Continued From Part Two: Diet and Supplements that Help You Quit Smoking.
Did you know you can use a wide variety of herbs to quit smoking? Different herbs will assist you to quit in different ways; certain herbs will decrease withdrawal symptoms, others will ease stress and anxiety, reduce cravings, or help detoxify the lungs and body.
How to Use Herbs to Quit Smoking
Unless otherwise stated, the herbs listed below can be taken as a tea or in tincture or capsule form. Some herbs, if noted, can even be smoked.
Some herbs can taste unpleasant. If the taste is preventing you from taking a herb regularly, then try mixing it in with another herbal tea that you do enjoy drinking.
Certain herbs, such as lobelia, require a lower dose, whereas other herbs can be taken at a higher dose. In general, most herbs are not taken more than 3x per day, and each dose can be one cup of tea or 10-30 drops of tincture. If you are taking capsules, follow the directions on the bottle as potency will vary according to the manufacturer.
Most of these herbs are very common, but if you have trouble finding them at your local shop then check online retailers.
Calamus (Acorus calamus)
Calamus, otherwise known as Sweet Flag, helps to eliminate excess mucus and clear congestion in the bronchioles. It is traditionally used to treat asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough, but is also of great use in removing the residual toxins in the lungs from cigarette smoking.
Calamus is a calming and centering herb. It also has stimulating properties, and while it can treat anxiety, it will also give you the extra energy and stamina that you need while in withdrawal.
Also, a well know digestive aid, calamus can help relieve upset stomach that may occur during the acute phases of withdrawal. Because of its effects on digestion, calamus tends to increase appetite, so be aware of this if you are taking calamus and are concerned with putting on weight once you quit smoking.
Some say that chewing calamus root kills the taste for tobacco; it’s worth a try since the root has many other benefits in regards to quitting smoking.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
While catnip excites cats, it calms down humans. Catnip reduces anxiety and can help those suffering from insomnia. Since catnip calms the mind, it can help take the edge off the first few days after you quit smoking.
Catnip is also helpful for easing digestive upset and alleviating headaches which can occur during the withdrawal period.
Catnip may also help to reduce cravings for cigarettes. Putting several drops of catnip tincture on the back of the tongue is said to decrease the desire for cigarettes.
Some people smoke catnip, but smoking it may cause headaches, so proceed with caution if you choose to do so.
Excessive intake of catnip may cause headaches, nausea, or vomiting.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
Coltsfoot is an expectorant herb, which means that it promotes coughing and helps to expel mucus. Coltsfoot is an excellent herb for cleansing the lungs, but using too high of a dose can lead to coughing fits. Start using coltsfoot at a low dose; you want to cough once in a while to bring up the excess phlegm and clear the toxins, but not so much that coughing becomes incessant.
Do not use coltsfoot if you cannot stop coughing, if you are coughing up blood, or if you have pain when breathing.
Horsetail (Equisitum arvense)
Horsetail contains a small amount of nicotine and can help alleviate cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms in the first few days after you quit smoking.
If using horsetail for more than six weeks continuously, it is important to take a break from the herb for three weeks, as excessive use can cause urinary irritation.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Hyssop’s expectorant properties clear mucous congestion and purify the lungs. Hyssop also soothes irritated mucous membranes in the respiratory system, and it is often used for treating respiratory ailments.
Hyssop is also used to help one cope with any extra stress that may be associated with quitting smoking. Hyssop relieves anxiety, soothes the nervous system and enhances mental clarity.
It may also help lessen withdrawal symptoms as hyssop is known to help clear toxins in the intestines, bladder, and kidneys in addition to its cleansing action in the lungs. Hyssop is also a diaphoretic herb, meaning that it promotes sweating which will help in cleansing the body of toxins through the skin.
Hyssop does have laxative properties, if you experience excessive diarrhea while taking this herb, stop taking it for a few days, then resume with a milder dose.
Korean Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Korean ginseng has adaptogenic properties, meaning that it helps the body deal with physical and emotional stress and to restore balance in the body. It is a tonic for health and helps improve overall well-being. Korean ginseng is also a tonic for the adrenal glands and it reestablishes proper cortisol levels in the bloodstream. Because it energizes the body and helps deal with symptoms of stress and fatigue, Korean ginseng may increase energy, endurance and stamina during the withdrawal period.
