Herbal Remedies: Steam Inhilations for Sinus and Lung Issues

I just finished up my first weekend of Jim McDonald’s fabulous Four Season Herbal Intensive. We learned about the foundations of western herbalism and energetics (for a good introduction to this, Matthew Wood’s The Practice of Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification).  I have much learning to do in this area–I’m overwhelmed with how much I still don’t know!


During the weekend of the class, I came down with some kind of nasal bug; it was exasperated by the presence of a dog which I turned out to have a pretty bad allergic reaction to.  One of the things that Jim mentioned in the course for a good home remedy for lung and nasal congestion was doing a simple herbal steam inhalation. He said that most aromatic herbs will work well for this, and cited his favorites as thyme and sage.


I decided to try out the steam inhalation this week to help get some of the crud out of the lungs and clear up the sinuses. I can’t believe how effective it was. I chose two herbs–garden sage (Salvia officinalis), as Jim recommended, dried and saved from my garden and mullein (also known as lamb’s ear, Verbascum thapsus) which is a herb that I use a lot for healing of the lungs. Mullen grows wild in many places–I’ll do a post devoted to it later in the year when I can take some good photos.  You want to make sure that these are herbs you have used before and that you know well.

Dried sage - beautiful smell and color

Dried sage – beautiful smell and color

Mullein from the jar

Mullein dried from last year!  I’ve already gone through a jar of this just this past winter.

The steam inhalation is very simple. You get a pot and put some water onto boil.  I use my filtered well water….if I had city water with chlorine, I’d probably buy distilled instead, because there is no way I want that in my lungs.

Get a lid for your pot, and bring your herbs and water to a boil.  The lid is important–most of the healing action of the herbs is in the volatile oils, which can escape through steam.  The volatile oils in the steam are exactly what we want, but not till we are ready for them!

Pot slightly cooling

Pot slightly cooling

As soon as the pot boils, remove it from the heat and get a towel ready. Be very careful because the steam is hot. I have found that waiting a few minutes before breathing it in is much more comfortable or you can stay a little further away from the pot. You put the towel over your head, drape the towel down around the pot,  lift the lid, and breathe in.  I think pictures illustrate this well.

Lift the lid off of the pot

Lift the lid off of the pot

Carefully put your head over the pot with the towel

Carefully put your head over the pot with the towel

And finally, when the steam is comfortable enough….

Put your towel fully over the pot and breathe in deeply

Put your towel fully over the pot and breathe in deeply

This worked AWESOMELY well.  My nasal passages are much improved, the sinus pressure has lessened, and the mullein did wonders on the nasty gunk in my lungs. I’ll do this several times each day until my lungs are clearer.  I’ll follow this up with regular doses of New England Aster (which I have been using to control my asthma) and will hopefully be much on the mend soon.

14 thoughts on “Herbal Remedies: Steam Inhilations for Sinus and Lung Issues

  1. Tracy Glomski

    I’m glad you’re feeling better! I have a little Berggarten sage among my pots of culinary herbs. It’s a Salvia officinalis that has been bred to emphasize leaf production over flowering. I like it a lot, for a Tuscan bean dish that I make, and also sometimes as a tisane. I probably should grow more than one container of that.

  2. Karen Fisher

    This is interesting to me because I have asthma and sinus problems. I’ve never used sage medicinally, but we have it on hand. Since you say these should be herbs you’ve used before, do you think I should not try doing this steam treatment?

    1. Willowcrow Post author

      Karen, its possible that you’d react to a new herb (like mullein). If you’ve eaten sage before or had sage tea, you know you won’t react and it will be fine :). With any new herb, you just want to take it easy till you are sure it will work for you!

  3. Breath Problems

    This actually works. The vapors really induces the mucus swelling. I have sinus as well and I have tried using neti pot but they said that it has its negative effects due to hygiene purposes. Great article. -Howard Long

  4. debra

    I thought i was the only person that was into this sort of thing I have made the most wonderful violet jelly and wine.Foraging and using plants and herbs is fun and saves lots of money.I’m sooo hooked on it.


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