Demulcent herbs are the sticky, the ooie, the gooie ones that make your throat feel great when you are sick. Demulcent herbs are most often taken as powders or cold infusions. When made with hot water, a demulcent herb tea may be too gooie to handle so best to use a cold infusion.
Demulcents are not just helpful for the throat. These herbs that all contain mucilage compounds, long molecules that like to stick to each other. They can be used to lubricate tissues and sooth them when they are irritated. Some of them act on the respiratory tract, urinary tract, and others the digestive system where they are great to help calm inflammation due to foods that may be irritating.
Probably the most well known demulcent herb there is, you may be more familiar with corn syrup turned into marshmallow puffs rather than the marshmallow plant. The marshmallow root can be boiled to make a decoction and simmered to make marshmallow puffs but they are very different than what you are used to. I like to always throw in a few pieces of marshmallow root to a hot infusion (not decoction) to get some of the mucilage compounds when I am feeling sick to help protect my throat and respiratory system.
Personally, I do not care for the taste of licorice root. It is very sweet; considered to be 50 times more sweet than sugar. When taking a tea for being sick, licorice can be a great substitute for sweetener and it also has demulcent properties. It can also be drunk more regularly for gastritis and ulcers. Do take care if you are watching your blood pressure as quantities of more than 1 gram of licorice a day may increase blood pressure.
This plant is one of the more controversial herbs these days. Being full of mucilage compounds it is excellent for wound healing, both in and out of the body, ulcers along the entire digestive system, as well as irritation for the lungs. It is important to note that there is some concern that some of the molecules of comfrey are pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Consistent ingestion of these molecules may cause damage to the liver. If used internally, be sure to work with a professional herbalist for appropriate dosage and duration. Topical use of comfrey for wound healing is superb and it should be used freely on closed wounds.
Mullein leaf tea is just incredible for hard coughs with soreness in the chest. Between the demulcent activities of mullein’s leaves and it being an antiinflammatory it is ideal for reducing chest pressure associated with respiratory infections. If you have an infection you may want to consider mixing mullein with some more antibacterial and antiviral herbs as well. Mullein flowers are commonly used topically infused in oil for skin irritation and ear infections.
For more information on herbal actions such as demulcent herbs, please consult the book “Medical Herbalism” by David Hoffmann. If you are interested in using these and other herbs on a daily basis, please consult with a professional herbalist.