Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs that can cause them to fill with fluid making it harder to breathe. The cause can be a virus, bacteria, or a fungal infection which our bodies normally excel at keeping out of the lungs. This is why pneumonia so often follows on the heels of another illness or otherwise stressful period. The previous illness or hardship stressed our immune systems and allowed it or an opportunistic pathogen to overwhelm our immune system and break into the lungs.

Pneumonia can range from mild to severe and it can even be life threatening. It also has a tendency to dampen appetites and make recovering our strength harder. In the following excerpt from the book The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A Duke, PhD and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors discuss healing foods and what to eat when you have pneumonia.


Serious diseases often wait until you’re down to strike—that is, when your immune system has become weak from fighting some other illness. True to form, pneumonia frequently—although not always—develops from a chest cold or the flu. And it can turn deadly. About 50,000 people in the United States lose their lives to pneumonia each year.

People with taxed immune systems, such as those with chronic diseases and the elderly, have the highest risk of pneumonia, and surprisingly, a hospital stay can raise the risk even more.

Because the infection grows deep in your lungs, the symptoms of pneumonia can be dramatic. You may feel chest pain and experience fever, chills, cough, and shortness of breath. Most doctors prescribe antibiotics for pneumonia, but these drugs won’t work in all cases, first because antibiotic-resistant strains of the disease have developed and second because in half of all cases, a virus, not a bacterium, is the culprit. In rarer cases, fungi or other organisms cause pneumonia.

In my opinion, our government should be teaching us how to boost our immune systems with safe, preventive phytochemicals for protection against pneumonia, but since there aren’t any government agencies or major associations of conventional medicine willing to offer this kind of advice, I’m leaping into the breach.

BronchoBuster Spread

To open up your sinuses and bronchial tubes, you may want to try my BronchoBuster Spread, which incorporates some of the most important foods that relieve congestion. Combine chopped chili peppers, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mustard, onion, turmeric, and wasabi and use as a spread on crackers or bread. You could also make a piping hot tea with any or all of those ingredients.

There are many promising foods for boosting your immune system, including bilberry, burdock, calendula, camu camu, cantaloupe, cassia, chamomile, chickpeas, cinnamon, dandelion, elderberry, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, grapes, jujubes, oats, onion, oregano, shiitake, spinach, sweet potatoes, thyme, and turmeric. There is also a long list of herbs to relieve stress, which is important because stress lowers immunity.

Because pneumonia can be life-threatening, see your physician for treatment if you have any unusual symptoms in your chest or lungs. Immunity-boosting foods can help you avoid this illness, but if you do develop an infection, you need medical treatment. Also, be sure to get your doctor’s permission before taking any herbs or supplements.

Healing Foods for Pneumonia

To protect yourself against pneumonia, you need a two-pronged defense. First, look in the Colds and Flu chapter on page 100 for advice on ways to combat those two conditions, either of which can lead to pneumonia. Then add some of the foods below to your diet to strengthen your immune system.

Elderberry. After successfully thwarting a flu that was making the rounds with a proprietary elderberry extract called Blockade, I decided to score it for anti-pneumonic activity. As discovered, the European elderberry—and probably our American variety as well—is an herbal shotgun, with more than a dozen antibacterial and antiviral compounds, plus nearly a dozen antifungal compounds.

Garlic. Garlic is practically a wonder food for treating infections, and naturopaths use it widely. It has more than 2,000 biologically active substances that give it medicinal properties. Chris Deatherage, ND, who lives and practices in rural Missouri, likes to combine garlic and hydrotherapy for acute illnesses like pneumonia and strep throat. Jill Stansbury, ND, of the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon, tells her students to use garlic to kill bacteria and viruses that cause bronchitis and gastrointestinal infections.

Ethiopian scientists have also studied the antibacterial properties of garlic on pneumonia-causing bacteria and concluded that it may be effective at fighting some strains of the disease.

Pomegranate. This tangy fruit scored as well as garlic in my database search for pneumonia-fighting properties. And a study on mice showed that pomegranate juice appears to help the lungs. The researchers induced tumors in mice and then gave half of them pomegranate. Those who drank the juice had marked reduction in tumor replication. The seeds and juicy flesh of the pomegranate fruit are full of antioxidants and help fight bacteria, virus es, and inflammation while boosting immunity.

Citrus fruits. Because of their vitamin C content, eating oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons, and limes can improve your immunity and make you more likely to fight off dis ease. Research has clearly shown that people who consume high amounts of vitamin C in their diets have healthier lungs. The vitamin boosts your immune system and helps protect you from viral infections. Some doctors even use very high doses of vitamin C supplements to treat pneumonia. I don’t recommend trying to treat pneumonia on your own, but working to prevent it by getting plenty of vitamin C in your diet is a good idea.

