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The Best Natural Decongestants for the Whole Family

Whether it’s cold symptoms or allergy season, sinus congestion and a runny nose can make life miserable. It’s especially challenging with infants and young children and for nursing mothers. We’re sharing natural decongestants that relieve sinus pressure and stuffy noses without the side effects of OTC medications.

natural decongestants

Jump to:

Best Overall Natural Decongestant

Best Natural Decongestant for Nursing Mothers

Top Natural Decongestant for Infants and Children

Why Use Home Remedies for Congestion?

I turned to natural decongestants because 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.

Some people develop more severe side effects, such as hypertension, headache, nausea, insomnia and dizziness. Topical nasal decongestants often become less effective with frequent use.

Decongestants such as Sudafed may dry up milk production, so are best avoided by nursing mothers.

Sometimes something as simple as an extra pillow to boost your head up will help, but most of the time I need something a bit more. Adults can use any of the remedies listed, with the exception of pregnant women and nursing mothers, as noted. Children are more sensitive, and sometimes refuse strong flavored drinks, so simple remedies are best for kids.

Best Overall Natural Decongestant – Tomato Tea

Nasal congestion is caused by inflamed blood vessels in the sinuses. These blood vessels swell and trap mucus, leading to a stuffy nose and congestion.

This recipe relieves congestion with a combination of heat, acid, reducing inflammation, and fighting infection. Hot drinks help to thin mucus in your nasal passages, making them easier to clear.

Tomato tea is rich in antioxidants, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory. It also tastes pretty good if you like spicy drinks. Get the tomato tea recipe here.

For nursing mothers, the garlic in the tea might be too much for baby. Try the recipe without the garlic, or use the recommendations below. Kids may or may not be willing to drink tomato tea, but it works well for them, too.

tomato tea

Runner Up – Nasal Irrigation with a Neti Pot or Nasal Spray

Dry air and pollutants can irritate the sinuses. Nasal irrigation with a neti pot or saline solution may help to flush irritants (and boogers). Some people swear by nasal irrigation, others can’t stand it.

For those with a deviated septum, it doesn’t tend to work well as a home remedy for congestion. The warm water goes in, but doesn’t come back out very well.

If you chose to use a neti pot, make sure to use sterile or distilled water. In rare cases, people have died from Naegleria fowleri (brain eating amoebas) in their neti pot water.

It’s okay to use nasal irrigation daily for congestion, but avoid excessive use, which may cause irritation. A 2020 study found that nasal irrigation reduced sinus inflammation, post nasal drip, and nasal secretion.

Alternate – DIY Vapor Rub

Take about and ounce of coconut oil or palm shortening and add 7-10 drops of good quality essential oil and mix well. Spread on the chest area or dab under the nose for sinus pressure relief.

Pine, spruce, fir and cypress are safe for children over 2. Never use essential oil directly on your skin – always use a carrier oil.

Eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils are safe for breastfeeding mothers. Peppermint is safe during pregnancy, but best avoided during breastfeeding.

Do not use mint essential oils for children under 6. Do not use eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils for children under 10. (Read why you should not use eucalyptus oil for children at Food Renegade.)

Many essential oils are also problematic for pets, so it’s best to avoid random exposure for them, too.

Alternate – Oil Pulling

Oil pulling works best to loosen mild congestion, since you still need to be able to breath through your nose. Take a spoonful of good quality oil, such as coconut or sesame, and place it in your mouth. Swish and pull it through your teeth for 10-15 minutes.

See Oil Pulling – Fact Versus Fiction for more information.

apple cider vinegar detox tea

Best Natural Decongestant for Nursing Mothers – Apple Cider Vinegar Tea

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is another popular natural decongestant choice. You can make your own apple cider vinegar from apple scraps. Studies validate ACV claims, finding it antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to use ACV for congestion is apple cider vinegar tea. Vinegar contains potassium, which thins mucus. It also contains polyphenols, which can help reduce cold symptoms.

