Understanding Herbal Preparations- Steam Inhalation

Understanding Herbal Preparations- Steam Inhalation

Feb 10th 2022

We've likely all seen old pictures of someone standing over a pot of water with a towel over their head. Or perhaps Grandma suggested trying it out when sick. Herbal steam inhalation is not just an old folk remedy. It's an herbal preparation herbalists still use today. 

What is steam inhalation?

Unlike some herbal preparations, the name tells us most of what we need to know. Steam inhalation involves breathing in the steam of steeped herbs. This can either be in a pot of water, in the shower, or in a special kind of vaporizer. 

How is steam inhalation used?

Steam inhalation is most often used for coughs, congestion, colds, flu, and headaches. It can also be used for facials and as a nice pampering skincare treatment.

What herbs are used?

Herbs that are high in volatile oils work best. Herbalists usually choose herbs like mint, eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. 

How is steam inhalation done?

There are two main ways this herbal preparation is used. Special devices and vaporizers also exist but we won't cover those today. It is best to do steam inhalation with fresh herbs, though dried herbs will work. 

Shower Method-

Herbs are placed in a hot shower. They are typically hung from the shower head or somewhere else the water will hit them on the floor. The hot water releases the volatile oils from the herbs with the steam.  

Pot of Water Method-

- A few cups of water are brought to a boil.
- The pot is then removed from the heat and herbs are added.
- The herbs are then left to sit for a few minutes. 
-  A towel is placed over the head to create a "tent" over the pot of water. Eyes are kept closed to avoid irritation.
(everything can also be poured into a bowl) 
- This is easiest to do sitting at a table though some folks choose to do it directly at the stove or counter.
- The steam is then inhaled for about 10 minutes.
- This can be left covered to simmer on the stove and returned to throughout the day. 

 Note- Extreme caution must be used with steam inhalation. Burns can occur if the steam is too hot. Venting the steam from time to time is a good idea.