Sinus issues run rampant across the U.S. at this time of year.  Your sinuses may be dripping or congested, you feel sick, and it may be because of allergies or food intolerances or both. What is the purpose of sinuses, anyway?

The sinuses have a number of purposes.  To start, there are four sets of paired sinuses.  Two of the four paired sinuses, the ethmoid and maxillary sinuses, are present at birth and continue to grow.  The third, the frontal sinus, develops around age seven and the fourth sinus, the sphenoid, develops during adolescence.

They are air-filled, open cavities in our heads that help to lighten the weight of our head (which is approximately 11 pounds).  Sinuses also warm and add moisture to the air we breathe in through our nose. According to David Hoffman, sinuses “act as a sound box to give resonance to the voice.” And finally, our sinuses are lined with mucous membranes which are the first line of defense to filter out bacteria and pathogens from entering our respiratory system.

Now that we understand the basics of the sinus cavities, we can explore why our sinuses get congested or runny.  To answer that we need to determine if our sinus issue is acute, chronic, or from environmental exposure.

Acute sinus issues are typically due to a viral or bacterial infection. 

Chronic sinus issues occur constantly and can be caused by allergies, food allergies/intolerances, and environmental exposures such as mold, pets, or smoking, etc.

Environmental exposure includes exposure to things such as second-hand cigarette smoke, fragrances, and chemicals.

Once you’ve identified the cause of your sinus issues,  you can be proactive by eating foods that help nourish the sinuses and thin the mucous. These include:

Garlic – add garlic to soups, stews, and salad dressings. You can also make a garlic-honey syrup by placing a head of chopped garlic in a mason jar and covering it with honey.  Take a teaspoon as needed.  Trust me, it tastes better than you think!

Horseradish –Fire cider made with horseradish helps drain the sinuses.  Adding horseradish to food, as sandwich spreads and dressings will also help to thin the mucous.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – Anise hyssop is a herb in the mint family.  It is a mucolytic and helps to thin the mucous.  If you don’t already grow it in your garden, it is readily available in natural food stores in the tea section. Celebration Herbals or Buddha teas carry a Hyssop tea.

Elimination diet – in case of food allergies.  Gluten and dairy can both be triggers to sinus congestion.  Try out a six-week elimination of gluten and dairy and after the six weeks, try a small bit of gluten and pay attention to how your body feels.  Then try a small bit of dairy and once again pay attention to how your body feels.  You’ll be able to determine if these are the source of your sinus issues.

Elderberry – According to Rosalee de la Forét, the flavonoids have been shown to support a healthy microbial balance in the sinuses.

Use remedies that contain lymphatic herbs. Lymphathic herbs are used to move the invaders out of our system.  The lymphatic system relies on body movement through walking, exercising, or dry brushing for example to encourage lymphatic drainage and movement.  Using herbs that help the lymph system along helps to remove the pathogens from the body by draining to the lymph nodes and excreted from the body. 

There are many mechanisms to sinus congestion and draining.  I hope some of these suggestions will help reduce the discomfort caused by the irritants and allergens we experience. 

de la Forét, Rosalee (2013).  Ultimate Elderberry Ebook.  WA:  Learning Herbs

Easley, Thomas (2017).  Upper Respiratory class notes.  Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine.

Gallagher, John and Rosalee de la Forét (2016).  Learning Herbs. Cold Care Class.

Hoffman, David (2003).  Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT:Healing Arts Press.

Horne, Steven and Thomas Easley (2014).  Modern Herbal Medicine.  St. George, UT:The School of Modern Herbal Medicine.

Johns Hopkins Medicine.  Accessed 02/10/2020.

Materia Medica Monthly, Volume 6: Plantain (Plantago major).  School of Evolutionary Herbalism.

Mills, Simon and Kerry Bone (2000). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. New York, NY:Churchill Livingstone.

Wickes Felter, M.D., Harvey and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph.D.  King’s American Dispensatory, 1898.

Sandy Morehouse is a functional herbalist and educator with WishGarden Herbs. She is based in Northwest Arkansas and spreads the herb love to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. She received her functional herbalist certification from Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine; certificate from Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in Medicine Making; and is continuing her education with Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women course.