Apple cider vinegar tea combines ACV with other immune boosting ingredients. It has a milder flavor than tomato tea, so it’s less likely to cause tummy upset for mom or baby.

Get the ACV tea recipe here.

Runner Up for Nursing Mothers – Herbal Tea

The best herbal teas for congestion include mullein, sage, ginger, peppermint, chamomile, eucalyptus, wild thyme, and blackberry. (Source – New York Sinus Center.)

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Lemon provides 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, and 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. A 2020 study showed that ginger extract was as effective as Loratadine for treating allergic rhinitis, without the side effects.

I like to steep in a tea pot or cover my tea mug to keep the vapors from escaping.

mint tea
Mint tea is easy to make with fresh or dried leaves.

Alternate – Choose Foods That Clear Congestion

The following foods may help fight sinus congestion:

  • Pineapple
  • Omega 3 Fatty acids (found in cold water fish, walnuts, eggs, fish oil, cod oil and flaxseed)
  • Garlic
  • 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 found that his congestion was gone. I’d recommend simply adding spices to your food.

It’s also important to drink plenty of water or other non-caffeinated beverages. These help you stay hydrated and loosen phlegm.

Alternate – Warm Salt Water Gargle

Again, this home remedy for congestion works best for mild stuffiness.

Warm salt water soothes throat tissue irritated by nasal drainage. The heat, moisture and gargling action helps to move and shift booger build up.

steam for congestion

Best Natural Decongestant for Infants and Children

Steam is the easiest and safest way to help relieve congestion for infants and children. For quick relief, try a hot shower. Carefully hold baby (away from the water stream) and allow the steam to help loosen the mucus. The skin to skin contact with mom or dad is also good for baby.

To improve sleep and reduce dry air irritation, add a humidifier to the room. It’s safe to use steam several times a day, or keep a humidifier running all day and night.

For older children (and adults), try herbal steam therapy. Take a large bowl and add fresh or dried herbs such as eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint or New England Aster.

Pour in boiling hot water. Lean over bowl and inhale the steam as best you can, tenting your head with a towel to trap the vapors. You can also use a personal steamer like this one.

Runner Up for Children – Warm Compress

The soothing heat of a warm compress can reduce inflammation and open up a stuffy nose. Since there’s nothing but gentle heat, it’s completely safe for children.

Soak a wash cloth in warm water and squeeze out the excess. Fold it and apply to the nose and forehead, keeping the nostrils clear.

You can also use a rice hot pack or other small heating pad. Always make sure to test for comfort and don’t get the warm compress too hot.

Alternate – Avoid Foods That May Make Congestion Worse

Limiting the following foods may help to reduce mucus:

  • Dairy products
  • grains
  • sugar
  • potatoes and other starchy root vegetables

You can see why a paleo/primal diet may be helpful for those suffering with chronic congestion.

Kids tend to bounce back pretty quickly with fresh air, exercise and good nutrition. Avoiding trigger food may be enough to help speed recovery.

best natural decongestants

Which Home Remedies for Congestion Work Best for You?

Did I miss any natural congestion remedies? Share what works for you.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Home Remedies Series. We have dozens of posts on the site, including:

This post is intended for general information only. Please see a medical professional if pain is severe or sinus problems last for an extended time.

Laurie Neverman

This article is written by Laurie Neverman. Laurie is a lifelong learner with a passion for natural remedies and holistic healing. She’s successfully improved her eyesight and cleared her psoriasis.

Last updated in 2023.

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70 Comments

  1. This is perfect timing since the sky is blue and the humidity is low congestion starts in many of us. Thanks did not know about nursing moms having issues but it does make sense.

    1. I can’t tolerate the boxed meds so I didn’t try them back when my boys were little, but when I started researching, I wasn’t surprised to find out that they cause problems. I’m sipping tomato tea today, as my throat feels dry and irritated and I’ve been a bit stuffy.

