BackgroundPoor access to healthcare in rural communities causes many people to seek herbalists who use medicinal plants for the treatment of various disease conditions. Most knowledge of traditional herbal medicine makes use of indigenous remedies which are often undocumented and are at risk of being lost. The preservation of this knowledge may facilitate scientific inquiry into promising new therapeutic molecules.MethodsSemi-structured questionnaires were used to collect the sociodemographic information of 30 herbalists in Kisumu East Sub County. The local names of medicinal plants used in managing illnesses of the respiratory system, their habit, active parts, indications, methods of preparation, routes of administration, scientific identity, and conservation status were also recorded. Other reported traditional uses, pharmacological activities, and toxicological data were identified via a literature search.ResultsMost herbalists were female (86.7%), aged between 61 and 70 years (43.3%) with no formal education (56.7%), and had 21–30 years of practice (30%). 44 plant species, belonging to 43 genera and 28 families were identified. Leguminosae and Rutaceae plant families were predominant, leaves were frequently used (33%), and trees were the most common habit (44.4%). Most plants were collected in the wild (79.2%), preparation was mainly by decoction (68.8%), and the administration was mainly orally. The main indication was cough and 79.5% of all documented plant species had previously been reported to have a pharmacological activity relevant to the mitigation of respiratory illnesses. Toxicological data was available for 84.1% of the plant species identified.ConclusionsThe predominant use of roots, root barks, and root tubers by herbalists in Kisumu East Sub County threatens to negatively impact the ecological survival of some plant species. The preservation of herbalists’ knowledge of medicinal plants in the study area is a pressing concern considering their advanced age and little formal education. There is a need to conserve some of the medicinal plants documented in this study. The medicinal claims made by herbalists also warrant scientific scrutiny.