How to Make an Onion Poultice to Relieve Chest & Cough Congestion

Onion poultices are an accessible and affordable way to approach natural congestion relief. Poultice is an old-fashioned sort of word that encapsulates wet and warm applications to soothe inflammation and pain.

How to Make an Onion Poultice to Relieve Chest & Congestion | Real Food RN

With five kids when the crud rolls through our house I can battle a LOT of chest congestion. Now, I know it’s standard to reach for over-the-counter remedies, but for my family, I really love to check my home’s arsenal of natural congestion remedies first. 

Enter the onion poultice. I must admit, when I first started exploring natural congestion relief for babies when a nasty cough reared its head, the onion poultice took me by surprise. I could say the same happened when I discovered the wet sock therapy treatment. That’s the cool thing about folk remedies though—what seems a little strange at first can turn out to be a game-changer for your natural home lifestyle. In fact it worked so well for us that we went from almost canceling a family cruise to boarding the plane with zero coughs! It worked in a matter of hours and saved our family vacation.

What’s an Onion Poultice?

Onion poultices are an accessible and affordable way to approach natural congestion relief. Poultice is an old-fashioned sort of word that encapsulates wet and warm applications to soothe inflammation and pain. There are lots of different kinds of poultices people use for different reasons, and some can even be used on cuts to soothe pain.

For my family, onions are a staple in our pantry, and old cloth diapers or even cheesecloth can be used for creating the package of a poultice. But why onions? 

The Many Benefits of the Onion

Onions of all kinds are from the family of plants known as alliums. Aside from their ability to make many savory dishes exceptionally tasty, onions have incredible vitamin and mineral content, containing high levels of folate, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Onions also have many antioxidants, but what makes them particularly useful in natural congestion remedies is the antioxidant quercetin. 

Quercetin helps the body’s immune response, which allows our bodies to fight infection and disease with ease. When it comes to a cold or congestion, the smelly quality of onions works as a natural expectorant. Many modern over-the-counter medicines, like Mucinex, contain chemicals that induce the same response. An onion poultice will help break up congestion and reduce spasmodic coughing in the chest.

If used in conjunction with another special home remedy, like Fire Cider, you’ll feel like you reached the top of a mountain and took in a restoring breath. 

What You Need for Your Onion Poultice

  • 2 red, yellow, or white onions—don’t be afraid to mix and match with what you have in your pantry! If you want an optional antibiotic effect, you can also add a few cloves of fresh garlic!
  • 2 Tablespoons of water, for steaming
  • 1 saucepan
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 knife
  • Tea cloth, a clean cloth diaper, or cheese cloth—you can get creative with what you have 
  • 1 rubber band, to contain the poultice


  1. Peel and Chop the Onions. When you cut the onions, you want to make sure you dice them in small or fine pieces. This will help release the antioxidants and stimulate the expectorant effect more easily. I find that dicing is the most effective cut and that two medium onions do the best job. 
  2. Heat your Pan and Add Water. In your frying pan, add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. For me, this tends to be around a tablespoon or a splash, but it can vary by the pan you use. Start with a low heat and wait until the water begins to steam and simmer. Remember, this is enough to sweat the onions to make their magic happen, so keep the temperature low!
  3. Steam the Onions. This process shouldn’t take long. Cover the pan and let the onions steam for a few minutes—you are not cooking the onions so much as coaxing the antioxidants from them, so keep it short and sweet!
  4. Kill the Heat and Transfer the Onions. Transfer the onion mash to the cheese cloth, tea cloth, or cloth diaper—try to omit the water if there’s any left in the pan to keep the poultice wet but not super soggy. Make sure the poultice is cool enough that the temperature is tolerable—you want it hot without burning. 

How to Apply the Onion Poultice

  1. Apply Coconut Oil to the Chest and Neck to Protect the Skin. You want to make sure that you are applying a layer of protection to the skin, especially for children. Before you use the poultice, use coconut oil to protect the skin from irritation. Much like essential oils, using a carrier oil can help keep your child or yourself safe. 
  2. Press the Poultice on the Chest and Base of the Neck. Have your child resting supine (face-up) and gently press the poultice onto their chest and at the base of the neck. To maintain heat, you may use a hot water bottle on top of the poultice as well, for greater penetration of the congestion. 
  3. Rest for 10 to 30 Minutes. Let your child rest with the poultice applied for up to 30 minutes. Make sure to listen to your child about the temperature being okay, and if it starts to get cool. 
  4. Use for the Day and Discard. You can use a poultice again by heating it up the contents in the microwave for a few seconds or steaming it again briefly on the stovetop. Just make sure one poultice per person, per day. Discard your onion poultice and make a new poultice the next day, as needed. 

Catch Your Breath Naturally

Looking for a sure-fire way to beat congestion for yourself or your kiddos? Check out my recipe and how-to guide for Fire Cider. Fire cider is easy to make and a fantastic addition to your personal stash of home remedies. It knocks out the crud right in its tracks!

I also love to add in a few sessions with our trusty steam inhaler, to really break up the thick mucus in the lungs. It makes the onion poultice that much more effective.

If you’re new here, welcome! I’ve got tons of helpful wellness tips around this website when it comes to taking back your health and building wellness in your family. From cell salts to recipes for nutrient-rich dinners, you are sure to find plenty of experiences from me and my family to help your homesteading this winter. Wondering where to start? Check out my e-book here.

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How to Make an Onion Poultice to Relieve Chest & Congestion | Real Food RN
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