Herbalism, Tea
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Mullein, Cedar and Tangerine Peel: Simple Tea for the Lungs



Sometimes simple is good

A few months ago, I experienced a lingering cough after an case of influenza. When it was a stronger, more irritating cough, I treated it aggressively with Planetary Formulas’ Old Indian Wild Cherry Syrup (plus other things). It’s strong stuff, but when I have had bronchial infections it has historically helped so much that I go straight to it.

After the worst of the cough was gone, I reached for a tea of three simple herbs which are easy to harvest and created a tea general tea for the lungs that’s quite delicious.

Three Herb Tea for Promoting General Lung Function

  • Mullein – Verbascum thapsus.
  • Red Cedar –Thuja plicata.
  • Dried Tangerine Peel – Citrus tangerina. 

I don’t often measure my teas, but if I had to guess, I take about 2 tablespoon-fulls of red cedar and tangerine peel. By 2 tablespoon-fulls, I mean that I dip the tablespoon in the herb jar and pull out what it can hold, not a level spoonful by any means. For the mullein, I broke up 1 smallish-medium leaf or 2 small leaves.

I added these herbs to a pint jar and filled it with boiled water, and let it steep for at least 30 mins. The best thing about this tea is that it can be steeped and re-steeped, up to 5 times. I left it sit overnight a couple of times and it was incredibly rich and delicious, and very soothing as the mullein and tangerine peel’s mucilaginous properties were fully extracted.

As mentioned below, please be careful with red cedar. Avoid long term use and don’t use if you are pregnant or have kidney issues.


Mullein is mucilaginous and soothes the mucosa of a dried out, irritated and tickly respiratory system. The mullein came from an empty lot in my neighborhood. I like to dry them whole, slitting the bigger leaves down the center vein to help them dry. Before making the tea, I gently crush it to release its aroma. Yes, mullein has a sweet and sour aroma that I never captured until I started drying and storing the leaves whole.

Red Cedar is another easily harvested herb. A big cedar tree grows in the neighboring apartment buildings back yard. After a windy day, I pick up branches from the ground and dry them for tea, baths, steams and hair rinses. Not only is red cedar antimicrobial, but as Michael Moore says in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest,

“Red Cedar is an immunostimulant, increasing phagocytosis (scavenging) by granulocytes (scavenging white blood cells); and small, daily doses (in the absence of kidney disorders or pregnancy) can increase resistance to chronic respiratory and intestinal infections.” (p 211)

The taste and aroma of cedar is literally like a breath of fresh air. After a few sips of the warm tea, I notice my breath getting deeper, my shoulders dropping, my chest opening. It’s true forest medicine, living and breathing.

Lastly, I added home-dried tangerine and mandarin peels. When they are in season, I buy the small cases of them and save all the peels. They add to the phlegm-resolving qualities of the formula since they are warm, aromatic and moving.

You must make sure that the fruit are organic, because not only do non-organic fruit have herbicides/pesticides/fungicides which concentrate in the peel, they also have a lot of preserving wax on their peels. Occasionally I find that some organic tangerines and mandarins have a preservative wax, and although they are considered “food safe”, they don’t make a good cup of tea. So choose your citrus peels carefully if you want to save them yourselves.

In Chinese medicine, aged tangerine peels are called Chen Pi and are a commonly used herb.  Chen Pi is in the Regulate Qi category and is used to dry dampness and resolves phlegm in the Lungs and Middle Jiao (upper digestion). It’s warm, acrid, aromatic and bitter. I am not sure how or for how long the tangerine peels are aged, but I have confirmed that they are quite a bit stronger, more fierce, than my own dried peels. Chen Pi isn’t nearly as orange or soft as my peels. I imagine that their actions, flavors and constituents concentrate and intensify as it ages.

I have a little tangerine peel aging experiment going on. For the last 3 years, I have filled a paper bag with a handful of freshly aged peels and put it away. Eventually I will try them all side by side and compare the tastes and actions. Already the batch from three years ago is looking less fresh orange and more, well, aged.

Wishing you all happy lungs, abundant herbs and delicious teas….




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