The type of citrus fruit that scores highest in my database for vitamin C content was camu camu, which grows on a bush in the Amazonian rainforest of Peru. It’s followed by emblic, a berry-like tropical fruit; rosehips; bell peppers; cayenne; cashew apple, a fruit that’s native to Brazil; pokeweed shoots, an herb native to eastern North America; vine spinach; Cherokee rose; guava; watercress; and sweet potato. Other sources include broccoli, papayas, kiwifruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, mangoes, tomatoes, green cabbage, and spinach. It also wouldn’t hurt to take an additional supplement of vitamin C.

Onions. Like garlic, onions have compounds that fight respiratory infections, including pneumonia. When I addressed 100 physicians at Flower Hospital in Toledo in 1995, one physician told a story of a Lebanese patient with a lung infection who had checked into a sanitarium several decades ago (when sanitariums were in vogue). After finding a load of onions, he ate several every day and was well within a month. Add plenty of onions and garlic to your meals, especially chicken soup.

Oregano. This spice does more than add flavor to your spaghetti sauce. Lab studies show that it may also boost the immune system. It also fights bacteria and inflammation, helps relieve stress, suppresses a cough, acts as a decongestant, and helps clear the air ways of mucus.

Basil. Who doesn’t love a salad with sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella, and peppery basil topped off with a drizzle of olive oil? Basil scored well in my database to fight pneumonia, owing to its antioxidants and activities that fight bacteria and viruses and stimulate the immune system.

Celery. This flavor-packed vegetable is well known for stimulating the immune system to help fight disease. Celery is packed with antioxidants and compounds that fight bacteria, viruses, and inflammation.

Cinnamon. You may know that cinnamon extract helps people with diabetes control their blood sugar, but I also recommend using it to boost your immunity.

Ginger. It’s known for settling nausea from motion sickness, chemotherapy, or pregnancy, but ginger also enhances your immune system. I like to make a tea by adding ginger shavings to boiling water.

Green and white tea. Green tea is full of antioxidants that rev up your immune system and help you stave off pneumonia and other diseases. Egyptian researchers found that drinking green tea while taking antibiotics improved the effectiveness of the antibiotics by up to three times. It worked by making the antibiotics more effective at killing bacteria and by making the bacteria more vulnerable to the antibiotic, even in cases where the strain of bacteria had become resistant.

Research is also shedding light on white tea as an immunity booster. In a study at Pace University in New York City, researchers found that white tea extract actually destroyed bacteria that can lead to pneumonia and other diseases such as staph infections. The extract worked even better than green tea at fighting bacteria and viruses in the body.


The foods listed below weaken rather than strengthen your immune system, so you should avoid them.

Too much alcohol. Alcohol interferes with your white blood cells’ ability to fight infec tion. Drinking too much lowers your immu nity and can make it harder for your body to fight an infection such as pneumonia.

Foods high in fat or sugar. Because pneu monia strikes when your immune system is down, focusing on immunity-building foods rather than foods with fewer nutri ents (reaching for fresh fruits and vegeta bles rather than candy and cakes) will help your body fight off infection.

Rosemary. Like basil, rosemary is a culinary herb that scored well in my database for increasing immunity and fighting pneumonia. It’s wonderful on chicken and lamb and in soups and stews.

Turmeric. This spice is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine as an aid for digestion, to relieve arthritis, to improve liver function, and to regulate menstrual cycles, and it also helps improve immunity and fight bacteria and viruses. Researchers have discovered that a specific active ingredient in turmeric root called bisdemethoxycurcumin is what may be responsible for increasing immunity.

From the Herbal Medicine Chest

These herbs work particularly well for pneumonia.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Traditional Chinese Medicine calls for dandelion to treat pneumonia and other upper respiratory tract infections, and clinical trials have demon strated that it works. I recommend cooking the greens and roots and drinking the juice that remains in the pot, called the pot liquor. Drinking tea made from the dried herb or taking capsules is also an option.

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.). Herbs like echinacea that stimulate the immune system can help with all types of pneumonia and infections. Six studies have even shown that echi nacea is helpful for upper respiratory infections, but doctors don’t know which of the several compounds in the herb are most active. If you have a lung infection, take one or two teaspoons of tincture in juice or tea several times a day.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Make goldenseal part of your overall plan for prevent ing and (with your doctor’s permission) treating pneumonia. It contains two antimicrobial constituents, hydrastine and berberine. You can find tinctures of the herb at health food stores; follow the directions on the label. Goldenseal can be used along with barberry, goldthread, Oregon grape, and yellowroot because they have similar effects.

For additional advice on proven natural remedies for common health conditions, purchase The Green Pharmacy from

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