  2. Happy New Year to you all including all of the ducks, cats, chickens as well as the wild ones, had to do it :-).
    I have using and make herbal medicines for several years and I thought I had it all covered but there is always room for more knowledge. I want to thank you for all the great info I have gleaned from your emails over the years. Thank you and wishing you and yours peace, love and health in this and future years.

    Remember, be kind, be calm and be safe, 🙂
    Respectfully
    Shelagh Drew (drewgida(1))
    Smile, maybe someone will smile back, 🙂

  3. I have great success using a table top nebulizer! In the bowl I put 3 cc’s of saline with two drops food grade peroxide and two drops Lugol’s iodine. I do this a couple times a day and have NO STUFFY NOSE at all! Cold is gone in two to four days!

  4. A simplified formula based on an ayurvedic mixture Sitopaladi
    churna, cures flu and all breathing-related problems:
    Mix into 1 l of tea or water:
    1 tsp pepper (better is Piper longa, in the original formula)
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp curcuma
    1 tsp baking soda
    reduces kapha/phlegm (running nose, cough)
    when started with first symptoms, you’ll be ok the next day
    much faster, lighter and cheaper cure in comparison to usual
    allopathic pills etc.

  5. Thank Y’All so much for these tips. I have cancer of the throat and when I get a cold it nearly does me in. I can’t wait to try the remedies’

  6. I have been drinking the tomatoe tea for 4 days now…..it was not a recipe I would normally try but I am glad I did. It is really helping with congestion. And I was surprised how good it tastes! It also helps warm the body in all this cold weather.

  7. For preventing and treating sinus infections we use the neti pot with salt and also empty a probiotic capsule in and mix. One of my children used to need an antibiotic several times per year for sinus infections until we started doing this.

  8. The tomato tea sounds like a winner for me, after plain old chicken noodle soup made with home made bone broth!
    Hot toddy’s are great too, and help one to sleep as well (just don’t over do it, LOL)
    I like to keep a pot on the stove with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and bay leaf simmering on low, adds some humidity to the winter air, as well as diffusing all the goodness of the spices (smells good too).

    1. I know Instant Pots and similar products are all the rage right now, but I truly enjoy the wonderful smells that come from cooking on the stove top. Mo matter if it’s savory or sweet, having those aromas drifting through the house is part of the whole experience of cooking.

  9. I grow and brew my own stinging nettle tea. I feel it is responsible for me not getting sick when the rest of the family all had the flu.

  10. Any note on what not to use if you are pregnant? I know some teas shouldn’t be used. I can’t take anything for decongestion OTC so I’m suffering through with saline nasal spray at the moment.

    1. #1, 2, #3 with peppermint steam, #5, #6, #8, #9 should all be fine.

      I’m a fan of peppermint as a stomach soother and nose clearer, and used it regularly during my pregnancies. I prefer herbs over essential oils, since the oils are so very concentrated. Peppermint is easy to find just about anywhere, and also easy to grow. Rosemary is best avoided in medicinal amounts, since it can be a uterine stimulant. (A little in food is not a problem.)

      americanpregnancy.org lists the following herbs to avoid while pregnant:

      Saw Palmetto – when used orally, has hormonal activity
      Goldenseal – when used orally, may cross the placenta
      Dong Quai – when used orally, due to uterine stimulant and relaxant effects
      Ephedra – when used orally
      Yohimbe – when used orally
      Pay D’ Arco – when used orally in large doses; contraindicated
      Passion Flower – when used orally
      Black Cohosh – when used orally in pregnant women who are not at term
      Blue Cohosh – when used orally; uterine stimulant and can induce labor
      Roman Chamomile – when used orally in medicinal amounts
      Pennyroyal – when used orally or topically

      They list these as likely safe:

      red raspberry leaf
      peppermint leaf
      ginger root
      slippery elm bark
      oat and oat straw
      psyllium – blond and black
      garlic
      cayenne

