You have probably wanted to use these herbs more than once in your life. Expectorant herbs help remove mucus from the lower respiratory tract. There are two different kinds of expectorants, those that stimulate removal of fluid through coughing and those that sooth the lung muscles and make the mucus thinner for easier removal. With this second class of herb you want to make sure you are staying properly hydrated as these herbs will use the extra fluid to thin the mucus in an action similar to demulcents.
This herbs main action is to irritate the bronchi to expel mucus. It is particularly helpful for children and those with asthma. Previously, it was a common treatment for tuberculosis. With a large number of different kinds of molecules, elecampane has relaxing effects from mucilage compounds, stimulation from terpenoid molecules, antibacterial effects, and bitter principles to irritate tissue for expectoration. Elecampane is in the aster family so individuals with allergies should take care.
Horehound is particularly helpful for unproductive coughs, when there is mucus congestion but it is not properly expectorating. Like elecampane, horehound is also a bitter herb and stimulates bile flow from the gallbladder. This can be helpful to stimulate digestion during illness so the body can still hunger and get nutrients needed to fuel healing. Horehound was often made into a syrup or sweet drops, one of the main herbs in the original cough syrups and cough drops we use so commonly now, with out herbs.
Licorice is more of a relaxing expectorant and is often added to many herbal formulas not only for its effect on the adrenal system, stress relief, but also because it is very sweet. Personally, it is too sweet for me and I really enjoy sweets. When using licorice, it is important to keep its safety in mind. Licorice should not be used by individuals on a wide variety of pharmaceuticals. If licorice is still recommended for you, consider deglycyrrhizinated licorice that has had the potentially hazardous molecules removed.
I find this plant so be so fun. It is one of the first green things to come out of the ground in the woods around Maryland and it is best known for its stink. It is often used as powdered root in honey to reduce spastic coughing. This calming action can really help relieve chest pain with coughing. Skunk cabbage is also a diaphoretic herb for use during fevers.
For more information on herbal actions such as expectorant 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.