Congestion, often accompanied by sinus pressure, is a symptom of many illnesses — allergies, a cold, and the flu, to name a few. According to WebMD, congestion stems from inflammation and irritation in the membranes lining the nasal passages, which then produce an excess of mucus. Keeping nasal passages moist helps membranes recover: humidifiers, steamy showers, consumption of fluids, and nasal saline sprays can all assist in easing irritation
While this concoction, recommended by nurse, author, and healthcare advocate Michelle Katz, is actually a gargle instead of a drink, she reports that it breaks down the mucus in airways, clears chest congestion, and soothes a sore throat. Certified Chinese nutritionist Neka Pasquale also supports the use of turmeric, as it has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Pair one half tablespoon turmeric with one half cup apple cider vinegar and gargle for as long as you can.
As if grandmothers the world over weren’t expert enough, in 2007 The New York Times reported that chicken soup has proven to be effective against colds. According to studies published in the medical journal Chest, the hot fluids increase the flow of nasal fluids and improve the function of cilia, the tiny, hair-like protuberances that help move mucus and bacteria out of the nose, thus helping to break down congestion.
The superfood that kills congestion most effectively is garlic. Stover points to the allicin found in garlic as the basis for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Healthcare advocate Michelle Katz suggests pairing garlic with lime or other citrus fruit to help clear congestion.
Neka Pasquale, an herbalist, certified Chinese nutritionist, and founder of Urban Remedy, a line of healing foods, juices, and tinctures, cites ginger as one of the core ingredients traditionally used to treat cold and flu symptoms. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory that relieves swollen nasal passages to promote easier breathing. Whether you make simple ginger tea or incorporate crushed ginger into carrot-cashew milk, like Pasquale suggests, the key is to use fresh ginger root.
Dr. Vic Manzo, Jr. of the Dimensional Family Wellness Center in La Grange, Illinois, suggests adding honey to soothing tea when congested. Not only does the hot water break down mucus and hydrate nasal passages, honey possesses antimicrobial and antioxidant effects.
Stover states, “Horseradish strengthens your immune system, increases blood flow to parts of your body that are affected by infections, and helps remove wastes.” It contains allyl isothiocyanate, which stimulates the eyes, mouth, and nose, thus releasing excess mucus. The quickest way to see results is to chew a piece of horseradish root until the flavor dissipates, then swallow the root.
Whether you go for hot sauce or dried spices, like cayenne, adding some heat to your favorite comfort foods will improve congestion symptoms. Not only does it get mucus flowing, Stover notes that the chemical capsicum found in hot peppers is a rich source of vitamin C and bioflavonoids that boost white blood-cell production.
Onions work wonders when it comes to alleviating congestion. Katz recommends eating raw onions at the first symptoms of congestion: they work faster uncooked. Katz also reports that sulphur and quercetin flavonol found in the vegetable help break down mucus and ease congestion.
Culinary nutritionist and registered dietician Jennifer Cohen Katz recommends adding stinging nettle to fresh juices or teas to relieve nasal congestion. A natural antihistamine, stinging nettle reduces swelling in sinus passages to allow for the expectoration of mucus, clearing airways to alleviate breathing difficulties.
Like horseradish, wasabi belongs to the Brassicacae family of plants. This means it too possesses allyl isothiocyanate, which helps clear sinuses. Cohen Katz suggests eating it when congested to help flush out bacteria in the sinuses. Try adding wasabi to white rice when you feel symptoms coming on.