Nature is abundant in herbs that have an anti-catarrhal effect upon the
upper respiratory system, but this is not the same as being a tonic for
that part of the body. Simply effecting tissue or function does not equate
automatically with the nurturing quality of a tonic. However, defining adequately
what a tonic is has proven too challenging for this author! Suffice it say
that they are plants that in some way increase the vitality of a tissue
or organ or body system. From the European perspective we can list for this
Hydrastis canadensis —– Solidago virgaurea —– Sambucus nigra
Euphrasia spp. —– Gnaphalium spp. —– Hyssopus officinalis
Maintenance of health
As with many modern health problems, prevention is largely a matter of avoiding
pollutants and taking cared with certain dietary factors. Air pollution
will aggravate or even cause a whole spectrum of problems. This includes
both particulate matter and irritant gases, so stop smoking and move out
Many of the common chronic catarrhal states as a response by the body to
a diet that is too rich in the mucous forming foods. Thus for a patient
with such problems a low mucous diet is essential. This is discussed below.
Patterns of disease
There are some basic patterns of dis-ease that effect the upper respiratory
system, and through understanding the phytotherapeutic approach to each,
treatments of many diverse pathologies becomes straightforward.
- allergic response : the allergen must be identified and if possible
removed from the persons environment. This may be easy if the difficulty
is a food sensitivity, but much more problematic if the trigger is a ubiquitous
environmental factor such as pollen or house dust. The approach is discussed
in the section on `hayfever’.
- congestion : blockage of the sinus cavities with catarrh is a
very common experience and one that is relatively easy to treat with herbs.
However it is not always appropriate to `dry up’ such over production of
the normal secretions. If the body is using the mucous membranes of the
sinuses as a window for removing waste within the vehicle of the catarrh,
then it is best to support this rather than block it. This is discussed
in more depth below. The production of excessive and thick mucus in the
nose and other respiratory passages is a response to any inflammation of
the mucous membrane that lines them. This can be caused by an infection,
auto-immune problems or by irritants such as pollutants, pollens and dust.
- infection : acute infections of the nose, sinuses and throat
are all too common! Occasional acute infections are treated in the straightforward
way described below with anti-microbials, essential oils and anti-catarrhals.
However, if there is a recurrent pattern of frequent infection, attention
must be given to whole body issues and treatment focussed on immune support.
- physical blockage : any experience of obstruction calls for skilled
diagnostic investigations. Some benign problems such as nasal polyps are
treatable herbally, but differential diagnosis is vital.