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Updated: Apr 18, 2019

This winter my family has been hit hard with a yucky respiratory infection that has been making rounds visiting many of us living in the Bay Area. Watching your little one cough and feel sick and icky is such an awful and powerless feeling. When it comes to coughs and congestion over-the-counter medicine is pretty much off the table for children under 4. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the FDA have ruled that over-the-counter cough and cold medicine not be made available for children under the age of 4, and recommend children under the age of 6 not be given any.

The good news is that herbs, essential oils and other natural remedies can provide safe and effective relief for kids and adults. This latest cold season really put my skills as a tired, sick, pregnant herbalist to the test. I focused on simple and easy remedies that were safe for both my two and half year old and myself during pregnancy.


Honey helps soothe the throat, acts as a cough suppressant and fights against infection. Taking honey before bed has been found to calm night time coughs in children in this study. Children older than 1 years old can take ½ tsp of honey, twice a day. And sure you can lick it straight off the spoon, but by adding honey to hot water or tea you are getting in more liquids (tip #6). I recommend adding honey to tea in the morning and having some before bed.

Running a humidifier at night adds moisture back into the air and helps with stuffy noses. In the winter time when heaters are running and drying out the air a humidifier is extra helpful in preventing a dry cough. Keeping your sleeping space moist will help with congestion throughout the night.

Salt water or a saline spray helps thin mucus with stuffy nose and congestion. My little one wont let me near her when she spots a NoseFrida or some other snot sucking device. But even using just the salt water drops will help!

A neti pot helps to thin the mucus and clear up the nasal passages. This is my favorite tried and true remedy for sinus relief. When congestion is really bad I aim to use the neti pot 3-4 times a day. Again, not a option for little kiddos but great for adults and older children.

Steam helps open the nasal passages and soothe inflamed sinuses. For little ones spending time in a steamy bathroom can help ease cold, cough and congestion symptoms. Try the recipe below for an herbal facial steam!

Get in as much liquids as possible! Fluids help thin out the mucus and help with congestion. Juice is a nice option for kids who have little interest in eating while sick.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

When it comes to herbs for respiratory relief my favorite preparation is a facial steam. Steam helps to moisten the respiratory tract, break-up mucus and expectorate gunk out of the lungs. For congestion and sinus pressure there is nothing better than steam!

A useful respiratory herb I always have on hand is thyme. As an antimicrobial thyme is helpful in fighting off infection and is great in a steam, specifically when green or yellow mucus is present. It can be used for both wet or dry coughs. Think of thyme when you have a lingering dry cough that is deep and tickles the throat. Gargling with thyme can help relieve a sore throat or irritation from coughs. Thyme also supports sluggish digestion and is a great spice to cook with.

Another herb for congestion is yerba santa. This California native plant is a powerful decongestant and helps to open up the lungs and removes accumulated phlegm. Yerba Santa is great for moist coughs, where the reflexes are too weak to bring up phlegm and the throat might be raw from coughing. Since yerba santa dries up the membranes I like to combine it with moisturizing demulcent herbs such as marshmallow or licorice when used in tea or tincture.

Here is a recipe for an herbal facial steam featuring thyme and yerba santa.



1 tbsp Yerba Santa

1 tbsp dried Thyme or a few sprigs fresh

1 tbsp Lavender

1 tbsp Mullein


Add 1-2 inches of water to a pot and bring to right before a boil.

Add herb mixture to the pot and cover. Let steep for 2 minutes.

Lean over the pot and cover your head with a towel. Aim to breath in the steam for 5-10 minutes.

For congestion it’s great to do a herbal facial steam 2-3 times a day.

There is no way my toddler was sticking her face over a pot of steaming herbs. Believe me I tried. She was not having it! A child friendly alternative is to add respiratory herbs to a bath. Adding calming sleepy time herbs like lavender, chamomile and rose is a great addition to night time baths.

To prepare a herbal bath add a small handful of herb mixture to a muslin cloth bag and add it to the bath. Alternatively you can steep 1 oz of herbs in 4 cups water for 30 minutes to make a strong tea. Strain tea and add to bath water.


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