Lemon Compress: Natural Remedy for Chest Congestion, Sore Throat & Cold Symptoms

Photo credit: Vanilla and lace / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: Vanilla and lace / Foter.com / CC BY

I do not know how the colder weather and darker days are impacting the members of your family, but we here are a seemingly endless chorus of *cough* *cough* and *sniffle.* Once upon a time we did not get sick very often, but with children getting older and branching out into the world more it means increased exposure to germs. With all three of them in school full days for the first time we are also battling increased stress, decreased outdoor and play time, and less sleep. In combination, it is no wonder that we are succumbing to illness more often.

I am always trying to incorporate more ways to bring fresh air, healthy food, and positive wellness practices into our lives. Over the years, I have also tried to gather ideas to address illness and manage symptoms in many ways and representing different schools of thought. This helps me to draw from a great big bag of tricks when a child gets sick.

The idea of a lemon compress to help alleviate sore throat and chest congestion was introduced to me by an anthroposophical doctor who gave a talk at the kids’ Waldorf school over nine years ago. I have used it countless times since, and we have found it to be a gentle and low intervention method that provides symptom relief for the kids. It is also quick and easy to prepare, and one of the many reasons why I always keep fresh lemons in the house.

As a reminder, I am not a medical doctor. I am sharing this information but advise you to consult your own medical practitioner and make your own decision before adopting any new health practice.

For your lemon compress you will need:

a lemon, organic preferred
hot water, approximately 2 cups
bowl or dish with high sides
natural fiber cloth, rag, or wash cloth
wool flannel or felt (I used part of an old felted sweater)
sick child (an adult would work too)

1. Heat your water until just below a simmer. You can do this directly from the sink if your tap can get quite hot. You can use a pot on the stove, an electric tea kettle, etc. Please avoid using a microwave for this step. I used my stove top and heated the water until I just started to see little bubbles at the bottom of the pot, which is technically a saucepan, but I still call it a pot.

making a lemon compress for cough and colds natural remedy

2. Next, you will want to cut your lemon in half width-wise. Take this half and place it cut side up.

Hello little lemon. You smell nice.

Hello little lemon. You smell nice.

Then, taking your knife, cut across the lemon’s face to divide the lemon into eight sections. Try to cut through the lemon flesh and peel, avoiding the divisions between the segments. Extend the cuts about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way down the height of the lemon so that the pieces remain attached. That sounds complicated, right? It’s not. A picture will make this much clearer.

crunchy parent lemon compress tutorial

3. Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, pour the water into a bowl or better yet a high-sided, shallow dish. Then place the lemon face down in the water and smoosh it down using your hand or the back of a spoon if it is too hot to tolerate doing with your hand. The lemon should splay out like a flower. Really squash it to release the juice and the volatile essential oils from the peel.

lemon compress for natural cough and cold relief

4. Take your natural fiber cloth or rag and soak it in the lemon water.

rag soaking in lemon water for compress

Wring out the cloth until it is no longer dripping wet. Check the temperature of the cloth to make sure that it will not be too hot for your child’s skin. If it is too hot, wave it around gently in the air for a few seconds until it has cooled enough. It will cool pretty quickly.

lemon compress

5. Fold cloth to a manageable size and place it on the child’s chest and throat area, avoiding their nipples. I folded my wash cloth into thirds lengthwise and then folded up the length a bit. I placed this in the center of the chest in between the nipples to avoid irritation. Then, cover the wet cloth with the wool flannel or piece of felted wool. This will contain the moisture and help hold in warmth. Whenever we get holes in a wool sweater, I felt the sweaters and cut lengths to use with compresses.

Placement of lemon compress and wool cover.

Placement of lemon compress and wool cover.

You can then reposition the child’s shirt back over the wool to help hold everything in place. I cover the child with a warm blanket (unless they are feverish and uncomfortably hot) and encourage the child to engage in a restful activity like reading a book. They usually opt to watch TV, which I let them do because they’re sick and crabby.

6. After five minutes, check the cloth. If it has grown cold, apply a new compress (you can reheat the water a bit and wet the same rag again). Continue to check and refresh the compress for a total of approximately fifteen minutes. This process can be repeated several times throughout the day as needed.

When doing the compress, you may find that the skin shows a bit of redness or a slight rash. This is usually not cause for concern, rather it may indicate action beneath the skin, which is good. However if significant irritation, burning, or general discomfort arises, discontinue use and wash the area to remove the acidulated water. Likewise, avoid applying the compress to skin that is cracked, chapped, broken, or otherwise compromised.

For more information about anthroposophy as it relates to health and wellness, the doctor who taught me about this compress recommended the book, Practical Home Care Medicine. I personally am not an anthroposophist nor have not read the book. I cannot comment with respect to the suggestions that it makes. Since the anthroposophic perspective is a relatively esoteric one however, I wanted to provide the resource for those who may be interested in learning more.

What are some of your favorite natural remedies to help support health during the cold and dark months ahead?

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