Korean ginseng will help one deal with the mental and emotional stresses of quitting as it sharpens concentration, improves mood and may lessen anxiety.
Often used for breathing problems and asthma, Korean ginseng dilates constricted vessels in the lungs and may help rebuild the general health of the lungs.
Korean ginseng has been studied for its effects on cancer prevention. It has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing lung cancer, as well as other types of cancers, and may be beneficial if you are worried about the carcinogenic effects of a long-term smoking habit.
Do not take ginseng for prolonged periods without a break. For example, alternate periods of a few weeks of taking ginseng with a few weeks of not taking ginseng. In this way, you will avoid side effects that may occur from taking ginseng for extended periods.
If you have insomnia, do not take ginseng later than midday as it may interfere with sleep.
Do not take ginseng if you have a heart condition, diabetes, auto-immune disease, bleeding disorder, schizophrenia or a hormone-sensitive condition; ginseng has various effects which can make these conditions worse. If you are on medication to prevent organ rejection after transplant, do not take ginseng as it can interfere with the medication.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is an expectorant and demulcent herb. It has been traditionally used to soothe irritation in the lungs caused by asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments.
It is also an adrenal tonic and can help to balance cortisol levels, reduce fatigue and restore energy.
Chewing on sticks of licorice root (not the candy) can also satisfy the oral fixation of smoking. You can find licorice root at a health food store or herbal shop.
Do not use licorice for more than 4-6 weeks. High doses or long-term use may cause potassium depletion, edema, or high blood pressure.
Avoid using licorice if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, adrenal disease or weaknesses in the kidneys or liver.
Also do not take licorice if you have hormonal conditions such as any estrogen-sensitive condition (uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or breast, uterine or ovarian cancer), low testosterone levels, or an imbalance of aldosterone.
Licorice may interfere with several medications including ACE inhibitors, diuretics, corticosteroids, Digoxin, MAO inhibitors, Warfarin or medications processed by the liver.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
Lobelia, also known as Indian tobacco, is shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with the cessation of smoking. The reason why Lobelia has this effect is because it contains an alkaloid called lobeline which binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as nicotine. Lobeline produces similar effects in the body as nicotine, without causing the damage that nicotine causes. It is also not addictive or habit-forming.
Another beneficial alkaloid in Lobelia is isolobelaine, which has relaxing effects on the central and autonomic nervous systems. It helps to ease tension and calm the nerves, aiding those who are going through withdrawal symptoms.
Lobelia is also an expectorant and an anti-spasmodic herb. It is commonly used to treat lung conditions such as asthma, whooping cough, and pneumonia. Lobelia will help clear the lungs and ease spastic coughing.
While you are in the withdrawal period, you can take Lobelia regularly, as you would other herbs, or you can try it on an “as needed” basis, and use it only when cravings are really bad. If a craving for cigarettes comes about, take 5-10 drops of Lobelia tincture under the tongue, or sip a tea made of Lobelia, and the craving should subside within 5 minutes.
Lobelia has quite an unpleasant taste, but given its potential benefits, it’s worth enduring.
Lobelia is a potent herb, and when taken in high doses it may cause nausea and vomiting. It is best to start with a lower dose, and if you do not feel results than increase the dosage gradually if no side effects are noted. If you start to feel nauseous, discontinue the use of the herb for the remainder of the day, and try a smaller dose on the following day.
Too high of a dose can also cause dizziness, light-headedness, dry mouth, vomiting, or excessive sweating.
Do not take Lobelia if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, tobacco sensitivity, paralysis, if you suffer from seizures, or if you are recovering from shock.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Mullein is demulcent in nature, it soothes inflammation and irritation in the lungs. It is often used in the treatment of respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Since mullein has an affinity for the lungs, it is an excellent herb to take when quitting smoking to aid in a quick recovery of the lungs.
Mullein tones the mucous membranes of the lungs and speeds healing of damaged tissue due to its ability to promote cell growth and repair.
Mullein is also an expectorant herb; it relieves congestion and brings up excess mucus, helping to purify the lungs.
