Simple Thai Herbal Remedies for Colds and Sinus Congestion

For many of us, when the weather starts to turn cooler, we start to think about boosting our immune systems to ward off winter’s cold and flues. In Thailand winter is still by Western standards reasonably warm. The North-east tends to be generally cooler than Bangkok, with temperatures dropping into the mid 20°C. As the winter chill sets in many turn to simple, yet effective natural remedies to warm the body and build up the immune system. Next time you’re feeling unwell, try some of these Thai herbal remedies!

The first on our list is Ginger. Ginger is called “Khing” in Thai. It really is the “King” of the Southeast Asian herbs so it gets the No. 1 place on our list of effective remedies, even though it is very simple. Ginger is the most frequently used herb in Thai Herbal Medicine. Considered a “hot” herb it has been shown to stimulate circulation and reduces congestion. A simple tea may be made from either dried or fresh ginger root. I prefer to use fresh, which is generally available at most Asian or natural foods markets. To make the tea, you need about a thumb size piece of ginger. Wash then peel it, and add to a saucepan of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. (Ginger, being a rhizome takes longer to brew than leafy herbs) Let cool to taste then strain. You may drink it as it or add some fresh lemon or honey to taste.

An easy variation on the Ginger tea is to add a Thai Chili to the tea. Thai Chili is also considered a “hot” herb in Thai Medicine. High in Vitamin C it is considered a tonic to the body and helps clear mucus congestion. . Add the Thai Chili to the saucepan when simmering. I often add 2 of the small red Thai Chilies, but I recommend starting with one. (A good rule is the smaller the chili, the hotter it will likely be.) Do not cut or chop the chili, just add whole to the simmering water with the Ginger. Simmer 15 minutes as above. Add honey and fresh lemon juice to taste.

Another simple Thai herbal remedy is an herbal sinus steam. Steams and saunas are very common in Thailand and it is easy to recreate a basic steam in your own kitchen. On a stovetop in metal saucepan (about 4 cups of water) add one handful chopped ginger and lemongrass. (I save the tops of lemongrass I don’t use when cooking and dry to have on hand for teas and steams.) To this add either one handful of Eucalyptus leaf. If eucalyptus leaf is unavailable, when removing saucepan from heat add 8-10 drops eucalyptus pure essential oil. Place saucepan on towel on table. Cover you head with another towel or sheet and hold you’re head at a comfortable height above the steam for 3-4 minutes. Breathe deeply. You may want to take a break at times for a few seconds then return to steam. Do this for about 10 minutes.

The benefits to this steam is that it helps thin the mucus in the respiratory tract, relieving congestion, and increasing circulation. Eucalyptus is considered an antiseptic and antibacterial herb so it has a toxic effect on a variety of bacteria that cause common colds. Another variation to this is to combine all the ingredients in a cheesecloth bundle and add to a hot bath. You get not only get the benefits of the herbs but a hot bath will help relieve the aches of your cold.

Don’t have time for a sinus steam? Thais have a great “on the go” version of this in Ya Dom. A nasal herbal inhaler that contains a blend of the essential oils of eucalyptus, camphor and menthol in one handy lip balm sized container. It is commonly bought in any pharmacy over the counter. In the USA you can often find them in the glass cases near the register at most Thai Markets. They generally cost around 2 dollars. Online you find them on (search under Ya Dom) It can be carried in your pocket throughout the day for frequent sniffing and sinus relief. A homemade all-natural one, can be bought at under the category Thai Herbs.

You may also use a soothing vapor rub to help relieve sinus congestion. A common balm you can find both in Thailand and in the USA is White Monkey Holding Peach Balm. The name alone is enough to bring a smile to your face! If you can’t find it at a local Asian market, check White Monkey Holding Peach balm contains essential oils of Camphor, Menthol, Eucalyptus, Cinnamon, Peppermint and clove in an ointment base. Apply to chest and throat taking care not to use near eyes. I’ve also used this same balm for rubbing on my temples when I have a headache. It’s a handy remedy to have in your herbal medicine cabinet.

So, I hope you enjoy a simple introduction to using Thai Herbal remedies when you’re feeling unwell. However, it is my hope you stay as we say in Thai “sabai”… or healthy!