When I still lived at home with my parents, my mom would sing out “neti pot!” every time I complained of sinus pressure or sounded congested, which was fairly often during cold, dry winter weather. At first I hated using the neti pot, which involves pouring salty water into one nostril and out the other to help clear sinus congestion and rinse out allergy-causing debris, like pollen. I always waited until the infection was so bad that my sinuses were completely clogged and the salt burned my irritated mucous membranes. No wonder I hated it!
In college, I couldn’t afford to buy antibiotics every time my sinuses flared, plus I was becoming more aware about the negative side-effects that antibiotics can have on our gut microbiomes. As an alternative, I started using my neti pot 3 or 4 times a week to prevent sinus and allergy symptoms from taking hold in the first place – what a difference that made! I learned that Ayurvedic practitioners have used nasal rinses for thousands of years and they complete their rinse with the application of Nasya or “nose” oil to keep their nasal passages from drying out.
By switching my neti pot usage to a preventative habit rather than a last-minute treatment for acute sinus conditions, I completely changed my relationship with the neti pot and my appreciation for sinus rinses in general. I haven’t had a sinus infection for years, and now I’m the one singing out “neti pot!” every time a friend or coworker complains of sinus or allergy congestion.
For years, I kept a container of sea salt and a box of baking soda underneath by sink and I would sprinkle a bit of each into my neti pot before adding warm water. The salt helps prevent irritation because it makes the rinse more closely resemble your own sinus fluids; the baking soda increases the mucus-thinning properties of the solution. Casually mixing the solution on an as-needed basis is a fine technique, but after splurging on a store-bought, infused salt rinse I realized that adding a few drops of essential oil can drastically improve the experience.
The infused salt rinse that I purchased had a gentle mix of rosemary, fir, and cedar wood essential oils, and by inhaling deeply after the neti rinse I felt like I was standing in the center of a cool evergreen forest. Although I loved the infused salts, I didn’t love the price tag, especially for something I could so easily create myself.
I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to use my neti pot when I have a ready-made solution on hand. Plus, keeping this rinse in stock has allowed me to clear the unsightly salt and baking soda containers out from underneath my bathroom sink. When following the below recipe, I mix up enough infused salts to fill a 4 ounce glass jar, which lasts my household about 3 months.
Add the sea salt to your storage container and then add 4 or 5 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Stir or shake your container to distribute the oils evenly. Add the baking soda, put the lid on your container, and shake vigorously to mix everything together.
To use: Add ½ teaspoon of the infused salts to your neti pot and then cover with 1 cup of room temperature, distilled water. Lean over your sink and pour half the mixture through one nostril then stop, switch sides, and pour the other half through your other nostril. Clean your neti pot in warm, soapy water between uses.
Warning: Essential oils are extremely concentrated and should be used with caution. Research your essential oil selection carefully before using it and test the diluted oil on the back of your hand to make sure you don’t have any unexpected reactions. To test the oil, dilute 3 drops essential oil in ½ teaspoon of carrier oil (olive oil, sesame oil, almond oil, etc.). Rub a drop of the diluted essential oil onto the back of your hand and watch it for 24 hours to make sure no signs of redness appear. If no patchy red spots appear, then you can assume it’s safe to use on your body and you can add a few drops to your neti pot rinse. If you use too much essential oil or too much salt then your neti pot rinse will burn.
An even gentler way to incorporate healing plants in your neti rinse is to leave out the essential oils and instead replace the distilled water with an herbal infusion. If you have a runny nose, then an astringent tea made with raspberry leaf, yarrow, or rose, will help tighten tissue and dry up the mucus membranes. If your nasal passages feel raw and sore, then a vulnerary herb, such as calendula, plantain, or chamomile, will help repair the damaged tissues. Finally, if there’s a sense of intense dryness underlying the issue, then demulcent herbs, like slippery elm and marshmallow will provide comfort. For more information on using herbal teas in sinus rinses, I recommend reading The Herbal Academy’s online blog post Natural Allergy Relief: Nasal Rinses, Eyewashes, and Herbal Steam.
Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener magazine and senior editor for Mother Earth News. Read all of Hannah's posts here.