Homemade Herbal Vapor Rub to Relieve Coughs and Congestion

Homemade Herbal Vapor Rub to Relieve Coughs and Congestion

herbal vapor salve

Seeing our children suffer from a cough is no fun at all. However, coughs have their place in healing and should usually not be suppressed. If we prevent a cough from doing its part in recovery, we can set our child up for a much more serious illness. What starts out as a simple cold could quickly turn into bronchitis or pnemonia if mucous is allowed to settle in the chest.

At times, a cough can interfere with recovery when it causes severe irritation and prevents our child from getting adequate rest. We can ease our child’s discomfort while still allowing a cough to do its job.

Soothing herbs and honey protect the throat from dryness and irritation, but don’t “turn off” the brain’s response to cough like some cough remedies do. Propping a child slightly helps to prevent the infection from settling in the lungs. Steam, poultices, and chest rub salves help to break up the chest congestion and make our child feel better fast.

Natural Remedies to Relieve a Cough

Eucalyptus and other essential oils can be very effective in relieving a cough. The oils help to increase oxygen flow and break up chest congestion. Some have antibacterial and/or antiviral properties as well! We can include these essential oils in stream treatments (diffused in vaporizors or humidifiers or in towel steam treatments) or in chest rubs, applied topically with a carrier oil or salve.

For years, I simply added essential oils to olive oil, similar to this recipe, and rubbed it on the chest for relief, but I’ve come to prefer a salve over the oil. It’s not as greasy or messy and it’s much less likely to spill.

Making a chest rub salve is simple. It’s also safer (and cheaper) than the store-bought brands, like Vic’s, which are made from a petroleum base and contain questionable preservatives and other ingredients.

herbal vapor salve ingredients

How to Make a Chest Rub Salve

To make a chest rub salve, you will need a pan to melt the ingredients and a container to store the finished product in. I prefer metal tins, either 2 ounces or 4 ounces for this type of salve. Used moisturizer containers work well, too.

The size of your container will determine how much salve you make, so I will list the ingredient amounts in parts instead of a pre-determined amount. Over the years, I have found this to be much easier than trying to adjust a recipe to fit the container I store it in.


  • 2 parts coconut oil
  • 1 part beeswax
  • eucalyptus essential oil(about 10 drops per ounce)
  • white camphor essential oil (about 5 drops per ounce)

Simply melt the oil and beeswax in a pan and then add the essential oils. Pour into your metal tin(s) or other container. And that’s it!

The salve will harden within 10-15 minutes. If you find it is too soft, like the consistency of an ointment, you can scoop it back into the pan, remelt it and add more beeswax. If it is too hard, remelt and add more oil. I’ve also remelted to add more essential oil when I wasn’t satisfied with the strength of the oils.

This is a basic chest rub salve recipe that can be altered or added to to suit your individual needs or preferences. Essential oils of hyssop, rosemary, peppermint, thyme are a few examples of other oils that help relieve chest congestion. (Some essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy, so check the safety of any oils you plan to add if pregnant.)

We also use this salve to help relieve nasal congestion. When applied right under the nose, it helps to clear the airway instantly!

What are your favorite home remedies for relieving the discomfort of a cough?

Disclaimer: The writers at KOTH are not certified medical professionals of any kind and are not qualified to give you medical advice. Our goal is to help to educate and inspire you to take responsibility for your own family’s health and make informed choices of your own, not to consult you on medical treatment. 

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.

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  1. Thank you so much for this post! My daughter was sick recently and I didn’t have anything else to use, so I used Vicks…..now I’ll keep this recipe on hand at all times. Thank you!

  2. My family is sensitive to eucalyptus, it makes them cough! After much searching for a natural (non-petroleum) chest rub without eucalyptus oil, I finally made my own last year. You can find my recipe here
    I used peppermint oil instead of eucalyptus. We found it works well as a sore muscle rub as well.

    1. Im just trying to get advice what can i use to get mucus out my throat i got c.o.p.d and im trying to cough it out and im gettin a sore throat

  3. I read somewhere that camphor is on the EPA list of toxic substances. I haven’t used anything with it in it in a while. Anyone know anything about that?


  4. How timely!! I was just about to look on here and then Passionate Homemaking’s website to see if I could find a natural recipe for me and my 15 month. I usually “rough it out”, because I believe God made our bodies to be able to work things like colds out naturally. I might take tylonel if I am really struggling, but usually I just drink lots of pulpy natural orange juice, water, and chicken soup, and sit in a steamy bathroom for really congested days. I think I heal pretty quickly, and definitely am more functional than my hubby, who insists on taking day and nyquil. Thanks for the post!!!

  5. Thank you for posting! I have been looking for more natural cold and cough remedies for this cold/flu season. I will be pinning this post and hope to make up a batch soon before the cough hits our house this winter!

  6. I’m somewhat new to using essential oils, so I’m still learning. I was wondering if they are safe to use on itty bitty ones, like 3 months old?

  7. Great timing. My four-year-old has a horrible cough that is keeping her up and I don’t know what else to do for her. I’m also all for letting colds run their course until they interfere with getting enough rest. I’m going to look into making this.

  8. Coughs and colds seem to be so finnicky, it’s great to have something else to try while in search for the magic panacea! Thanks.

  9. I have found that an extract made from organic vodka and fenugreek seeds work wonders for a cough. Fenugreek can prevent and clear up pneumonia and when I give about 10 drops of the extract to my son, he is cough-free for many hours. As an alternative to the fenugreek, I used to grind up the seeds (you can buy them pre-powdered) and I’d dip the back of a spoon into Manuka honey and then into the small bowl with the fenugreek powder and give it to him that way. That worked too.

