Expectorants are substances which are used to help clear mucus or phlegm from the chest and air passages. Many over-the-counter cold and flu remedies contain synthetic expectorants such as Guaifenesin. The Mayo Clinic provides a more complete list. In addition, there are a few herbs which act as natural expectorants and are used by herbalists to treat both sinus and chest congestion. Always check with your physician or healthcare practitioner before trying herbs or other supplements.
Eucalyptus is a large tree originally from Australia, but now found throughout the Mediterranean and North America. The oil of the eucalyptus leaves is naturally antiseptic and antibacterial, and has been used for centuries by herbalists to treat wounds and infections. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center the leaves also contain substances which are naturally expectorant and have an anti-inflammatory action. Both eucalyptus oil and tea made from the leaves are used today to treat colds, flu, fevers, and sinus infections. Eucalyptus extract is often found over the counter in many natural remedies for coughs, colds, bronchitis and sinusitis. The tea can be consumed or used as a gargle for sore throats. Eucalyptus oils can be rubbed on the chest to relieve congestion or added to vaporisers or steam baths. The University of Maryland also cautions that although the use of herbs is time honoured, some may contain elements which trigger side effects or interact with other medications.
Ginger is a common culinary spice that also has a variety of medicinal properties. It is a versatile herb that is used by herbalists to treat nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, upset stomach, arthritis, and migraine headaches. The Clayton College of Natural Health herb guide notes that it has natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps to relieve congestion and remove mucus from the body. Because of its multiple healing actions, herbalists use ginger to address several of the symptoms associated with the flu and common cold. The herb guide recommends using fresh ginger. It can be added to soups or other foods, or made into an herbal tea. As with any herb or supplement, check with your physician before using ginger for medicinal purposes.
Horehound is a perennial shrub in the mint family. Traditionally white horehound was used to make horehound sweets. Anciently the herb was used to treat coughs and colds, and as an antidote for certain poisons. In her reference book, "The Complete Medicinal Herbal", herbalist and author Penelope Cody lists its actions as antispasmodic, demulcent, and expectorant, relaxing the bronchi and relieving chest congestion. She recommends taking horehound in herbal tea or as a tincture, and combining it with other tonic herbs such as hyssop and angelica. It may also be found over the counter in some natural cough syrup preparations. Although horehound has been used for centuries, its use as a medicine has not received thorough medical review. Use with caution and under the direction of a trained healthcare professional.