Colds, flue, and general malaise are par for the course here in the northeastern U.S. during the winter months. I am a proponent of natural defensive health practices. Things like vitamin C, Zinc, and garlic can help keep such sicknesses at bay.
I also believe Echinacea and Goldenseal-root tinctures are very effective at strengthening the immune system and maintaining health. Goldenseal tincture tastes like liquid dirt to me. Echinacea, with its mouth-numbing effects, is preferred over the Goldenseal, but I alternate the use of the two. I also use propolis tincture if my throat starts to feeling a bit “raw.” Someday I will write an essay here about how to make propolis tincture, as it is a favorite of mine. Today, however, I feel compelled to tell you about a home “remedy” that is popular here in the Kimball household during the winter months. I call it the Peppermint Zing Sinus Sauna.
Early on in my marriage, when my wife, Marlene, was feeling the congested sinus malaise, she would boil water, pour it in a pan with Vics Vaporub, drape a towel over her head, and breathe the steam. I had never seen or done such a thing and, when it was my turn to get the malaise, I gave the head-steaming technique a try. It opened up the nasal passages, allowed my sinuses to drain, and was, overall, a soothing experience.
As the winter seasons came and went, I started to give more thought to the whole idea of steaming one’s head for relief from what I think the old timers referred to as catarrh (nasal & sinus distress). It occurred to me that breathing the “fumes” from petroleum jelly infused with eucalyptus may not be the best thing for a body. I wondered, how would it work to leave out the petroleum-based carrier and just use herbs to steam my head and sinuses?
I gave it a try one winter day with some dried peppermint from my garden. The effect was remarkably refreshing. Far better, in my opinion, than Vics Vaporub. Head steaming was, in fact, so satisfying of an experience that I began to do it more often, even when I felt healthy but just a little run down. Peppermint in the head and lungs can really pick you up. When you remove your head from under the towel and breathe in, you experience a natural peppermint euphoria. I call it the Peppermint Zing.
In time, I came up with the idea of not using a wimpy, thin towel to capture steam. I found that a heavy winter coat, draped over the head and sealed around the pot of steaming herbal essence, created a far more effective “steam chamber.” I also formulated a couple of “rules” for steaming the sinuses. And, of course, I came up with that catchy name for the procedure: The Peppermint Zing Sinus Sauna. Here's how to make and enjoy your own sinus sauna......
STEP 1: The Herb
In the above photo you can see the empty steaming pot. It has a flat bottom which provides more stability that a bowl. The diameter of the pot dictates the steam output. Larger diameter, more steam. Around 10” (as shown in the picture) will do nicely.
The dried peppermint in the picture is not from my garden. I never got around to drying any peppermint last year, so I bought some dried organic peppermint leaf from Frontier. The one-pound bad will last a long time.
I do not measure out the peppermint in any exact way. I just grab a small bunch with three fingers and my thumb. It probably amounts to a couple of heaping tablespoons. I put the measure in one palm and, using my other palm, I rub the peppermint into little pieces over the pot. Small pieces of peppermint will more readily release the volatile peppermint oil into the water and steam.
STEP 2: Get Your Steam Chamber Ready
As I mentioned, a winter coat makes a very effective steam chamber. My typical winter outerwear consists of a heavy sweatshirt and a canvass barn coat, so that is what I use for the steam chamber. The picture above shows the proper method for wearing the coat. Instead of your neck and head fitting up through the collar, as in normal wear, you place your head down through the collar so the coat covers your head and hangs down in front of you.
STEP 3: Add Hot Water
I fill the tea kettle with around six cups of water and heat it to a rolling boil on the stove. Then I pour the entire contents into the pot with the peppermint. The steam will rise. You need to get your head into the steam chamber and over the steaming water immediately.
STEP 4: Enjoy the Sauna
So you are sitting down in front of the pot of water which is on a table in front of you. Your overcoat steam chamber is in place and your head is inside the chamber. Snug the coat around the sides of the pot and up to your body. Hold it in place with your arms around the pot, as shown in the picture above. It should be completely dark and steaming hot inside the chamber.
At first, the steam will be very hot. Hold your head as far away from the pot as you can and breathe through your mouth when it is very hot. As the steam cools, you can move your head closer to the source. You can also start breathing slowly through your nose. If your nose is plugged blow out and breathe in through your mouth. Give it time. You will gradually become unstuffed as the steam and peppermint do their loosening work.
The cardinal rule when taking a sinus sauna is to never sniff in. Only out. Blow out your nose into the water. Spit out any throat drainage. Let it all flow out. No one can see this unpleasantness, so it’s okay. Work with the steam. Breathe in, but never sniff in.
Perspiration and condensation will form on your face almost immediately when you start steaming. This is good. It is therapeutic. Let the moisture collect and drip off the end of your nose and chin, into the pot of water.
In time (five minutes or more), as the steam goes from hot to warm, I open my eyes and stare down into the steam. This is when I begin to see visions. I’m just kidding. You won’t see anything. It is too dark in there. But steaming the eyeballs, as objectionable as it might sound, is really a pleasant thing. At least I have found it to be so.
As the steam gets less intensely hot, you can move your head closer to the water. In the next picture, my head is actually resting on my hands which are over the edge of the pot. My face is very close to the warm water. It is a comfortable steaming position.
STEP 5: Finishing The Sauna
After ten to fifteen minutes of the sinus sauna, your sinus passages will be open. You will be able to breathe in and out freely. And you will be feeling really good about that. The next step is to remove your head from the steam chamber, grab a Kleenex, and blow your nose. Don’t sniff in. Blow your nose. Then breathe in deep through your cleared nasal passages. This is when the peppermint Zing will manifest itself. Ahhhhh……
Finally, you need to dispose of the pot-full of water and all the nastiness that was added to it by your draining sinuses and expectorations. The simplest way to dispose of it all is to open the back door of your house and toss the contents of the pot out into the yard. No mess. No fuss.
It might occur to you that you can reheat and steam again with the peppermint water. You can but it is not the same. Reheating is not as good or effective as adding boiling water to the dried herb.
So there you have it-- a step-by-step explanation of the Peppermint Zing Sinus Sauna. I hope you will give it a try. When you do, I’m sure you will become an herbal sinus sauna enthusiast like me.
I have used other herbs mixed with peppermint to make sinus saunas. For example, I once added elderberry blossoms which I harvested and dried to make a tincture. I’ve also added dried Rosemary. I suspect there are numerous therapeutic herbal blends that could be employed to make special sinus sauna mixes.
If you happen to be an herbalist, I would really appreciate your input regarding other herbs that would be good for a therapeutic sinus sauna.
One last thought. Here is an idea for those of you who have home businesses making and selling herbal preparations..... Why not come up with sinus sauna blends and provide them in packets designed for one delightfully refreshing, soothing, therapeutic, all-natural sinus sauna session ? Hey, I think it’s such a good idea that if someone else doesn’t run with this idea, I might do it myself one of these days.
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