pneumonia - Herbs for pneumonia

Herbs for pneumonia

There we were in October of 1995, three musicians from different musical traditions trading tunes at the Napo Camp in Amazonian peru. My shaman friend Antonio Montero pisco was chanting his personal songs to the spirits of medicinal plants. While Antonio chanted, Joe Moreno, a music therapist from Maryville University in St. Louis, deftly scribbled away, transcribing the chants into musical notation.

Meanwhile, yours truly, a bad but enthusiastic bluegrass guitarist and bass fiddle player, sat there in awe of both of them. The year before, we had asked Antonio to tape record his chants to some 30 medicinal plants, including one called mucurita ( petiveria alliacea ), an herb that smells like onion.

Later, Joe amazed Antonio by singing his chant back to him. Then Antonio and Joe sang it together, with Antonio accompanying them on his shacapa , a grassy fan that when shaken, sounds like brushes on a drum. It was one of those moments that only happen in the Amazon and keep me going back for more.

I tell this story because the plant my friends sang about is one of Antonio's mainstay treatments for respiratory infections. If I developed pneumonia, an American doctor would probably prescribe an antibiotic on the chance that I had a bacterial lung infection and not a viral one. But Antonio would prescribe mucurita, probably with some onions and garlic .

The sulfide compounds responsible for the aromas of these three plants have antiseptic, antibiotic and antiviral properties, and the bad breath they cause is a sign that the sulfides go right to the lungs, where they're needed.

Deep-Down Trouble

pneumonia is a general term meaning any infection deep in the lungs. (Bronchitis, by contrast, is an infection in the gateway to the lungs, the bronchial tubes.)

Among infectious diseases in the United States, pneumonia is currently the leading killer and the nation's fifth leading cause of death overall, claiming more lives each year than AIDS. Most of those deaths come from two sources: influenza, which may progress to pneumonia, especially in the elderly, and hospital-acquired infections in those who are ill from other causes but develop pneumonia because their weakened immune systems can't fight it off. Bacteria that cause pneumonia are so abundant in hospitals that according to Consumer's Report on Health , an estimated 4 percent of all patients develop the infection, probably as a direct result of their hospital stay.

Some 40,000 older Americans die of pneumonia every year, so it's nothing to fool around with. Others at risk include those with alcoholism, cancer, cirrhosis, heart or kidney failure, sickle-cell disease, spleen disorders or recent organ transplants.

pneumonia may be caused by bacteria, fungi, protozoa or viruses, hence it is inappropriate to self-diagnose, much less self-medicate. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, difficulty breathing, fever and chills with shaking. If you develop pneumonia symptoms, you must see your doctor promptly.

Green pharmacy for pneumonia

In addition to taking whatever your doctor prescribes, you might try some herbal and nutritional alternatives, with your doctor's permission.

** Astragalus ( Astragalus , various species). Also known as huang qi , Astragalus is an immune booster and the Asian answer to our own echinacea . There's no reason not to use both.

** Baikal skullcap ( Scutellaria baicalensis ). Experimental data from China show that the root of this plant, which is close kin to our own skullcap, has broad-spectrum antimicrobial action. It inhibits flu viruses and several pneumonia-causing fungi. Chinese physicians sometimes inject a mixture of Baikal skullcap, goldthread and amur cork tree extracts to treat pneumonia, flu and other respiratory infections.

I'm not recommending injections. But if I had pneumonia, I would take mixtures of Baikal skullcap and our own golden antibiotic herbs: barberry, goldthread, goldenseal , Oregon grape and/or yellowroot. While baikal, the Asian form of skullcap, is hard to find in many herb shops and health food stores, it's not difficult to obtain in Chinese herb stores.

** Dandelion ( Taraxacum officinale ). Numerous clinical trials have demonstrated dandelion 's effectiveness against pneumonia, bronchitis and upper respiratory infections, according to pharmacognosist (natural product pharmacist) Albert Leung, ph.D.

