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The Best Essential Oils for Congestion + How to Use Them


Breathing in essential oils helps banish headaches, stress and insomnia so it’s no surprise that they’re helpful when the problem is … just breathing at all. Is congestion a constant struggle from winter cold season through spring allergy season for anyone else?

A “stuffy nose” is basically inflammation (the root of all our problems?!) in the nasal cavities or mucus membranes that blocks the flow of air. When my sinuses are clogged, not only does it make it hard to breathe, but it usually leads to headaches and pressure between the eyes. And when the nasal passages stay blocked for too long, it can easily lead to a sinus infection. If you’ve had one, you know how fun that sinus pressure and pain can be.

Over the counter meds tend to make my congestion worse so I rely on these natural remedies for stuffy noses. Especially essential oils, which do amazing things for the respiratory system. Breathing in the oils takes them into the nose and lungs where they can help soothe congestion, coughs and colds.

Best Essential Oils for Congestion

Stock up on these oils if you’re looking to breathe easier. Not sure how to use them? The easiest way to deliver an essential oil to your nose is, you guessed it, to breathe it in. You can do that via:

  • direct inhalation – straight from the bottle, put a few drops on a handkerchief or add 15 drops of the blend to the wick of an inhaler.
  • steam inhalation – you can do a warm face steam or use the humid air in the shower
  • diffuser – add 5-10 drops into your diffuser to scent rooms or while you sleep
  • topically – rub a salve on your chest and back and breathe in the scent

Here are my favorite oils for stuffy nose relief:

1. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus)

Skip the Vicks Vapo Rub and use cool, clearing eucalyptus instead. The essential oil busts up blocked sinuses and helps remove mucus. There are lots of ways to inhale eucalyptus (including straight from the bottle), but I like these menthol shower steamers. Warm, steamy showers help loosen mucus, and these disks are loaded with sinus-clearing ingredients like menthol and eucalyptus. Put one on the shower floor and breathe deep.

2. Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora ct. 1,8 cineole)

It’s easy to get confused with this oil! A different oil than Ravensara (Ravensara aromatica), ravintsara is distilled from the leaves of the ravintsara tree in Madagascar that’s rich in 1,8-cineole, the plant chemical that gives eucalyptus oils their penetrating aroma.

Too add to the confusion, Cinnamomum camphora also produces Ho Wood (var linalool) and camphor essential oils. While the oils come from the same tree species, their chemical makeup differs based on where the tree is grown and what part the of the tree is used. To get the most congestion-busting cineole, go with ravintsara to support the lungs and boost the immune system at the first sign of cold and flu symptoms.

3. Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

The strong menthol scent of peppermint also helps open up the sinuses and calm coughs. Humid air is your BFF when it comes to sinus relief so use a vaporizer or diffuser at night while you sleep with a few drops of essential oil. Or try a facial steam with two drops of peppermint oil. Bonus: it will also clear out congested pores and kill bacteria. Follow safety cautions if using with children.

4. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

The most annoying thing about a cold is the mucus, ugh. Rosemary to the rescue. Rosemary has three chemical types, and the most common is rosemary ct cineole, which has a more pungent sinus-clearing scent and is a great addition to a homemade chest rub. The cineole reduces inflammation, kills off bacteria and viruses, and opens up nasal passages by breaking down mucus.

You’ll also find rosemary ct. camphor and rosemary ct. verbenone. I like rosemary ct. verbenone, a softer, gentler version of rosemary essential oil. It works especially well on clearing out thick mucus, and unlike other rosemary chemotypes, it’s safe for use with children.

The Best Essential Oils for Congestion + How to Use Them

5. Cajeput (Melaleuca cajuputi)

Cajeput is in the same family of oils as tea tree, but with a milder aroma. Its antiseptic properties help fight respiratory infections while its menthol scent decongestants blocked noses. Athletes love cajeput for soothing sore muscles, and a warm bath with cajeput can clear up congestion and ease an achy body.

Add 2 drops of cajeput, 2 drop of peppermint and 3 drops of frankincense with 1 tablespoon of jojoba oil and add to this simple DIY bath salt recipe to clear your sinuses and breathe easier.

Don’t have cajeput? Substitute with tea tree or niaouli, another oil in the tea tree family that also busts up congestion and gives your immune system a boost.

6. Clove bud (Eugenia caryophyllata)

Diffusing the comforting, warming aroma of clove bud is perfect this time of year because it not only helps open stuffy noses but it also disinfects the air. Very important when it seems like everyone is sick. The oil acts as an expectorant to clear out the mucus that comes with coughs and cold. Diffuse a combination of one drop clove, and 6 drops lavender and 3 drops of clary sage to bring relief.

If you don’t have clove bud, try diffusing other spicy oils like cinnamon (leaf or bark) or myrrh.

7. Pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Pine essential oil can do more than make your house smell clean. Diffuse the oil and let the fresh scent clear out congestion and make breathing a breeze. Rich in monoterpenes, pine acts as a decongestant as well as an antiseptic to fight lurking viruses and bacteria in the respiratory system. Plus it’s a warming oil that helps relieve the pain of muscle and body aches. If you don’t have pine, you can substitute cypress, or spruce.

The Best Essential Oils for Congestion + How to Use ThemAdd 2 drops pine oil, 2 drops lemon oil, 2 drops lavender oil, 1 drop rosemary oil and 1 drop thyme oil to a bowl of steaming water, cover head and bowl with a towel and inhale slowly, taking deeper and deeper breaths through nose and mouth with eyes closed. Diffuse pine with a few drops of thyme essential oil to ease coughs and promote respiratory health.

Congestion Diffuser Blends

Here are a few diffuser blends that are perfect for cold and congestion season. The first one is great for use with kiddos.

Want more congestion-clearing diffusion blends? Or the best essential oils for staying healthy this cold season?

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