Witch Cabinet: Treating bronchitis

Welcome to the first installment of my new column, The Witch Cabinet. In this column I will dispense herbal and DIY self care wisdom. Please know that I am not an expert – and honestly I question the logic behind expert status. I’m a kitchen witch, a folk herbalist and a home remedy wiz who has learned from generations of women and femmes.

In this first column I’m going to share with you what I have learned to treat bronchitis.

I got bronchitis about seven times when I was in university. The mucousy phlegmy cough would keep me up at night and made it hard for me to sleep and eat and think clearly. Recently I’ve seen loads of people posting on social media asking for tips to heal bronchitis without antibiotics. I *totally* understand the desire to not use antibiotics to treat bronchitis. Antibiotics are helpful for bacterial infections and bronchitis is commonly caused by viral infections. Plus antibiotics can strip your digestive tract and body of beneficial flora that your body relies on for its overall health and vitality. That being said, there are times when antibiotics can be life saving. If you do decide to see a doctor to treat your bronchitis, I’d advise caution with antibiotics, but I would never advise someone to refuse them on principle if you really need them. Talk with your doctor, listen to your body, and if you need to take antibiotics make sure you take them with lots of probiotic rich foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and miso.

When I had bronchitis I learned that the main function of this infection was to ground me the heck down.

Moisture was literally collecting in my lungs to slow down my breathing, and draw my breath back down through my feet. I always got bronchitis at the end of semester, right when I had exams. In fact, when I left university, it was because I had bronchitis for the 7th time and I decided to drop out and deeply rest, instead of push through and force my body to fight to meet external standards of excellence and scholarship.

But academic criticism aside… after my first round of antibiotics with bronchitis I researched the antibiotics I was given thoroughly. I realized that I didn’t actually need to be taking anti-biotics and they may have been hurting me more than helping.

So if you, like me, want to use antibiotics as a back up, rather than as a first line of defense, here are some idea for treating bronchitis with herbs and other at-home care strategies.

Cottonwood – I absolutely adore this plant. The sticky resin in cottonwood smells like warm honey on the wind. Cottonwood has salicin in it, which is the origin compound of aspirin. Cotton tincture can reduce fevers, soothe pain and inflammation, and balance moisture in the lungs. This means if your lungs are too dry it will offer moisture and if they are too moist it will dry them out. It always amazes me how to this plant can cause different changes in the body based on what you are needing. It really is incredible.

Cabbage – Cabbage is fantastic for drying up excess moisture. You can eat it in soups, as well as in sauerkraut, which offers those beneficial probiotics I mentioned earlier. Another way to use cabbage is to cover it in boiling water and cover your face with a towel and breathe it in deep.

Essential Oils – I will say, I am somewhat wary of essential oils. They use a huge amount of the plant for a small amount of oil and they are tough to make yourself – which makes sourcing good quality products challenging. That being said, they do work wonders for bronchitis. Some of my favourite essential oils for any cough or congestion are eucalyptus, lavender, cedar and pine. You could add them to a bath or steam, or to a diffuser or air humidifier.

Baths, showers, warm tea and hot spicy soup – Warm water is a key tool for me when I am treating bronchitis. The heat from the water increases blood flow which helps flush out toxins, it also relaxes inflamed and sore tissues, which allows for relief from pain and congestion. Also keeping yourself well hydrated is super important, especially if you have a fever. You can add herbs to a bath to help you body absorb the medicine, as well as essential oils, or epsom salts. Teas are wonderful for taking in herbs and you can also add them to soups. Eating spicy foods can also be helpful to help increase blood flow and move congested mucous through the body.

Ginger – I love ginger, in tea, in broth, in food, infused in honey, even raw in juice. I live in Canada (otherwise known decolonially as Turtle Island) where it is cooooolld in the winter time. Coldness effects the body in a number of ways (which I won’t get into here for the sake of brevity) but warming herbs and roots like ginger are a lovely antidote to frigid temperatures and frigid emotions. I use ginger in salves through infused oils, as well as in decoctions for teas and in the bath. I also love to use it in bone broth. This root is warming, supports the digestive and immune systems and increases blood flow to the whole body. Ginger is also an herb that supports the efficacy of many other herbs, and it’s yummy so it pairs well with many herbs and foods. Ginger honey with lemon in warm water or soup is one of my all time favourites.

Bone broth – I can not speak highly enough to the wonders of bone broth. To make bone broth you take bones from well-loved and well-fed animals and cook them in a slow cooker over night with water, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper and you can also add tough rooty herbs to decoct (ginger and cinnamon are my favourites, but I will also add oregon grape from time to time). Bone broth is warming and rich in hearty fats and minerals. The broth makes the nutrients very bioavailable and you can use it in cooking grains, for soups, or just drink it straight or with miso. Bone broth is great when you are sick and having a hard time eating. It allows your body to get more essential nutrients and soothes a sore throat, while helping keep you warm.

Yarrow – Yarrow is abundant in many places, often treated as weed. It’s pain relieving and helps treat fevers. It will make you sweat, so if you drink it I’d pair it with lots of water. I love yarrow in the bath to help myself sweat through a fever or aches and pain. Yarrow is also a fantastic herb for setting boundaries, which often helps people who need to re-prioritize and ground out – which is the root cause of bronchitis in the first place, energetically speaking.

Oregon Grape – Oregon grape is a fantastic herb for infections as it helps support the liver and ward off infections, because it is packed with berberine. The plant is more abundant than other popular antibiotic herbs like golden seal, though it contains similar properties. If I was told I needed antibiotics I would turn to oregon grape first, see how I feel after taking it, drinking lots of water, resting and go from there.

To close I want to add that I, as a practicing folk herbalist, do use things like NeoCitran when I am sick. It is ok to use allopathic pain relievers if you need them. It’s ok to speak with a doctor if you need that. What matters is that you feel empowered rather than shamed in your decisions, and that you make those decisions from a place of wisdom, rather than a place of fear.

Trust your body first and foremost and if you can, make time to love and care for yourself the way your body is asking for.

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  1. emily s. says:

    This is an awesome article, thank you so much! I love that you are honest about being wary of essential oils…I am also. I’ve been pretty anxious about using alternative medicines and remedies (what if I am allergic to something?), but reading your explanations & ideas for treatment seem reasonable and accessible 🙂

    • andi says:

      yeah essential oils are a controversial subject for sure! i know lots of people who love and swear by them. i use them and i find them helpful, but i just know it feels inaccessible to make them myself, which i really don’t like. i much prefer to have a relationship to the land i harvest from rather than buy things where i can’t be certain about the sourcing. but i also don’t want to shame people if they have found something that works for them.

      and totally i get concerns about allergies for sure. it’s good to research all the plants you work with and start with low doses to see how they make you feel. also if you KNOW you have allergies you can avoid plants in similar families etc. harm reduction and accessibility feel really important to me, as well as self exploration. <3

  2. Jaslyn says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I’m dealing with bronchitis right now and I really don’t want to take antibiotics if I can avoid it. I will give some of your suggested remedies a try!

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