Less daylight, cold weather and busy schedules often lead to colds and flu making the rounds. The discomfort (and even pain) associated with nasal congestion is one of the most common symptoms. (Not to mention that the inability to breath is just plain annoying.) I've gathered together several home remedies for congestion to relieve your stuffy nose and sinus pressure so you can breathe easy. I don't like the side effects of over the counter decongestants (they either make me jittery, knock me out or make my head feel like it's going to shrivel up like a raisin), so natural decongestants are my option of choice.
Home Remedy for Congestion #1 – Tomato Tea
From Earth Clinic, a great site for home remedies, the top choice for sinus congestion is a recipe called “Jean's Famous Tomato Tea“. This recipe has received rave reviews as a congestion remedy.
TOMATO TEA RECIPE
2 cups V8 Juice
2-3 cloves Garlic crushed (use more if you can)
2 T Lemon Juice
Hot Sauce (the more the better, so as much as you can handle)
Mix and heat in a pan or in the microwave. Sip slowly and re-warm as needed to get the full effects of the fumes. Let it sit in the back of your throat to bathe it. Suck the fumes through your sinuses and also down into your lungs. Its all natural and healthy, so drink as much of it as you want or need until you are SURE the infection is gone. This is past the time when you “feel better.”
If you don't have the exact ingredients – improvise! Below are some substitutes that may not work as well or as fast, but will still help. I've listed them by their likely effectiveness:
V8 Juice – tomato juice, vegetable juice, canned or fresh tomatoes crushed, tomato soup (if really desperate, try another kind of fruit juice, vegetable soup or even chicken soup. You're aiming for high Vit C content)
Garlic – garlic in olive oil, dehydrated garlic, garlic salt (aiming for the strong anti-bacterial/fungal effects)
Lemon Juice – Fresh lemons, bottled juice, limes, lime juice, oranges, frozen lemonade
Hot Sauce – ANY kind of hot sauce works, fresh hot peppers, cayenne pepper, dried pepper flakes (if really desperate, try horseradish, black pepper or even mustard. You're aiming for the highly anti-bacterial/fungal properties of capsaicin which is found in hot peppers, and its effectiveness at clearing out the sinuses.)
Home Remedy for Congestion #2 – Apple Cider Vinegar
Whether you drink it, inhale it, gargle it or squirt it up your nose, Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is another popular natural decongestant choice. For drinking, some folks take a shot of ACV straight up, others add lemon juice and cayenne, or mix it with water and honey. Popular proportions on Earth Clinic are:
- 6 ounces of water
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (you could also use thieves vinegar)
- 2 – 4 teaspoons honey
Consume this mix warm, every 6 to 8 hours.
To inhale ACV, boil some ACV on the stove and breathe the fumes, or mix a drop or two in your saline nose spray. (Make sure not to overdo it, and keep things clean.) Read more about ACV and sinus congestion at Earth Clinic.
Home Remedy for Congestion #3 – Steam – With or Without Herbs
A hot, steamy shower is a godsend when you’re stuffed up, but you can sneak in a little relief in a much smaller area by using a bowl of boiling water tented with a towel. Take a large bowl and add fresh or dried herbs such as eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint or New England Aster. (Use a few drops of high quality essential oils if you prefer, or you can skip herbs altogether, but in my experience they do help.) Pour in boiling water. Lean over bowl and inhale as best you can, tenting your head with a towel to trap the vapors. you can also use a personal steamer.
Home Remedy for Congestion #4 – Hot Tea – Herbal or “Regular”
Hot tea with lemon and honey has been a congestion fighting favorite of mine for years. Momma always stocked Lipton tea bags, but now I buy my black, green and oolong in bulk, and sometimes enjoy some tulsi (holy basil) tea blends as well. Lemon is a great mucus clearer on it's own, and can provide extra vitamin C, and honey is naturally antibacterial, so do include them in your brew.
To make an herbal tea, cover 2 teaspoons dried leaves or 1/4 cup fresh leaves with 1 cup boiling water, steep for five to ten minutes, then strain and enjoy. (For ginger root, use about a 1/2 inch piece of fresh root, or 1/2 tsp-1 tsp of dried root bits.) I like to steep in a tea pot or cover my tea mug to keep the vapors from escaping.
If you've really got a stubborn cough or cold, check out the recipes for Cough-Be-Gone and Sore Throat Syrup and Cold and Flu Tea.
Home Remedy for Congestion #5 – Choose Foods That Clear Congestion
Livestrong.com and personal experience suggests the following foods may help fight sinus congestion:
- Omega 3 Fatty acids (found in cold water fish, nuts, eggs, fish oil, cod oil and flaxseed)
- Fluids (see hot tea)
- Spices and Herbs such as horseradish, hot mustard and cayenne pepper
- Vitamin C
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Back in college, a group of us went out to a Chinese restaurant. One of the guys had a bit of a head cold. Another guy dared him to sniff some Chinese Hot mustard. Being a young and foolish male, he tried it. After yelping in pain, he did find that his congestion was gone. I'd recommend simply adding spices to your food.
Home Remedy for Congestion #6 – Avoid Foods That May Make Congestion Worse
The Holistic Herbal suggests limiting the following foods to reduce mucus:
- Dairy products
- potatoes and other starchy root vegetables
You can see why a paleo/primal diet may be helpful for those suffering with chronic congestion.
Home Remedy for Congestion #7 -DIY Vapor Rub
Simply take a small amount of coconut oil or palm shortening (about an ounce) and add a good quality essential oil (eucalyptus, mint or wintergreen) (7-10 drops or more if needed) to get the strength you want and mix well. Never use essential oil directly on your skin – always use a carrier oil. Spread on the chest area or dab under the nose.
Note: Eucalyptus and Rosemary essential oils should not be used for children under 10. Do not use mint essential oils for children under 6. Pine, spruce, fir and cypress are safer alternatives for children over 2, but with the younger set I prefer to utilize the other options on the list. (My thanks to a reader for noting that this section needed clarification. More info at Food Renegade.)
Home Remedy for Congestion #8 – Oil Pulling
Oil pulling also helps to loosen mild congestion. Simply take a spoonful of good quality oil, such as coconut or sesame, place it in your mouth, and squish for 10-15 minutes. This can be a little tricky if you're having difficulty breathing, so it's not my first choice for severe congestion, but it will help loosen mild congestion. See Oil Pulling – Fact Versus Fiction for more information.
Home Remedy for Congestion #9 – Warm Salt Water Gargle
Again, this is best for mild congestion. Warm salt water soothes throat tissue irritated by nasal drainage, and the heat, moisture and gargling action helps to move and shift booger build up.
Which Home Congestion Remedy Works Best for You?
Did I miss any DIY congestion remedies? Share what works for you.
Don't forget to check out the rest of our Home Remedies Series including:
- 12 Home Remedies for Coughs
- 12 Home Remedies for Earaches
- The Best Cold and Flu Fighters – summary of all our cold and flu related posts
Originally posted in 2012, updated in 2016.