Lungwort, also known as lung moss or lobaria pulmonaria, is a lichen that has been used around the world for a variety of respiratory ailments including coughs, colds, bronchial detoxification and catarrhal problems. Lungwort is found in native damp habitats and coastal areas in Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa. Because it’s very sensitive to environmental toxins, the areas in which it is found are typically unpolluted old forests, and thus, the presence of lungwort is often a good indicator of an ecosystem’s health.
A Brief History of Lungwort
In the early 1600s, a theory known as the, “Doctrine of Signatures” was widely accepted. Essentially the foundation of this practice was that plants resembling certain human physical attributes were believed to be beneficial to the part of the body they resembled. It was during this time that lungwort, which resembles the tissue inside the lungs, was discovered to be an effective remedy for respiratory ailments.
Over time, the medical accuracy of many “Doctrine of Signatures” based remedies was discredited. However, modern research suggests lungwort has certain traits, specifically as an antioxidant, and secretolytic, that may be beneficial to lung health.
Lungwort for Reducing Irritation
Two Turkish studies have documented the irritation-relieving efficacy of lungwort. The first, in 2003, examined hot water extracted from the plant and discovered these effects . The second, a 2009 study, found protective effects on the gastrointestinal system which researchers believed to be caused by reducing the anti-redness effects of neutrophils and oxidative stress .
Although these studies focused on the effects to the gastrointestinal systems, it is believed that these beneficial properties are why there is overwhelming anecdotal support for lungwort’s use as a respiratory aid.
Lungwort and Respiratory Issues
In 1999, Advances in Therapy published a study that involved 119 patients who were suffering from acute sinusitis, a sinus infection usually associated with the common cold. They were given a homeopathic concoction consisting of lungwort, Luffa operculata, and potassium dichromate. This mixture acted as a secretolytic, meaning it increased the production of serous mucus in the respiratory tract; which makes phlegm thin, increasing its mobility. After only 4 days, most participants cited a reduction in their symptoms. After two weeks, 81.5% of patients reported that they were without symptoms or significantly improved. No adverse effects were reported .
Lungwort’s Antioxidant Benefits
Lungwort’s role as an effective respiratory therapy is also due in part to its antioxidative properties. A Turkish study examined three species of lichens and found methanol extracts from lungwort to have the strongest antioxidative action, due to its high content of phenolic compounds . A Bulgarian study confirms these findings, noting high phenolic content and antioxidant properties in teas made from the plant .
And, a Russian study used microbial test systems to evaluate the antioxidant properties of 20 different herbal extracts, finding that lungwort tested among the highest in vivo and in vitro. They concluded that it may have antioxidant effects on bacteria through direct inhibition of reactive oxygen species, iron chelation, and antioxidant genes induction .
It is also believed that acids in lungwort make it a powerfully effective against harmful organisms that affect lung and chest function. Expectorant and emollient properties have also been noted, which is why it’s often used for respiratory problems.
Recommended Use of Lungwort
Lungwort is most often available in tinctures, teas, and capsule form. Short term, or infrequent, use of lungwort is generally considered safe. However, because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, long term, regular use is not recommended.
- Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Süleyman H, Odabasoglu F, Aslan A, Cakir A, Karagoz Y, Gocer F, Halici M, Bayir Y. Anti-inflammatory and antiulcerogenic effects of the aqueous extract of Lobaria pulmonaria (L.) Hoffm. Phytomedicine. 2003;10(6-7):552-7.
- Karakus B, Odabasoglu F, Cakir A, Halici Z, Bayir Y, Halici M, Aslan A, Suleyman H. The effects of methanol extract of Lobaria pulmonaria, a lichen species, on indometacin-induced gastric mucosal damage, oxidative stress and neutrophil infiltration. Phytother Res. 2009 May;23(5):635-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2675.
- Adler M. Efficacy and safety of a fixed-combination homeopathic therapy for sinusitis. Adv Ther. 1999 Mar-Apr;16(2):103-11.
- Odabasoglu F, Aslan A, Cakir A, Suleyman H, Karagoz Y, Halici M, Bayir Y. Comparison of antioxidant activity and phenolic content of three lichen species. Phytother Res. 2004 Nov;18(11):938-41.
- Ivanova D, Gerova D, Chervenkov T, Yankova T. Polyphenols and antioxidant capacity of Bulgarian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Jan 4;96(1-2):145-50.
- Oktyabrsky O, Vysochina G, Muzyka N, Samoilova Z, Kukushkina T, Smirnova G. Assessment of anti-oxidant activity of plant extracts using microbial test systems. J Appl Microbiol. 2009 Apr;106(4):1175-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2008.04083.x. Epub 2009 Jan 30.