I suggest cooking the greens and roots. Remember to drink the potlikker, the juice that remains after the greens are cooked. Although I can find dandelion 12 months of the year in Maryland, you may not have access to the fresh herb all year long where you live. You can also drink tea made from the dried herb, or you can take capsules.

** Echinacea ( Echinacea , various species). Antibiotics may be indicated in bacterial pneumonia, but in any type of infectious pneumonia--bacterial, viral or fungal--I'd recommend herbs that enhance the immune system. Echinacea is one of the best. A wealth of scientific studies shows that it helps the body fight off all sorts of bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Echinacea preparations--teas and tinctures--have become very popular health food store products for treating colds, flu and bronchitis. If I had pneumonia, I'd take a teaspoon or two of tincture in juice or tea several times a day. (Although echinacea can cause your tongue to tingle or go numb temporarily, this effect is harmless.)

** Garlic ( Allium sativum ). Mary Bove, N.D., chair of the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and one of the nation's most highly trained herbalists, developed pneumonia when she was eight months pregnant. Her physician, predictably, prescribed antibiotics, but she rejected them in favor of six to ten cloves of chopped garlic a day, along with echinacea . She began feeling better after two days and was cured in two weeks.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Bove prescribes this treatment for pneumonia in her own naturopathic practice. Other naturopaths do, too. Jill Stansbury, N.D., a faculty member at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in portland, Oregon, urges her students to use garlic to treat respiratory and digestive tract infections. In fact, garlic is about the closest thing we have to an herbal wonder drug for treating infections.

** Goldenseal ( Hydrastis canadensis ). American Indians used goldenseal to treat all manner of infections, and white settlers adopted it because it works. It turns out that goldenseal has two broad-spectrum antimicrobial constituents, hydrastine and berberine.

To use this herb, buy a tincture at a health food store and follow the package directions. Other herbs with similar action include barberry, goldthread, Oregon grape and yellowroot. They are all fine used on their own, but I'd also suggest trying a mixture. And I would also encourage use of goldenseal as part of a comprehensive plan for treating pneumonia.

** Honeysuckle ( Lonicera japonica ). Chinese herbalists suggest honeysuckle for treating pneumonia, bronchitis, flu and colds, but they use the flowers in a preparation taken by injection. I don't recommend injecting this herb, but you can take it orally. Flower extracts are strongly active against many kinds of bacteria and viruses, and I wouldn't hesitate to use it myself.

In summer, you can boil a cup of flowers in a cup of water, then strain the tea before drinking it. In winter, you can strip off the old, dried leaves from a vine and use them to make a tea. Even better, you can take your honeysuckle in combination with forsythia. Forsythia also contains several potent antiseptic and some antiviral compounds. In winter, I sometimes make a tea with bare twigs of honeysuckle and forsythia and sweeten it with lemonade powder.

** Onion ( Allium cepa ). Onions are closely related to garlic , with many similar sulfur-containing compounds. Most herbalists consider garlic more effective, but onions are certainly beneficial. I recommend onion soup for respiratory complaints, including pneumonia. And if you prefer chicken soup for treating colds, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia, be sure to add some onions and garlic to the recipe.

* Osha ( Lomatium dissectum ). American Indians used this herb, rather suggestive of a papaya or dill plant, to treat all manner of respiratory ailments: pneumonia, influenza, colds, bronchitis, tuberculosis, hay fever and asthma. Some naturopaths have been calling for clinical trials to see if it might help treat pneumonia, which sounds like a good idea to me. In the meantime, you could try chewing on the root as American Indians do.

* Sundew ( Drosera , various species). A major constituent of sundew, plumbagin, inhibits several of the bacteria that can cause pneumonia. The herb also contains a cough suppressant.

Commission E, the body of experts that advises the German government about herbs, recommends taking about two teaspoons of tincture a day to treat respiratory problems, including pneumonia.

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