Expectorant – Chedana

Expectorant herbs promote the discharge of phlegm and mucus from the body. They clear the lungs and nasal passages, but also the stomach. They are useful in respiratory afflictions, chronic or acute colds, flues, asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. 

Expectorants help the body to remove excess mucous from the lungs. However the word is often used to mean a remedy that is a tonic for the respiratory system. Mucous and any inhaled particles are normally voided from the lungs via the mucociliary escalator but this self-cleansing mechanism can become impeded or overloaded if there is an excessive amount of mucus or if the mucus is very thick and sticky.

They may also be helpful in digestive problems because mucus has its origin in the stomach and may clog the gastrointestinal tract, giving rise to indigestion and poor assimilation.

Phlegm and mucus can accumulate anywhere in the body, causing various growths or tumors (generally benign). They may accumulate under the skin or clog the channels of the circulatory and other systems, leading to all kinds of disease.

Expectorant herbs are of two kinds and work in two different ways. Some expectorants, like ginger, remove mucus by a drying action. They are mainly pungent in taste and hot in energy, and may also be stimulant, diaphoretic or carminative herbs.  Others, like licorice, help remove mucus by a moistening action; they liquefy mucus, promoting its flow out of the body. They are mainly sweet and cold herbs. These are also demulcent and emollient herbs, mucilaginous substances that have a softening and soothing effect upon the skin and mucous membranes.

Warming and drying expectorants dispel chill and dampness, decrease Kapha and phlegm (Ama), increase Pitta and Agni, and are particularly good for Kapha or Kapha – Vata type colds and respiratory afflictions.

Cooling and moistening expectorants dispel heat and dryness, liquefy Kapha and phlegm, and treat Vata or Pitta – Vata type colds and respiratory afflictions of sore throat and dry, hacking cough.

Most expectorants possess cough-relieving action, as coughs are usually caused by mucus blockage or irritation of the respiratory passages. Hence we include most cough-relieving herbs in this category. Coughs should similarly be discriminated as wet (productive) or dry (non-productive) and treated with the appropriate kinds of herbs. Cough or cold with clear, abundant phlegm usually indicates a cold and wet Kapha disorder. Cough or cold with yellow phlegm or inflammation of the mucous membranes usually indicates fever or damp heat Pitta disorder. Dry cough along with scanty phlegm and chill usually indicates Vata, particularly if it is a chronic condition.

Moistening expectorants or demulcents can be used externally to help heal sores, wounds or ulcers. They are nutritive and promote cell growth, as well as being anti-inflammatory. The soothing action od demulcent herbs gives them a power to help calm the heart and nerves. They are effective nerviness in Vata conditions of dehydration and tissue depletion. Demulcent herbs alleviate dryness caused friction that irritates physiological function. They feed the mucous membranes and the connective tissue.

Both kinds of expectorants may be combined to help balance their action. Hot, dry expectorants like ginger, may be used with a moistening expectorant like licorice, so as not to aggravate Vata or Pitta By its dryness or heat. Cold, moist expectorants may require the addition of a hot, pungent herb like ginger, as they are heavy and hard to digest and may aggravate phlegm (Ama). The effect of a formula depends upon the predominance of herbs in it and should not be too one sided in action.

Typical drying expectorants: calamus, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, hyssop, mustard seed, orange peel, pippali, sage.

Typical moistening expectorant or demulcents: comfrey root, licorice, marshmallow, milk, raw sugar.

How Expectorants Work

Stimulating expectorants are more indicated for cases of excessive mucus production. They often work by chemically irritating the lining of the bronchioles to stimulate the expulsion of congested material within the lungs & bronchioles by increasing the activity of the mucociliary escalator. They are often emetics at high doses, as they appear to work by way of a reflex action on the lining of the gut, related to the plant constituent saponins. Herbal examples include:

Inulahelenium (Elecampane)

Glycyrrhizaglabra (Licorice)

Sanguinariacanadensis (Bloodroot)

Hyssopus off. (Hyssop)

Lobelia inflata (Lobelia)

Soothing or Relaxing expectorants are more indicated when excessive or sticky mucous produces an unproductive and/or irritable-type cough, where they soothe bronchial spasm and loosen mucus secretion. Some owe their action to their mucilage content and volatile oils, and generally derive their action by relaxing body tissues, encouraging the production of a thinner, looser mucous which is more easily voided. Herbal examples include: 

Tussilagofarfara (Coltsfoot)

Glycyrrhizaglabra (Licorice)

Althea officinalis (Marshmallow)

Plantagolanceolata/major (Plantain)

Verbascumthapsus (Mullein)

Trigonellafoenum-graecum (Fenugreek)

Respiratory Tonic or Amphoterics may be stimulating OR soothing, depending on the body’s need, and will often aid in the regeneration of damaged or inflamed lung tissue. Herbal examples include:

Equisetum arvense (Horsetail)

Hydrastiscanadensis (Golden Seal)

Plantagolanceolata/major (Plantain)

Glycyrrhizaglabra (Licorice)

Note: There may be some overlap between these actions & herbs (eg. Glycyrrhizaglabra)


Superior Health and Disease Prevention in a 5-Day miraculous Life-Changing Challenge!