Virginia Ahearn, B.S. CPM PCDCertified Professional Midwife • Practitioner of Herbal Medicine • Certified Postpartum Doula
Coping with Winter with Medicinal Herbal Steams
Autumn Greetings everyone! As promised from last month’s article, my topic will be on herbal steams. This is apropos for the autumn and winter when the air is dry, and our skin and bodies are in need of moisture.
In general, anytime in the winter when you can add moisture to the air, do it! Even by simmering a pan of water and letting the steam rise into the dry air, you are doing something ‘medicinal’.
To do herbal steams you need:
two big towels,
or one big towel and a dish towel,
and tissues or other nose blowing material is helpful.
The wider the pan the better. Fill the pan with about2-3 inches of water, and bring to a simmer on the stove. Add your herb of choice (see list below) and continue simmering for 2-3 minutes. Set down one small towel on the table you will be sitting at to steam. Turn off flame and move pan of steaming water onto the towel, and sit down. Take the full sized towel and drape it over your head and the pan, and lower your head. You and the pan are both underneath, the towel makes a canopy around you. Make sure the towel is not allowing your medicinal steam to escape by not being draped all the way to the table. Your head should be about 6 inches from the steaming water, but you will instinctually find a comfortable position and distance. Now you can hang out and breathe deeply for about 12-15 minutes. The water will cool off at a certain point so you have an automatic stopping point if you have not ended it earlier. You can come up for cool air a few times if you want, and if you are steaming to relieve congestion or a head cold, you will inevitably need to blow your nose. Use the tissues you placed nearby.
Now, here are some herbs that are popular for steams:
Eucalyptus-is very aromatic, which means its medicinal properties are let off through steam. It is anti-septic, expectorant (makes you cough up mucous),vasodilating (opens things up). I have heard that simmering eucalyptus and letting steam circulate around will kill 70% of airborne germs. I don’t remember the source; it may have been a health show on WBAI or could have been David Winston himself. But it sounds good to do periodically in your house in winter. More specifically, you can use a eucalyptus steam for most anything lung related-coughs, chest colds, bronchitis, any kind of respiratory infection. It is great for clearing head colds.
Thyme-Thyme is used for all the things that eucalyptus is used, but it is a bit milder and its energy is more neutral, not cold and dry. Thyme is very antiseptic, but it is not an expectorant or vasodilator. Use it for colds, anything lung related, and sore throats. Children may like the smell of thyme better than eucalyptus. Thyme smells so fabulous that I use it just for that reason.
Rosemary– Rosemary’s many qualities include helping with digestive issues such as gas and nausea, and feeling ‘green’, poor fat digestion, headaches, vertigo and depression and nervous system issues. Rosemary smells great as a steam and medicinally is most notably used for depression and tension or stress. It smells great but tastes terrible. I tried the tincture for a few weeks for memory, and it tasted like I was eating the sprigs of a pine tree-even too much for me!
Chamomile can be used in steams for mild stress, and as a gentle skin cleanser. It would probably be good for cranky or sick kids.
Peppermint-is great when you have a hacking dry cough, or a stuffed up head, sinus congestion. It also can give you a nice energetic boost; it has a refreshening element to it. It can be good when you are down in the doldrums.
Enjoy your herbal steams!
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