  10. I am going to try this but for my kids the old mustard plaster trick and the cool mist tenting. They both work like a charm. I am so happy I payed attention to my mom when she gave me all these wonderful Old tips. Saves me tones at the Dr. office.

  11. I just made something similar to this last night, using equal parts coconut oil, mashed garlic, and olive oil (about 3 T of each), with 15-20 drops eucalyptus oil. The garlic adds quite a scent (could be a negative to some) but also so much disease-fighting punch! Hopefully it can break up my daughter’s cough before I have to break down and get her a commercial antibiotic (and put us back at square 1 with gut flora…)!

  12. to Samantha- essential oils should be fine for babies as long as they are diluted in a carrier oil like olive oil and not put directly on the skin alone. You also may want to look up dilution guidelines for their age (usually younger kids need more dilution, older kids are ok with less).

  13. This looks great! I just need to pick up some eos! (Good excuse!) We swear by Vicks rub on feet and chests when the kids have coughs, so I’d love a cheaper, more natural substitute! Chest rub=comfort when sick in my book!

  14. I really like this and want to make some of my own. Where should I look for essential oils and beeswax? Is it better (mostly I mean cheaper) to get them online or should I look at a local store? Thanks!

  15. This is so appreciated, since I am sick today! I think I will make some up to have on hand for next time. Where can I buy things like beeswax and essential oils?



  16. @Lois, I didn’t realize eucalyptus could cause coughing like that. Now, this recipe wouldn’t be the best idea for your family then, would it? 🙂 Peppermint oil is great, too! It works slightly different at the chemical level, but still very effective for congestion! I’ve used that along with a carrier oil before. It’s also great in a lip balm…and in “sore muscle rub salves”.

  17. @Linda, White camphor essential oil is different from camphor, which can be synthetically derived. At least this is what I’ve always understood, but I am just a mom making home remedies and not an expert.

  18. @Amy, I also believe our bodies usually heal just fine on their own! Over time, I’ve learned to gauge when to add in remedies like this. I’ve kind of picked up on how to evaluate a cough by the sound and when being more proactive is needed. I also have a stethoscope to help me make those tough calls.

  19. @Nicole Swanson, Fenugreek is just wonderful all around, for many things! I use raw, unfiltered, sometimes local, honey, but I’ve been wanting to try Manuka honey for quite some time now and I’ve heard it’s definitely worth the higher price. I will be sharing another cough remedy recipe on my blog this week, similar to your fenugreek/honey remedy!

    1. A senior friend of mine removed his eye cateracts by using manuka honey…each night he would put a little bit inside each eye lid. he said it hurt a little but a month or so after using it his cateracts were gone and eyesight improved.

  20. @Kay, @SaraR, @Lisa Neumann, I usually get my beeswax either from my local craft store, Hobby Lobby (only when it’s 30-40% off or with a 40% coupon), or online, usually through Amazon when I can find a good deal. I always get natural, unbleached, but they sell bleached, too. I imagine bleached would lose some of the wonderful honey/floral aroma so characteristic of beeswax. I try to stock up when I come across a good deal since it keeps so well. $8/pound is about what I tend to buy it for, but maybe someone else has a better source/price?? I buy essential oils either online (like Amazon) or at my local co-op when the price is right.

  21. @REBA FANSLER, I haven’t tried the mustard, but I’ve heard it works wonders. You are fortunate to have a mom who taught you so well! I think about that often when treating my own children…how they’re learning these long-lost remedies as I treat them!

  22. @Christina, That sounds like a great mixture! I love the scent of garlic, especially that lingering scent on my fingers after chopping it for a meal! I know, not all people like the small of garlic, though. Garlic is a powerful antibiotic, so hopefully it will clear it so you don’t end up with the meds.

  23. Nice post!I have been looking for more natural cold and cough remedies for this cold/flu season.Its really help to me because this cold season I always suffering cold..

  24. Thanks for sharing this recipe! It looks a lot easier than I would have imagined! I needed this the past few weeks….I should go and make it before any of us need it again!!

  25. Where do you find the tins to put it in? I’ve never seen them in a store. I looked online but some are food grade others aren’t. I know we won’t be eating it but didn’t know if the oils would erode the tin or anything crazy like that! Thanks!

  26. Our family definitely needs this right now, can anyone suggest where the most affordable place is to buy ingredients?

    1. MountainRoseHerbs.com is a wonderful place to buy all of these ingredients. I have been using their stuff for several years and have never been disappointed.

  27. I made this and it works so nicely in place of petroleum based vapor rub. I feel great smearing this all over my toddler. It’s been very useful for the cold that we seem to keep passing around. Thanks!

  28. You can use castor oil in place of the coconut oil. I make an herbal chest rub with castor oil infused with mullein and lobelia, thickened with beeswax with essential oils of rosemary, eucalyptus and peppermint added. I also sprinkle essential oils: eucalptus, peppermint and lavender on my children’s pajamas when they are congested and it helps them breathe while they are sleeping. Thanks for the recipe and all the great ideas.

  29. This looks great, but can you tell me what age it is safe for? Camphor seems like a strong oil for infants. Thank you! 🙂

  30. Coming a bit late to the party, but I just found this post through google (I think, or surfed on in from somewhere else I found through google, LOL). Anyway, thanks. I’ve been using just an oil base, but it is pretty messy. I am definitely going to try your recipe now!

  31. I am new to essential oils and have a question about cooking equipment. Since some oils are pretty potent and not considered safe for ingestion does anyone know if I use my daily cookware to make an essential oils receipe if this will affect our food that’s also cooked in these pots and pans? Of course they would be washed etc before cooking, but just curious if there’s residue or corrosion of cookware to be careful of. Thanks!

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