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Alternative medicine often gets a bad rap because many believe its techniques are outside of modern scientific methods of healthcare, particularly when they shun modern prescription medications­. In reality, though, modern practitioners of “alternative medicine” often aim for a holistic approach to health and wellness by combining natural, plant-based, spiritual, and other methods with modern medicine. Their thinking is that the prevention of illness is better than just waiting to treat its signs and symptoms when they arise.

In popular culture today, it’s not unusual to hear about Ayurvedic practices (traditional medicines from Indian tradition) and Chinese or Oriental medicines and how they’ve influenced current alternative techniques. The ancient practices of Africa, though, only started breaking into modern mainstream American culture much more recently—unless we go all the way back to the early 1700s when enslaved Onesimus explained to Cotton Mather how Africans inoculated against smallpox!

One of the ways Black communities are taking a traditional approach to wellness is with a renewed focus on food. Structural barriers have separated many Black Americans from access to fresh, healthy options so, now, some Black entrepreneurs are actually growing products specifically for communities in need. As they work to meet that need, young Black farmers are also discovering and sharing knowledge developed by local and African indigenous farmers from generations ago. Since food is medicine, as they say, alternative health treatments that were once considered folklore are being revitalized along the way. One of those treatments can provide a breath of fresh air—so to speak—for our modern time of respiratory stress is known as Steaming.

How to Support Clean Breathing by Steaming

  1. In a large pot, add 1 liter of water and 25 grams of eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary, peppermint, clove, or lavender.

  2. Heat until simmering.

  3. Pour the infused water into a bowl.

  4. Place your head over the steaming bowl and cover with a towel.

  5. Inhale the steam for up to 15 minutes, or until the water cools.

Of course, steaming is hardly an uncommon practice by modern Americans. Doctors often recommend the use of humidifiers by those suffering from stuffy noses and sore throats. The recipe above is essentially the same idea, which goes to show that alternative medical practices have always been infused with modern ones. Modern lifestyles may have broken down the ways traditional methods have been shared through generations, especially in Black communities, but intentional efforts to reclaim and share them are making old traditional methods—like the use of fragrant herbs—into new alternative practices