With the ongoing surge in respiratory linked diseases such as coronavirus, tuberculosis and asthma that we are currently experiencing, it is imperative that people have knowledge on how they can alleviate these illnesses at home as this can save many lives. This article, therefore, focuses on scientifically proven herbs that can be used at home to ease symptoms of respiratory illnesses (for example, shortness of breath). Using the herbs mentioned below at home on mild respiratory illnesses can help in lessening the burden on our health service delivery system, which is currently overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

Herbs that relieve breathing problems in Zimbabwe

The following herbs are found locally in Zimbabwe and help with respiratory illnesses:

– Peppermint

– Eucalyptus

– Ginger

– Thyme

1. Peppermint

Peppermint plant
Figure 1: Peppermint plant

Peppermint treats lung ailments and improves the breathing of patients. This is because it has a relaxing effect on the bronchial muscles. In addition, peppermint clears the respiratory tract, easing irritation from acute and chronic respiratory ailments, for example, asthma. Furthermore, it helps in repairing lung tissues and breathing more deeply. Peppermint leaves contain menthol, which is an efficient decongestant. Decongestants constrict swollen cells in the nose, which helps in breathing easier. Moreover, menthol helps in loosening mucus and bringing it up from the lungs. Peppermint helps to heal asthma and coughs.

Peppermint side effects

Peppermint is relatively safe, but it causes side effects like nausea and dry mouth if consumed in excess.

How to use peppermint

Add the leaves to hot water and then inhale the vapour for about five minutes.

Where to find peppermint in Zimbabwe

Peppermint can be found in regions 1, 2 and 3 in Zimbabwe, which include Harare, Mutare and Kwekwe. Peppermint is a seasonal herb that usually flourishes during the rainy season.

Preservation of peppermint

Peppermint can be dried for preservation and this is done by tying the stems collectively in a bunch and hanging them in a dry room until they are crispy.

2. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus leaves
Figure 2: Eucalyptus leaves

Eucalyptus relieve bronchitis. In addition, it strengthens and helps rebuild the respiratory tract, which lessens susceptibility to recurring infections such as pneumonia and persistent coughs. Furthermore, it improves oxygen utilization and modulates a better immune response. Moreover, eucalyptus contains eucalyptus oil, which is helpful in relieving symptoms of sinusitis, rhinitis and respiratory infections. This is due to the anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that the oil possesses.

Eucalyptus side effects

Eucalyptus leaves are safe to use but in some rare instances, they can have side effects like abdominal pains, muscle weakness, nausea and dizziness.

How to use eucalyptus

Boil water and pour it over the leaves in a dish. Cover your head with a cloth and inhale the vapour for 10 minutes.                        

Where to find eucalyptus in Zimbabwe                                         

Eucalyptus is found anywhere in Zimbabwe because it is highly adaptable to both hot and dry areas and cold and wet regions. Eucalyptus is not a seasonal herb; it is found throughout the year.

Preservation of eucalyptus

Eucalyptus leaves can be preserved by hanging them in a dry, dark and cool place until their leaves dry and are crispy.  

3. Ginger

Ginger roots/ ginger herbs
Figure 3: Ginger roots

Ginger relieves nasal congestion, which is one of the common symptoms of the common cold or flu. In addition, ginger contains chemicals known as expectorants which help in dissolving congested phlegm, mucus and clearing it up from the lungs. Also, ginger is used to ease coughing and other symptoms of influenza-like throat irritation.

Ginger side effects

Ginger is usually safe to use and can only have adverse effects when taken in excessive amounts. These side effects include throat irritation, heartburn and diarrhoea.

How to use ginger

The root or rhizome is the part that is used for healing purposes. One can chew the ginger raw or consume it as ginger tea, which is prepared by chopping the ginger and then boiling it in water.

Where to find ginger in Zimbabwe

One can find ginger anywhere in Zimbabwe. Ginger is, however, a seasonal herb that is mainly found in winter, which is the harvesting period.

Preservation of ginger

To preserve ginger, one can use various ways which include pickling, fermentation, vacuuming and freezing. The pickling process involves cutting the ginger into little strips and then adding vinegar for preservation. The vacuuming process involves placing the ginger in a sealable plastic bag with all the air pushed out.

4. Thyme

Thyme herbs
Figure 4: Thyme plant

Thyme is essential in fighting respiratory infections by boosting the immune response. In addition, thyme helps in decreasing inflammation because of the bioflavonoids that it contains. Furthermore, it helps in thinning mucus and relieving congestion. Thyme thus helps in relieving shortness of breath and bronchitis.

Side effects of thyme

Thyme is mostly safe for oral consumption, and it rarely has side effects. However, some side effects which may occur are headaches, abdominal pains and headaches.

How to use thyme

The flowers and leaves of thyme are edible and can be served with food, for example, in beef stews.

Where to find thyme in Zimbabwe

Thyme is grown throughout Zimbabwe because it requires warm to hot temperatures to flourish. Thyme is, however, a seasonal herb that is mostly found during the summer.

Preservation of thyme

Thyme can be preserved by tying the stems into bundles and hanging them to dry in a room without sun exposure. Moisture and light decrease the herb’s flavour, therefore, it is important to store it correctly to preserve its flavour.