      They note that the following are commonly used and recommended, but have little medical data:

      dandelion
      German chamomile
      nettles

      They don’t recommend the following for oral use during pregnancy:

      aloe
      ginseng (American and Korean)
      Evening Primrose
      Feverfew
      Kava Kava
      Senna

  11. I also use acupressure to help my stuffy nose. It works if my nose isn’t runny and I just can’t breathe through it. It sounds weird, but I put my right thumb in my mouth and use my right index and middle finger to put pressure on my forehead. Fingers pressing the middle where my eyebrows begin while using my thumb to put pressure on the roof of my mouth. I also put pressure in the middle between my eyebrows alternating between there and the eyebrow spots. Do it for 15 seconds or more at a time for around 5 minutes. It should start to drain soon.

  12. This is a great list. I have done these things most of my life and I concur that they are effective. I will add Saline Nasal Rinses.

    Thank you for sharing accurate and very useful information!

  13. Thanks I have my exms tomorrow. Having steam really worked. Now I can focus on my studies. Thanks again..)

  14. Thyme has been effective for me in two ways: put one or two tablespoons of ordinary kitchen thyme in a bowl that’s large enough to accommodate the lower half of your face and that won’t conduct heat (so you don’t get burned). Pour two cups or so of boiling water over the thyme, lower your face as close as you can stand the heat, and breathe as normally as you can. When the mixture cools to the point of not steaming, it can be strained and drunk as tea. It’s strong and bitter, so you may want to use some honey to make the medicine go down.

  15. Pine needle tea seems to help relieve my sinus problems as it hrlps thin the mucus. Also taking 3-4 drops of diluted oregano oil per day seems to help get over it faster.

  16. Interesting article. I’ve had sinus issues for years, aggravated by home heating during the cold months. Every fall I make a super big batch of vegan chilli and freeze portions. Then I’ll add as much chilli powder to mine as I can handle. The heat from the spice does seem to help.

    My other favorite is vegetarian sushi, with wasabi.
    It really seems to clear my sinuses, at least temporarily.

  17. I will never forget these four teas, because the effect was so dramatic on my sinus congestion and face pain. This was 45 years ago! I steeped mullein, coltsfoot, horehound and eucalyptus teas in a pot. Put a towel over my head and breathed in the vapors. Then strained some of the tea and drank a cup ( tasted awful!!). Completely effective.

  18. Need ba ba mail recipe for getting rid of chest congestion.I lost my copy. It contained cinnamon bark and ginger with several other things.Can you help me? thank you.

  19. This is great! I’m in the military and getting colds really interferes with work, as it does for any job. However I can’t take sick days unless the military doc gives permission. LOL. So when I feel a cold/sickness of any kind I grab my ACV and start drinking it in every glass of water I have! I actually enjoy the taste and have found it tastes pretty good mixed with lemon sparkling water. I also found eating crystallized ginger helps me personally, but that could be my sweet tooth talking!

  20. Thanks for these tips 🙂 As a cheese fiend however I’m still in denial about avoiding dairy products :p

  21. The mullen in the photo got my attention. Disapointed it’s not mentioned since it’s a long used lung/congesion aid. :/

    1. Actually, if you reread the post, you’ll see that mullein is listed as part of #4:

      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.

      For extra “oomph”, try herbal tea such as mullein, sage, ginger, peppermint, chamomile, eucalyptus, wild thyme and blackberry. (Source – New York Sinus Center.)

      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.

      1. Question about mullein: Which mullein (botanical name would be helpful!( is best to harvest for making tea? there are many kinds. Do i use the leaves only flowers only, both leaves and flowers? Thank you in advance.

        1. Generally when the term mullein is used by herbalists, it refers to great mullein (also known as common mullein) Verbascum thapsus. Any of the tall, yellow flowered mulleins can be used, as well as white mullein, Verbascum album.

