Health Column: Therapeutic steam inhalation |

Health Column: Therapeutic steam inhalation

Christoper Lepisto, N.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

Herbal therapeutic steams are used to deliver the medicinal qualities of herbs and essential oils directly to the respiratory tract. They hydrate, warm and decongest the mucus membranes of the nose, sinuses and throat. They can be used to help fight infection in these area and the lungs and are helpful in calming cough. There are several nice methods of delivery depending on how much time you have available and how strongly you need the relief.


Option 1, tent method: Boil two to three cups of water and remove from heat. Add five to 10 drops of essential oil (see suggested oils below). Position yourself so that your head is above the container of water, no closer than 9 inches. Drape a towel over your head and the container, forming a tent. Inhale the vapor with slow deep breaths for five to 10 minutes.

Option 2, mug method: Fill a mug half full of boiling water. Add three to five drops of essential oils. Use hands to form a cup over nose and mug to enclose vapors. Inhale vapors for three to five minutes.

Option 3, bath method: Draw a hot bath, keep door closed to keep the steam in. Add 10-15 drops of essential oil to bath and swirl to mix. Relax in tub for 15-30 minutes taking slow, full deep breaths.

Option 4, modified bath method: Boil water, remove from heat and add essential oils to the pot as in Option 1. Draw a hot bath as in Option 3. Carefully bring the pot or bowl of water into the bathroom and set by the bath. Relax in the tub for 15-30 minutes. Take slow deep breaths.

Option 5, vaporizer method: Using a steam vaporizer (not humidifier) add five to 10 drops of essential oil to the well of the machine (read directions for your machine-should have a specific place for additions). Place your head near the steam vapors and inhale for 15 minutes. Another choice is to allow machine to run in your bedroom while you sleep.


Eucalyptus: general congestion, sinus infections

Thyme: coughs, infections

Lavender: calming and soothing

Hyssop: coughs, infections

Bitter orange: antibacterial, sedating

Chamomile: coughs, colds, calming


1. Do not use essential oils if you have known allergies to the essential oils or the plants from which they are derived.

2. Do not use essential oils internally without physician supervision.

3. Do not use essential oils if you have kidney disease.

4. Use essential oils with caution with people with epilepsy.

5. Do not use essential oils in pregnancy unless you are under qualified supervision.

6. Prolonged inhalation of essential oils (several consecutive hours) of essential oils may cause headache, vertigo, nausea, lethargy, or double vision.

These therapeutic steam inhalations are simple at-home techniques that work. Try any of these methods with or without an excuse to take some time for self care to feel better, naturally.


1. Bove, Mary. Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants, 2nd Ed. 2001. McGraw-Hill

2. Tisserand, Robert. Essential Oil Safety. 1995. Churchill Livingston Press.

Christopher Lepisto, a Free Press health columnist, is a naturopathic doctor (N.D.) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. For more information, visit or call 970-250-4104.

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