Expectorant

Pulmonary/Tonic

Stimulating Expectorant

    • alkaloid containing
    • saponin containing
    • volatile oil containing
‘Relaxing’ expectorant

    • demulcent
    • anti-inflammatory (often also anti-microbial)

      – usually with volatile oil
    • anti-spasmodic – alkaloid containing

      – volatile oil containing


The stimulating expectorants can act in different ways to produce the same effect, and it is not always clear how a specific remedy is working, but current ideas suggest the following processes:

  • irritation of the bronchioles to stimulate the expulsion of any material present.
  • liquefaction of viscid sputum so that it can be cleared by coughing. The sputum is moved upwards from the lungs by the fine hairs of the ciliated epithelium lining the bronchiole tubes. Reducing the viscosity through expectorants facilitates this transport.


Most stimulating expectorants contain alkaloids, saponins or volatile oils. However not all chemicals in these groups, or plants with these constituents have this activity.



The relaxing expectorants would seem to act also by reflex but here it is to soothe bronchial spasm and loosen mucous secretions. This loosening is occasioned by producing a thinner mucous, lifting the stickier stuff up from below. This makes them useful in dry, irritating coughs. You will notice that this action is similar in some respects to the demulcents, and both actions owe a lot to their content of mucilage and occasionally volatile oils.



The pharmacopeias abound in plant remedies and most of the herbs still in the British and American official lists are expectorants, anti-tussive or decongestants. However, the allopathic focus on `effect’ has meant the dropping of the tonic remedies. Pulmonaries provide Phytotherapy with the possibility of strengthening both tissue and function in addition to addressing the symptoms of respiratory disease.

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David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

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