How to Use Steam and Herbs/Oils Therapeutically

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Steam Sauna

VERY early this morning my son crawled into bed with me.

He said he had a bad dream, and I suspected he didn’t sleep well since his breathing sounded like it was running through a snorkel.

You may have someone in your household like my son. He isn’t sick, he isn’t even really all that congested.

His nasal passages tend to get irritated and tickled when the weather shifts. Here in Ohio it has been just cold enough for a few nights that we have shut up the house and turned on our pellet stove. This type of heat is perfect for helping me dry the last bit of harvested herbs, it is economical, and offers the ability to keep the house warmer in the winter (without a fuel oil bill). However, this stove sucks up the moisture in the air.

For someone like my son that means lots of sneezing and snorkel breathing at night. For my husband this can mean occasional nosebleeds.

Dry mucous membranes in the nose can be addressed with a simple saline mixture in a neti pot. This therapy once a week, through allergy season (or during times of intense dry air) can help the nasal passages shed irritants. It also works for adults (when no active infection or congestion is present).

Neti pot for my son? Not so much. He’s a 5 year old with a healthy fear of water; it was years before bath-time didn’t require earplugs. And my desire to explain (at the top of my voice) why he should voluntarily tip his head forward over the sink (so water can wash up into his nose) waned a long time ago.

So in our house, the solution for small people is the use of therapeutic steams.

How to do a Basic Therapeutic Steam Sauna

Step 1

Boil 2-3 cups of water per person.

Step 2

Pour the hot, steamy water into a bowl.

Step 3

Add herbs or essential oils. The choice is dependent on what you are trying to treat. For herbs add a small pinch of each variety. For essential oils, use one to two drops ONLY! (Find organic herbs here and 100% pure essential oils here.)

Step 4

Immediately drape a towel over both the head of the person and the bowl. Have them hold their face as close to the surface of the water as they can stand.

Step 5

Set the timer for 5-8 minutes and try to keep them under the towel as long as possible.

My son, even at his young, squirmy age will cooperate and sit under the towel. I think he secretly thinks it’s kind of fun to be in his own little fort. Be aware that anytime you use this treatment it is likely to loosen up anything hiding in the sinuses. Have a box of tissues close at hand.

Herbal Suggestions for Therapeutic Steams

Here are some great herbal combinations to use for a variety of therapeutic steams:

Eucalyptus, peppermint and rosemary for colds and congestion

Rose, comfrey and chamomile for beauty treatments and dry skin

Lavender, peppermint and hops for headaches

Comfrey, oats and marshmallow for dry sinuses

Comfrey and yarrow for dry sinuses with nose bleeds

(Find more herbs here or essential oils here for your therapeutic steam.)


About Dawn Combs

Dawn is a wife, mother, farmer, author, ethnobotanist, professional speaker, and educator. She has over 20 years of ethnobotanical experience, is a certified herbalist, and has a B.A. in Botany and Humanities/Classics. Dawn is co-owner of Mockingbird Meadows Farm. Her books include Conceiving Healthy Babies and Heal Local.

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  1. Phillip N says

    A note I want to pass about Nasal Irrigation:
    -be mindful about sources of water going into ones’s nose. As I’ve heard there are are biological hazardous to humans (e.g Naegleria fowleri) that nobody wants up their noses..
    Sources online don’t reccomend water straight from tap to be used to flush the nose before it has been sterilized..

    • Vicki says

      I agree that the type of water used in the nasal irrigation is very important…..never use tap water. And make sure the water is warm (not hot). I also want to add that I used a neti pot until 4 years ago when my friend was told by an ENT surgeon that a sinus rinse squeeze bottle is much more effective. The neti pot cannot irrigate the sinus cavity properly. The doc was correct, I haven’t had a sinus infection in 4 years using the squeeze bottle (using it every day). They are easily found online or in local grocery or mass merchandise stores. P.S. – wonderful info on this site!