In addition to its effects on the lungs, mullein is also a gentle sedative. It has a calming effect and may be helpful in reducing anxiety and treating insomnia experienced when quitting smoking.
Mullein is often used in smoking mixtures, but as more of a base because it lacks body and flavor. You can add mullein to other herbs which are suitable for smoking or use it to dilute your tobacco if you are weaning yourself off of cigarettes.
Oats (Avena sativa)
Sometimes called “wild oats” or “oat grass”, the extract derived from oats can help to ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cigarette cravings. Oats are an effective tonic for the nervous system, and are often recommended in cases of fatigue or nervous exhaustion. Taking an oat extract may help to reduce stress and anxiety, and encourage better sleep.
Oats also relieve depression and improve mood. They are rich in the amino acid L-Tryptophan, which is required for the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which affects mood and well-being.
Using wild oat extract or tea can be a safe and useful addition to your quit-smoking program. Increasing your consumption of oat cereal may also be helpful.
The medicinal value of oats is highly variable. Depending on where the oats were grown or at which stage they were harvested, the dose needed can vary quite a lot. Since oats are extremely safe to take, if you find you are not getting results, then increase your dosage.
Best results come from taking the herb for a few months. You may want to start taking oats a couple of weeks before you plan to quit smoking. There is no problem taking oats long-term.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Passionflower promotes relaxation and calmness. Its calming effect can help those experiencing insomnia and restlessness experienced during the withdrawal period. Passionflower eases symptoms of anxiety and irritability and may also help reduce nicotine cravings.
Passionflower can also be smoked for those who wish to wean themselves off of tobacco. Mix the dried herb with regular tobacco and gradually lessen the amount of tobacco in proportion to the passionflower until no tobacco remains.
Plantain (Plantago major)
Plantain has been shown in clinical trials to create an aversion to smoking when ingested or sprayed into the nasal passage.
Plantain is also a gentle expectorant, helping to expel mucus from the lungs. Plantain is often used to treat conditions of the respiratory system. It is an anti-inflammatory and demulcent herb which soothes irritated mucous membranes, including tissues of the lungs.
Rhodiola (Rhodiala rosea)
The potential benefits of rhodiola for one who is quitting smoking are many.
First, rhodiola may reduce withdrawal symptoms. In a study done on mice who had formed a nicotine dependence, extract of rhodiola rosea was shown to decrease signs of withdrawal exhibited after cessation of nicotine administration. While this study was not done on humans, it does show promise that rhodiola will aid in the reduction of withdrawal symptoms after quitting smoking.
Rhodiola is useful for reducing withdrawal symptoms because it is an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body cope with physical, environmental, and mental stress. It can help increase energy, stamina, and strength and has a history of positive results in treating stress and fatigue.
Rhodiola may also help to counter the effects of weight gain associated with quitting smoking. Not only does it reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (high cortisol levels result in an increase in belly fat) it also helps to burn existing fat. Rhodiola does this by mobilizing fatty acids from adipose tissue and activating adipose lipase, an enzyme needed to burn stored fat.
Rhodiola enhances mental performance and improves mood and overall well-being. It increases levels of beta-endorphins (feel-good chemicals in the brain). It also increases circulation in the brain and increases the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, allowing precursors of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin to pass through. Rhodiola can help improve cases of mild depression, but in some cases may worsen anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. This is because it seems that rhodiola has stimulatory effects when taken in small or medium doses, and a sedative effect when taken in high doses.
If you feel over stimulated or under stimulated, adjust your dose accordingly. Dosages of rhodiola typically range from 200-600mg.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap has nervine properties, it calms, tones and renews the central nervous system. Used to treat nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia, skullcap can help ease tension and stress while quitting smoking.
Skullcap is a calming herb which, in some individuals, increases awareness at the same time. In others, however, this same herb may cause drowsiness.
If skullcap makes you drowsy, do not use it in times when you need to be alert.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Commonly known to treat depression and anxiety, St. John’s wort will calm and relax the mind, reduce agitation and help maintain a positive mental attitude.
St. John’s wort helps to expel excess mucus from the lungs and bronchial tracts. It is often used in treating and healing the lungs in cases of bronchitis and will help repair the lungs from the damages caused by years of smoking.
