Herbalism and homeopathy are two natural methods some people claim will help to treat your asthma symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about these methods.

Herbalism

Herbalism uses plants and plant products to prevent and treat health conditions. Herbalism is based on folk medicine. Many medicines commonly used today in the U.S. contain active ingredients from plants. Herbs are used in many forms, including teas, extracts, pills, and tinctures. Tinctures are dried flower, bark, or seeds chopped up and soaked in small amounts of alcohol that are taken as drops in another liquid such as juice, water, or tea.

There is currently limited research information on herbs. There is also a lack of control over the quality of herbal products and the actual amount of the active ingredient in these products. Herbal products can be marketed only as food supplements. No specific health claims can be made without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Herbs may interact with other herbs and prescription and non-prescription medicines. This can result in harmful effects for you. Tell your doctor and pharmacist of any herbs you use. While some of these herbs have been shown to be safe, other herbs used for asthma can be quite harmful. Here are a few of the herbs most commonly used for asthma:

Common Name: Khella or Bishop's Weed

Botanical Name: Ammi Visnaga

Khella is used to help prevent spasms of smooth muscles, such as your lungs. Claims that khella opens airways are unproven. Long-term use or overdose can lead to queasiness, dizziness, loss of appetite, headache, and sleep problems. Extremely high doses can be harmful, causing many serious complications including liver problems.

Common Name: Ma-Huang, Desert Herb, Ephedrine

Botanical Name: Ephedra Sinica

Ma-Huang is used to reduce bronchospasms. But this herb contains ephedrine, a toxic and potentially dangerous drug that stimulates the sympathetic and central nervous system. People with high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, thyroid disease, glaucoma, or prostate problems should definitely not use Ma-Huang.

Side effects can include headache, nausea, restlessness, urinary problems, vomiting, rise in blood pressure, and palpitations of your heart. You can also become dependent on this herb. And it can interact with many other medicines, causing further problems. The risks you face in taking this herb outweigh any benefits.

Common Name: Pleurisy Root

Botanical Name: Asclepias Tuberosa

Pleurisy root is used in a liquid extract that acts as an expectorant and to ease breathing. In high doses, it can cause vomiting and poisoning. It can also cause heart related problems.

Homeopathy

In homeopathy, a substance known to cause a symptom is given in a very small dose to stimulate natural defenses. Homeopathic remedies are made from plant, animal, or mineral substances that are diluted and put in sugar pills. Homeopathy is used to treat as well as to prevent. One example of a homeopathic remedy used for asthma is khella. Hundreds of homeopathic remedies are available to consumers, but most of these have not been proven to be safe or effective.

Written by Karen Serrano, MD

Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD

Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine

Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University

Board certified in Allergy and Immunology

Last updated June 2008