or a bit of raw garlic can be sprinkled over savory food. You can also infuse coarsely chopped, raw garlic in olive oil for two weeks, then either apply it topically or dress foods with it. This method is particularly effective for babies. When they show signs of respiratory illness or ear infection, rubbing garlic oil on their feet will draw the vital constituents into their blood stream and help to fight infection. 

Sage Salvia officinalis

Sage improves circulation and digestion, in addition to its affinity for the respiratory system. A tea or gargle is particularly helpful in cases of sore throat, with or without chest congestion. Sage also supports the nervous system during viral or bacterial disease. It is also considered a stimulant; some have found it helpful for symptoms of lethargy linked to depression. Sage may interfere with lactation and should be avoided if this is a concern. 

Thyme Thymus vulgaris

Similar to garlic, thyme is considered hot and drying, and thus best suited to cold, wet conditions such as phelgmy coughs, colds accompanied by shivering, and pneumonia. 

Thyme is considered a deep, powerful detoxifier and antiseptic, killing off bacteria and germs. It is also a strong expectorant, effective in treating whooping cough, bronchitis and asthma. In addition, thyme stimulates the thymus gland (note its Latin name), which trains T lymphocytes to fight infection. 

Oregano Origanum vulgare

Oregano is again an herb with a propensity to ease colds and flus with chills and shivering. It can help in all manner of respiratory tract infections, clearing mucous and neutralizing bacterial infection. Like other members of the mint family (including those listed here), oregano also supports digestion and relaxes the nervous system, which can be helpful for illness brought on by stress. 

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary is considered a “polycrest” herb, meaning it aids nearly every system within the body. In addition to its benefits to the nervous, cardiovascular, and GI systems, rosemary increases respiration and bloodflow. It is also packed with antioxidants, including vitamin C, which help the body repair in times of stress and illness. 

Any of the herbs listed above are easily made into a medicinal tea. Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 tablespoon dried herb, cover, and let steep 15-20 minutes before drinking.

Recipe: Breathe Easy Oxymel

An oxymel is an herbal preparation that includes both honey and vinegar, and is often made for respiratory health. Simmering the herbs in vinegar helps to extract many of the beneficial components, however, some constituents are lost in the heat, such as the allicin from garlic. If you prefer not to use heat, instead you can simply place the herbs in a jar, cover with vinegar and shake them daily for about a month, then strain and incorporate an equal amount of honey. 

Take a spoonful or small shot of oxymel 2-3 times a day when under the weather.


  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary. If fresh, 2-3 sprigs each, if dried, 1 T each. 
  • 4 cups raw, organic apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups raw honey
  1. Place the onions, garlic and herbs into a pot. Cover with vinegar and bring to a boil. (Don’t put your face over the pot – steam from vinegar can irritate your eyes and lungs!)
  2. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. 
  3. Remove from heat and let cool.
  4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pressing herbs with the back of a large spoon to help release the liquid. 
  5. Mix the infused vinegar with equal parts honey. If the vinegar is still slightly warm they will mix better, or the vinegar can be rewarmed a bit to help with this. 
  6. Store oxymel in glass jars or bottles with a label and date. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. 

If you have any questions about herbs, feel free to email me at Wishing you health and happiness!

About Me

I’ve always been interested in the many varieties of alternative healing. Before I knew anyone who actually practiced them, I would read books about everything from shamanism to past life regression. 

I began my own journey into the healing arts studying herbalism in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was there, learning about plants in their medicinal and spiritual aspects, that I finally found a home for my wandering soul. It was a blessing to then move to Colorado and find a community of people doing the things I’d been so excited to read about in books! 

I now incorporate herbalism, crystal healing and reiki into my practice, as well as  currently studying shamanic healing in the Norse tradition with the hopes of offering that in the future. For more information, feel free to visit my website, Freyja Healing Arts