Find Part 1 “What it is, what to do” HERE
None of this is going to be as quick-acting or dramatic as a rescue inhaler. Most of this stuff takes at least a few days to start working. Don’t leave your inhaler at home!
…is a plant native to Western Europe; its name, because its enormous leaves were used to store and wrap butter. The root is the part we use in medicine. As a medicine, butterbur does two major things: it fights allergies, and it prevents smooth muscles from spasming. In addition to asthma, Butterbur can improve urinary incontinence (bladder spasm) and migraine (associated with vascular spasm) as well. For asthma, with its spasming airways, butterbur is often effective. For allergic asthma, it’s often spectacular, as it simultaneously addresses both the cause and the symptom. A standard dose is 50 mg of the concentrated extract, three times a day.
You don’t use it as a “rescue,” though. A significant reduction in attack frequency and severity is normally seen in a week to a month of continuous use. Butterbur tastes like… nothing. So it’s easy to give children in liquid form.
Be aware that Butterbur root contains potentially toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). Take enough of it, for long enough, it can be pretty rough on the liver. It’s important to use commercial preparations that can be extracted in such a way as to eliminate these PAs. Look for products that test to keep PAs below 5 ppm, or something thereabouts.
…stands for N-Acetyl Cysteine, an amino acid derivative which is one of our most versatile and valuable nutrients. NAC thins mucous. It also helps the body make glutathione, which protects the lungs from inflammation and chemical damage. (Although it paradoxically may exacerbate lung damage caused by smoking or other very high stress exposures…)
Research on NAC and asthma has been mixed. In one short-term study on patients hospitalized for severe asthma, it did not help. However, other data show NAC can reduce lung inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma. I focus on using it over time — not just during attacks, but between attacks — where NAC reduces underlying risks and pathologies. NAC also reduces potential triggers, especially viral infections. NAC has the best research I’ve ever seen published on flu prevention, reducing incidence by 2/3 when taken over an entire winter. And it’s very reasonable to assume it could have a similar effect on other respiratory viruses. Of course lung viruses can often set off asthma… NAC is also quite safe – its safety even established in pregnancy (where it’s not just safe, it actually improves outcomes in certain high-risk pregnancies). A standard dose is 600 mg twice a day.
Nigella, a.k.a. “Black Cumin Seed” or kalonji
…is a jet black culinary and medicinal herb, and arguably the most revered plant in the Muslim/Arabic herbal tradition. (In the Koran, Mohammed says it “cures everything short of death.”) It’s does so many things, it’s hard to summarize. But let’s start by saying it reduces inflammation. To be clear, it’s not a quick anti-inflammatory, like where your joints hurt now, so you take some nigella and feel better. It’s a slow- and deep-acting anti-inflammatory that protects the lungs, gut and liver over weeks and months. It helps regulate blood sugar. And there’s some preliminary research suggesting anti-cancer properties as well. (It is also claimed to help grow hair…)
AND ALSO: if you’ve never tried Phanch Phoran, the Bangladeshi 5-spice blend of nigella, fennel, fenugreek, cumin, and mustard seeds, you really should. It makes delicious roast potatoes, scrambled eggs, and even adds a twist to Russian borscht!
I learned about black cumin for asthma from Robin J,. our Supplements Department Co-Manager, who first gave it to her son five years ago. He has severe allergy-induced asthma. “The allergies are pretty bad. His eyes swell shut. And the lungs. He can’t breath, it’s an emergency situation. If I had my way, I’d have him down by the hospital, with a rescue inhaler. All he let me do was monitor, and maybe give some Benadryl™.
“He had come home one day, and he was wheezing. This was five years ago. He had been down to the horse barn. I did some emergency research, and came across a study, and it turned out I had some things already at home. Black seed, NAC, pycnogenol, and our Respir-Ease formula. I gave him all of it, and he was willing to try. He was able to breathe more easily within a couple of hours. Today, he still uses pycnogenol and Respir-Ease with flare-ups. BUT – he has not had a severe flare-up since he started using the black seed oil and NAC daily – and it’s been five years.”
Lomatium Root Extract
…is not anti-asthmatic per se, but it’s to my mind the single best lung anti-viral we have. If you’re one of those people who gets a virus, and then it moves down into the lungs, and that’s when you get asthma – every. single. time. – Lomatium can intercept that process pretty reliably. It’s a horrible tasting herb, and about 1% of people who take it get a skin rash. I recommend taking a lot: 2 full droppersful, 3 times a day. Or less, if it’s part of a formula.
…is not just the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It’s also the name of a medicinal plant, a cousin of lomatium. Where lomatium is primarily a very strong antiviral, and only secondarily a lung tonic, Osha is primarily a lung tonic, and only secondarily an antiviral. Compared to lomatium, it tastes a lot better (although it’s still not a “treat” — the herbalist Michael Moore described it as “demon celery”), and I haven’t seen it give anyone a rash.
I like to use osha as a support really anytime. But especially in people who have low-grade asthma for a week or more at a time, where its consistent use seems to mitigate symptoms. It’s also considered “warming” in energy, so you might use it specifically around cold-induced asthma. A standard dose is a big squirt of the tincture, a few times a day.
Osha is a fascinating herb otherwise. It’s one of the few medicinal plants used consistently in the animal kingdom. Bears specifically will often seek out osha coming out of hibernation, chew it up, and rub it all over their fur, we think to get rid of fleas. Male bears will also offer it to female bears as a courtship gift.
…increases oxygen uptake from the lungs. Dosed high enough, it’s pretty spectacular for increasing stamina during runs, bike rides, etc. It’s also valuable in asthma, especially during prolonged attacks that aren’t terribly serious, but leave one short of breath or just feeling weak and lethargic.
Dose recommendations on the back of the bottle often reflect regular, daily use. But I was taught to use it in much higher doses for occasional use — like “today, I will climb the entire mountain — time for two big squirts of cordyceps!!”
There’s also a wonderful formula called “Cordyceps 9,” put out by a company called Seven Forests. This one is Cordyceps and a lot of what we might call “adrenal tonics” in Western herbal medicine. It’s especially designed to support asthma for people who are worn out after chronic adrenal stress, or who have been relying too heavily, for too long, on steroid drugs to control their asthma.
The Jethro Kloss antispasmodic formula
….is just about the only herbal formula still in use out of Jethro Kloss’ epic 1,000 page Back to Eden, a book that is almost entirely ignored today, but which was formative influence on mainstream lay herbalism circa 40 years ago. Wonderful for a spasmodic coughing, including asthma, it can work on an empty stomach within a half-hour. Bear in mind, this formula has a lot of the herb Lobelia in it. Too much lobelia can make you nauseous. It also has some Skunk Cabbage, which can make a person a little drowsy in higher doses. Don’t get me wrong — this is a great formula! — just use it in reasonable doses until you figure out how you respond to it.