Mucus in, Mucus Out
By: Kathy Sadowski, MS in Aromatherapy, RA, LMT, RYT
Everyone loves a sunny Sunday. It was unusually warm and windy on this winter day in Texas, and people were outside playing in droves, celebrating sunshine and 75 degrees, especially since the next week’s forecast called for rainy February 50 degree days. I enjoyed a long walk with the fresh air and wearing a short sleeved shirt outside. The next day was like waking up with a hang over; a mountain cedar hangover! I had inhaled way too much of it, and had a heavy head full of congestion. Appropriately, the next Herb Class assignment (ACHS.edu) was to make their recipe for cough syrup. Wow, was I ready for that, my body was coughing up all kinds of unpleasant mucous. The concoction called for mucilaginous herbs, resulting in a thick gelatinous and sticky substance that looked a lot like was coming out of my nose.
Nobody wants mucus. But it actually serves an important purpose. Mucus is a sticky gooey substance our body produces to trap allergens, dust, and other foreign invaders before they get deeper into the body and really start reeking havoc. Further, it contains antibodies to fight microbes that lead to infection.
When you have throat congestion, you may think the last thing you want to do is swallow something with a mucus consistency?
My initial thought would have been to treat these symptoms with an antihistamine or decongestant, both of which cause the body to produce less mucous. How could fighting goo with goo be a good idea? This reminded me of the concept of homeopathy: a type of alternative medicine based on the premise that “like cures like,” with the idea that the human body has the ability to heal itself. The method was founded in Germany in the 18th century by Samuel Christian Hahnemann in which small doses of substances producing symptoms of the very illness being treated are given to activate the body’s self healing abilities. In a very large study of nearly 4,000 patients, homeopathy reduced disease severity and improved quality of life in a variety of chronic diseases, including allergic rhinitis, headaches, and atopic dermatitis in men, women, and children respectively (1). In India, 550 patients showed some reduction in chronic sinusitis with homeopathic treatment (2).
So I decided to give the gooey cough syrup a try, and chased it down with a spicy hot tea infusion to help thin the mucous. Wait about a half hour to drink the tea so the syrup can soothe and absorb into the respiratory epithelial cells. Here are both recipes:
Gooey Cough Syrup Formula
(slightly modified from ACHS.edu recipe)
- 1/2 ounce of dried licorice root (Visit references: 3 and 4 below for more info about licorice.)
- 1/2 ounce of dried marshmallow root (Visit reference 5 and 6 below for more info about marshmallow.)
- 1/2 ounce of dried slippery elm bark
- 1/2 ounce of flaxseed
- 1/4 cup of manuka honey
- 1/4 cup of honey
- 2 1/2 pints of (cold) water
- First, place the licorice and one pint of water in a pot and simmer it down until there is about 1/3 of a pint of liquid. Strain the herbs out and let cool. Compost or throw out the licorice throw remains; I gave mine to the house plants.
- In a large glass jar, add one and a half pints of cool water and the slippery elm and flaxseed. Also add in the cooled liquid from the licorice decoction. Shake the jar. Let it infuse for about a half hour.
- Strain all the plant matter out of the thick liquid using a strainer with a fine mesh and pestle. The pestle will help push the thick goo thru the strainer.
- Add the honey to the remaining thick liquid. I chose to use 1/4 manuka honey and 1/4 regular honey because the manuka honey was very expensive ($30 for 8 ounces), but I wanted the antimicrobial benefits of the manuka honey (7).
- Store the jar in the refrigerator for up to three months.
- Take one tablespoon a day up to four times a day.
Spicy Tea Infusion Recipe
- 3 pieces of dried star anise
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 6 peppercorns
- 3 allspice corns
- 3 cardamom pods – broken open
- 1 piece of fresh ginger root (about 1 Tbsp) cut into slices
- 4 pints of water
- 2 black tea bags
- Simmer all but not the black tea bags in a pot for about an hour on low.
- Add the tea bags for the last five minutes
- Strain and drink. Add honey or lemon if desired.
- Witt, C. M., Lüdtke, R., Baur, R., & Willich, S. N. (2005). Homeopathic medical practice: long-term results of a cohort study with 3981 patients. BMC Public Health, 5(1), 115.
- Nayak, C., Singh, V., Singh, V. P., Oberai, P., Roja, V., Shitanshu, S. S., … & Kaushik, S. (2012). Homeopathy in chronic sinusitis: a prospective multi-centric observational study. Homeopathy, 101(2), 84-91.
- Jahan, Y., & Siddiqui, H. H. (2012). Study of antitussive potential of Glycyrrhiza glabra and Adhatoda vasica using a cough model induced by sulphur dioxide gas in mice. International journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and research, 3(6), 1668.
- Saha, S., Nosál’ová, G., Ghosh, D., Flešková, D., Capek, P., & Ray, B. (2011). Structural features and in vivo antitussive activity of the water extracted polymer from Glycyrrhiza glabra. International journal of biological macromolecules, 48(4), 634-638.
- Rouhi, H., & Ganji, F. (2007). Effect of Althaea officinalis on cough associated with ACE inhibitors. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, 6(3), 256-258.
- Deters, A., Zippel, J., Hellenbrand, N., Pappai, D., Possemeyer, C., & Hensel, A. (2010). Aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from Marshmallow roots (Althea officinalis L.): Cellular internalisation and stimulation of cell physiology of human epithelial cells in vitro. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 127(1), 62-69.
- Mavric, E., Wittmann, S., Barth, G., & Henle, T. (2008). Identification and quantification of methylglyoxal as the dominant antibacterial constituent of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honeys from New Zealand. Molecular nutrition & food research, 52(4), 483-489.