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Try an Herbal Steam

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Your childhood memories may include a bedside humidifier with Vicks VapoRub, a common home treatment for cough and congestion from colds and flu. It’s still a medicine cabinet staple today, containing synthetic camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol to purportedly help open up stuffy nasal sinuses and relieve cough and labored breathing.

Many people swear by it, but Jay L. Hoecker, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, reports that not only does Vicks not really relieve nasal congestion, the camphor in it can be toxic, especially to babies and young children. You can get the same kind of comforting steam for breathing ailments by using fresh or dried herbs and flowers without the risks of camphor.

Why Herbal Remedies Instead of Prescription or Over-the-Counter Drugs?

Preparing and using natural and herbal remedies is a beneficial form of self-care that many feel they don’t have time for in today’s stressful, overscheduled modern lifestyle. You may ask yourself, “Why should I use an herbal steam for my stuffy nose and cough when I can just take some medicine?” The short answer is that it’s an opportunity to care for and soothe yourself in a much more natural and relaxing way.

Using an herbal steam is a form of self-care that requires a little more time than popping a prescription anti-biotic or using an over-the-counter treatment filled with chemicals.

Selecting organic herbs that you possibly pick from the garden or a trusted source, and taking the time to boil clean, filtered water, and sitting with your face over a bowl of hot, steamy botanically-infused water means taking 30 to 60 minutes of time out of your day to purposefully care for your body. It requires you to stop other activities and focus on healing yourself.

You will feel the textures of the leaves and flower petals, see the soft, natural colors, and smell the unique scents of different plants. Even if you use dried materials, you will get much more sensory input than you ever will from a sterile white pill or store-bought preparation. Slowing down and taking the time to care for yourself is a relaxing and beneficial bonus.

Using steam to treat respiratory ailments is effective. The Medical Research Council found that steam cuts sick days in half in those who are sick, and lessens symptoms for those who are just starting to feel ill. Warm, humid air brings relief from cold symptoms like a runny nose or congested breathing. Steam helps conditions including bronchitis, bronchial asthma, coughs, hoarseness, and congestion.

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What to Use for Herbal Steams

Aromatic herbs, petals, and greens to use in boiling water for steams to soothe stuffy nose and cough include:

• Peppermint
• Spearmint
• Lemon balm
• Sage
• Basil
• Lavender
• Chamomile (unless you are allergic to ragweed)
• Eucalyptus
• Rosemary
• Thyme
• Floribunda and hybrid tea roses

You can also include cloves and citrus peel from organic oranges, lemons, or limes. High-grade, organic, food-grade essential oils from any of these materials is an acceptable substitute but isn’t as fresh as using leaves, petals, and peels.

Use clean, fresh, filtered water for healthy steams. Use distilled water, spring water, and purified water if you don’t have a good water filter on your faucet.

Using a clean stainless steel pot, boil two to three cups of water and toss in a handful of herbs. When the water comes to a rolling boil, remove from the heat, pour it into a glass bowl, put your face over the water and over your head and the bowl with a towel. Breathe in the steam for five to 10 minutes.

Herbs have been shown to help with depression, anxiety, or simple blues from overwork or lack of sleep, and using them in steams is a refreshing way to get a pick-me-up and get out of a rut.  Lavender, cinnamon, pine, citrus, and jasmine are helpful when you feel down or run down.

Grow Some Herbs for Steaming in Winter

Herbs for steams are not difficult to grow. You can have a steady supply of fresh herbs on hand in winter if you grow them yourself. All it takes is a couple of pots, some potting soil, and good light from either a window or grow light. Grow basil, lemon balm, chamomile, sage, and mint and you’ll always have fresh herbs to snip and toss into boiling water for steams to fight off colds and the blues.

Take a little time to try an herbal steam the next time you feel a cold coming on or have a runny nose and see what a difference it makes.

Heidi CardenasHeidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and a gardener with an interest in herbs and natural living. Although she has a background in human resources and business administration, she has studied horticulture, and enjoys writing about gardening, natural living, and herbal and home remedies. Her favorite herbs are cilantro, lemon balm, and rue and her favorite places to be are libraries and greenhouses.