Seeds from the Ginkgo biloba tree are one of the herbal treatments used in China and the United States that purportedly help alleviate the effects of asthma. In China, the seeds are called “bai gou.” It is believed
to have positive effects on the lungs and kidneys and may alleviate the presence of thick phlegm and at least one clinical study has supported that conclusion. It is believed that the Ginkgo biloba tree’s seeds contain antioxidants which help reduced the effects of asthma.
Other herbal remedies are licorice root (which may cause hypertension and edema), Shinpi-to, coffee and tea (as bronchodilators), Ma huang (a beta-agonist and bronchodilator), Coleus forshkohlii (also a bronchodilator), Typhora indicia (which has been clinically tested and found effective), onions (which block leukotriene synthesis), and bee pollen.
Many current bronchodilators are derived from plants. The Chinese and Indian peoples have used herbal remedies for thousands of years. Dried ivy is another herb that is popular. In a study on the effectiveness of herbal remedies conducted using 304 children with asthma, 31% of the children had tried herbal remedies. There is a substantial lack of clinical evidence to either prove or disprove the effectiveness of herbal remedies for asthmatics.
At least one clinical study found that there was significant responsiveness by asthmatics to a Chinese herb called Saiboku-to after four weeks of treatment taken three times per day. Tylophora indicia has shown to be effective in controlling asthma but the main study using that herb is quite old.
While clinical studies do not overwhelmingly support the effectiveness of herbal remedies for the treatment of asthma, few studies have questioned the effectiveness of herbs. Many asthmatics believe in the effectiveness of herbs to treat their condition and there have been few studies which have definitively indicated that such herbal treatments are harmful or dangerous (aside from a study that disclosed that there were a series of 24 cases of interstitial pneumonitis). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbal products and offers no opinion on the safety or effectiveness of herbal products. It is therefore a decision that each individual with asthma should make for themselves.
Sources: The Lung Association; National Heart Lung and Blood Institute; Wikipedia; and