St. John’s wort is also a powerful blood purifier and cleanser. Taking St. John’s wort will speed up the elimination of toxins in the bloodstream left from cigarette smoking.
It may take 2-3 weeks to notice the effects of St. John’s wort, so begin taking if a few weeks before you plan to quit smoking.
Do not take St. John’s wort if you are on anti-depressant medications, oral contraceptives, medications for HIV, or medications taken after organ transplants to prevent organ rejection because St. John’s wort will decrease the efficacy of these medications.
Do not use St. John’s wort if you have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s or other mental conditions as it may worsen symptoms.
St. John’s wort increases photosensitivity; if you are taking it be sure to protect yourself from the sun to avoid sunburn.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Most known for its effects as a sedative and muscle relaxant, valerian will help you get to sleep if you are experiencing insomnia or nervous sleeplessness related to quitting smoking.
Valerian can also ease the stress, anxiety, irritability and nervous tension that are experienced when quitting smoking.
Valerian may cause drowsiness, so use it only in the evenings and do not drive or operate machinery after taking it.
Valerian may interact with certain medications. Do not take it if you are taking barbiturates and benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, or Valium. Also, avoid using valerian root if you have a weak liver or liver disease.
A Comparison of Herbs to Quit Smoking
|Herb||Boost mood||Reduce stress/ anxiety||Aid sleep||Lessen cravings||Improve energy/ stamina||Expel mucous||Lung healing||Purifies/ cleanses|
|St. John’s Wort||X||X||X||X|
Smoking Herbs to Quit Smoking
As already mentioned, smoking herbs can be a good way for some people to wean themselves off of nicotine. If one has never smoked, then it is not advised to take up herbal smoking. But if you are a smoker and your lungs are full of toxins, than a herbal cigarette will help your lungs to expel the toxic build up in your lungs.
Herbal cigarettes can help in times when you need the comfort of reaching for a cigarette. Used short-term, while you are quitting herbal cigarettes, can help ease the transition and meet the psychological needs of smoking.
Herbs used for smoking are non-addictive and do not contain nicotine or the chemicals that are found in regular cigarettes. They are a healthy replacement for short-term use.
Ready-made herbal cigarettes are available, but the herbs chosen for the mixtures may not be the best ones to help you quit. You can try some of the herbs indicated for smoking earlier in this article or use the blend below which has had a little more thought put into it. This recipe has been adapted only for clarity’s sake. The original is written by Herbalist Howie Brounstein.
Herbal Smoking Mixture
- rubbed mullein leaf (Verbascum thapsus)
- kinnikinnik (bearberry ) leaf (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
- manzanita leaf (Arctostaphylos spp)
- skullcap leaf (Scutellaria laterifolia)
- lobelia leaf (Lobelia inflata)
- coltsfoot leaf (Tussilago farfara)
- peppermint leaf (Mentha piperita) or spearmint leaf (Mentha spicata)
As a light base, use rubbed mullein leaf, add in some astringent herbs (kinnikinnik and manzanita) to give body to the smoking mixture. Make sure to break the kinnikinnik and manzanita into fine pieces, so the burning is even. For a calming effect, the skullcap is needed. Lobelia is an important ingredient because it contains substances which binds to the same receptors as nicotine. If you are used to smoking menthols, then a small amount of peppermint and/or spearmint can also be added to the mixture.
After a couple of weeks, stop adding lobelia to the mix, increase the amount of mullein and add some coltsfoot for its expectorant action which will aid in the cleansing process. Do not add too much coltsfoot as it can lead to coughing fits.
Eventually, you can decrease the astringent herbs, and just smoke mullein alone, but by this time you probably will not want to smoke at all.
Before you buy your herbs for your herbal smoking mixture, make sure you read about herb quality and how to prepare your smoking mixture. For more information read The Preparation of Herbs into a Palatable Smoking Mixture.
Continued in Part Four: Natural Remedies and Complementary Therapies that Help You Quit Smoking
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Read the other 4 parts of this series:
- Part One: Natural and Effective Ways to Stop Smoking
- Part Two: Diet and Supplements that Help You Quit Smoking
- Part Four: Remedies and Complementary Therapies that Help You Quit Smoking
- Part Five: Little Things that Make a Huge Difference in Quitting Smoking Successfully