          Either leaves or flowers can be used, or both. If you use the leaves, make sure to strain the brew well to avoid drinking the fine hairs.

      2. I’m on day number three of an upper respiratory infection. Normally on this day I would be fighting bronchitis. Now I blew my own peppermint tea with rosemary thyme basil and Sage seat for 10 minutes and a tablespoon of raw honey. Also used Zicam honey lemon spray and a saline nasal spray. Chicken noodle soup for one meal, chow mein for another, abeucslyptus bath & I feel on the upswing. Still praying for complete recovery.

  22. I have always suffered with sinus issues, (dad was a heavy smoker and for 18 years I was the second-hand smokee), until I began eating healthier and switching out cleaning supplies, cosmetics and OTC/Rx’s for homemade and organic.
    I still have occasional problems, but have found what works for me:
    I alternate between using a neti pot filled with as hot water as I can stand, about 1/2tsp himalayan salt for 2 cups water, three drops of silver shield* (other brands available, use what you want) about 1/4 tsp organic raw ACV, goldenseal also if you want…
    and a salt/vinegar hot gargle.
    I start with the gargle, and do it two times, using a vocal scale to get all the areas of the throat. Then use the neti pot on both sides, switch back to the gargle, and do this until all the neti pot solution is gone.
    It works for me!

      1. Yes, I do. I also spit lots of gunk after gargling, as well. That is the whole point, to rid the body of all that mucous.

  23. This is a great list. I would add that when my sinuses were very bad, bad enough that the doctor was talking about surgery, I tried a 1/4 teaspoon of goldenseal twice a day. It worked great! It tastes terrible, so some people mix it with honey, but I just took it straight. (And I didn’t have to have the surgery, thank God.)

  24. If you feel a cold brewing… another remedy that is good.. is high doses of vitamin c. .. get the solaray brand the 1,000 mg capsules…. if and adult. Or kids that are adult sized .. you want to take 10,000mg in the morning and the same. Before bed … the next day you will feel the difference if it clearing up… continue till the cold is gone… if its a child go with 5,000 mg same way.. if toddler or baby smaller amts….. vitamin c has powerful qualities. But you must get quality as well.. not cheap crap they sell..

  25. Lots of different herbal teas have helped clear up my sinuses – Peppermint, Raspberry, Lemon Balm, Rooibos, Honeybush, are just a few. Take 2 tea bags in a cup or large glass and drink 3X a day. Let the tea bags sit in the water for about 20 minutes. You should be clear in no time! Keep in mind, at the beginning you could have a detox effect and feel worse before you get better while the tea brings stuff out.

  26. I am needing help with a special needs child with a feeding tube. My hubby brought home a head cold that is hitting my son hard. We have done the vapor rub, but we can’t exactly food liquids down his throat without him choking. I am going to make the vapor disks and try the steam shower. Poor baby is miserable.

  27. The hot sauce irritated my nasal passages. it opened them but they burned afterwards….and burned my esophagus. the apple cider worked.. I also did it with white vinegar too.
    Going without milk, sugar definitely worked! Drinking salty chicken broth was a good.

    1. I definitely agree with the ACV I keep it all the time I call it the Lord little miracle soldiers because it helps from anything to clog arteries just a common cold athletes foot I don’t think there’s anything that it’s not good for and it doesn’t help with and it’s safe and effective.

  28. For the record, if you use DoTerra oils, you can use almost all of their oils topically, as well as internally and aromatically.

  29. Tea tree is another great essential oil to add to steaming water for inhalation… a lot of sinus congestions and infections are due to a combination of viruses, bacteria and/or fungi, and tea tree covers it all. Great local remedy for chronic sinusitis as well. Thanks for all the great info, I really enjoy your blog and Facebook page.

  30. hi, when i was a kid, i was told that native americans just use to eat milk weeds, so i decided to eat them raw, it was ok! milky but good, still bit on them today and really dont know what they help but i just see the plant and pick a live and chew away