Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Herbal Steam Inhalation

Steam inhalations are a powerful and inexpensive form of hydrotherapy. Adding herbs to a steam inhalation make an already helpful tool, an even greater ally in decreasing respiratory congestion which accompanies colds or sinus infections. Herbal steam inhalations are easy to use. At one time it was a process that most families used in their home during the winter months.

I will share my quick method for making a steam inhalation using water and essential oils.  A slower method involves making an infusion (type of tea) first. I will share how to make infusions with you in the coming week.

•    4-6 quart pot   
•    Stove
•    Table       
•    Towel or blanket
•    Pot holder
•    Essential oil (Could also make an infusion of dry herbs)

Any volatile, antimicrobial oil or herb capable of opening the nasal passages can be used in a steam inhalation for respiratory congestion. The opening of the passage way via a steam inhalation is due to both the steam of the water and the menthol in the herb. Two herbs with menthol that are easy to find and inexpensive are peppermint and wintergreen. The menthol in these herbs is what gives it that refreshing brisk coolness to our mouth or on our skin when we ingest them or put the herbs on our skin.  In addition to herbs with menthol, I also want a strong antimicrobial herb to be added to the water such as thyme,  or oregano.

My favorite two herbs to use in the inhalation are peppermint and thyme essential oil.  Both are carried in health food stores and are generally easy to procure. If you live some place where you have trouble buying herbs or if you simply wish to purchase them online you can trust the herbs at this link: http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/index.php?AID=098951
Additionally, Mountain Rose Herbs donates 15% of their sales purchased from clicking on this link to Wise Acres Herbal Educational Center.

•    Pour 2-4 quarts of water into the pot.
•    Bring the water to a boil.
•    Take the water off the heat.
•    Prepare an area at a table where the head can be positioned above the pot without getting burnt by the pot.
•    Place the hot pot on the table, using a potholder to protect the table.
•    Drape a blanket over the head and pot, creating a vapor cocoon.
•    Sit over the pot with the head directly over the pot of tea & inside the blanket cocoon.
•    Add 1-2 drops of essential oil to the pot. (Most essential oil bottles have a dropper top.)
•    Breathe in the vapors. Keep your eyes closed so they don't get irritated.
•    If the vapor cocoon gets too hot or too intense:
         Remove head from under the blanket.
         Rest a moment.
         Return when ready.
•    The essential oil will disappear as vapor very quickly so you will need to add 1-2 drops more of each essential oil when the oil vapor is gone. Do not add too much essential oil.

Adding more essential oil than suggested can cause irritation of the lungs and eyes. It has been known for a person to put the essential oil in before getting inside the blanket cocoon. By the time they are inside the blanket cocoon the essential oil has vaporized off. The full strength  of the essential oil only lasts for 20 seconds and then disappears. If the person does not know the essential oil is short lived,  they may think they did not put enough in. Now they put in 4 drops of each oil and it is over-powering. I make sure when giving this procedure to a patient that I have made sure they will not use more than I tell them and they will follow my directions. If I am concerned about them following directions, I alternatively give them teas to use rather than essential oils. The tea simply necessitates the extra step of making an infusion from the tea. The infused tea is then put on the hot pad and you have a continuous supply of vapors coming off the pot until the tea runs out of essential oils. It is not as intense as straight essential oil. Teas are also better for children.

For my child patients whose parents want to use a vapor inhalation, I give them the following instructions. I have them make a tent house over a card table. Make it as small as possible, but with enough room for themselves and the child. They then get inside it with the pot of tea and make a game out of inhaling the vapors. If they make the tent too big, the vapors will disappear into the large space and not be as available.