Wild herbs for dry cough

It’s times like these when we need our natural herbal allies more than ever. Harvesting and making herbal remedies is something creative and constructive we can do by ourselves or with our kids – it’s easy, pretty much free and requires little prior knowledge, skills or equipment. By taking us outside it connects us to nature, making our worries seem slightly smaller for a moment. And by actively taking part in the maintenance of our own health with the help of medicinal plants, we feel less powerless in the face of a medical crisis

In this article, I want to share with you three local plants you can easily make use of to support your respiratory system and treat dry cough, sore throat and bronchitis. If you’re in the Algarve, all these herbs can be found close to you – either on the coast, inland or by the wayside. 

Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
Gorgeous honeysuckle is in bloom at the moment. One of our best-loved wild flowers, its intoxicating scent and intertwining behaviour has made it a symbol of love in many cultures.

As well as being delightfully enticing, honeysuckle forms part of a Chinese herbal formula called Shuang Huang Lian for respiratory complaints, which is currently being trialled in China for the treatment of COVID-19 infection. 

The leaves and flowers of honeysuckle are cooling, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and contain salicylic acid, the pain-relieving compound in aspirin. The plant is also traditionally used in the West for fevers, flu, coughs, headache, bronchial spasm, bronchitis and rheumatism.

Honeysuckle-infused honey
You’ll find honeysuckle near the south and west coasts of the Algarve. For sore throats or dry cough, infuse the flowers in runny honey or vegetable glycerine for two weeks. Then strain, bottle and label, and take one teaspoon three times a day. Remember to harvest responsibly – rather than taking all the flowers off one bush, take just a few from several different bushes, leaving some for the bees. 

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Plantain, or ribwort, is the number one hedgerow remedy for insect bites, stings, cuts and grazes, ulcers and other skin irritations. It is also a fabulous anti-inflammatory and ‘demulcent’ (soothing, softening) remedy for sore throats, dry cough and bronchitis. 

If you’re not familiar with this herb, just look along the roadsides or pathways near your house. The name Plantago comes from the Latin planta or ‘sole of the foot’ – it thrives on being downtrodden. Native Americans called it ‘white man’s footprint’ for the same reason. Though it is now considered a weed, the Anglo-Saxons held it in high esteem as one of their nine sacred herbs. 

Plantain tea and tincture
To use plantain for a dry cough or sore throat, either make tea (one fresh leaf per cup, infuse for 10 minutes, drink three cups a day), or a quick tincture using vodka or local medronho/bagaço (blend fresh plantain leaves with just enough alcohol to cover, transfer to a jar and let it sit in a cool dark place for three days, then strain, bottle and take one teaspoon three times a day). These dosages can also be used for irritable bowel symptoms, haemorrhoids and stomach ulcers. 

Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Mallow is another wayside weed you’ll easily recognise. It’s extremely demulcent – the flowers have about 10% mucilage content and the leaves 7%. It is this mucilage content which makes the herb so valuable for treating dry coughs, sore throats and any other conditions which require soothing – urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers or inflammatory bowel disease to name a few. 

Mallow leaf is also a laxative, which is perhaps why it was regarded as an omnimorbia or ‘cure-all’ in the 16th century, when regular bowel movements were considered to rid the body of all disease. Nowadays it is simply thought of as an excellent wayside remedy for inflammations or irritations of the skin and mucosa, whether taken as a tea or poultice. Tinctures are not recommended as much of the mucilage content is lost in the process of extraction in alcohol.  

Mallow tea
When harvesting mallow, be careful to avoid leaves with ‘mallow rust’ – small red dots which are actually insect eggs, and check flowers carefully. To make a tea use a couple of fresh leaves per cup – along with some plantain and honeysuckle perhaps – infusing for 5-10 minutes. Add a big spoon of local honey and drink three cups a day.

By Poppy Burr
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Poppy is a UK-trained medical herbalist practising in Praia da Luz. She offers consultations and treatment in Western Herbal Medicine, incorporating Functional Medicine testing and nutritional strategies where appropriate. For more information, visit poppytheherbalist.com.