Curing the Cold and Flu Naturally with Essential Oils
It seems every season there is a new bug to “worry” about and a new medicine which claims to cure it. Most common are the two everyone is familiar with, the cold and flu. Here we will demystify the two illnesses, highlight their standard treatments, and explain why essential oils are a safe and effective alternative to over-the-counter (OTC) medications. We will also highlight some easy to use essential oil recipes.
Causes of the Cold
It is no wonder we have come to simplify the cold as just that- “The Cold”. In reality, what we call a cold is the body’s response to one of over 200 viruses infecting the upper respiratory tract. Most of the viruses are highly contagious and duplicate themselves best in the nasal passages of humans. This is also why they are so rapidly spread, as humans tend to breathe more through the nose, inviting in wandering contagions every day. The viruses linked to the cold cause an outburst of the immune system so to speak, which leads to many of the bothersome symptoms generally targeted by medications, including a sore throat, clogged or runny nose, coughing and sneezing.
Causes of the Flu
Influenza, commonly referred to as the “Flu” is also a contagious respiratory illness, named after the virus which causes the symptoms. The symptoms of influenza include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, fever or chills, headaches, muscle or body aches, and fatigue. Influenza so rapidly spreads because most healthy adults are passing on contagions 1-2 days before they begin showing symptoms.
“Standard” Treatment For Cold and Flu
As both viral infections have similar symptoms, the treatment options out there are generally the same, though they are not always favorable. Since there is no real “cure” for either, the best that can be done is to provide temporary relief to your symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
Acetaminophen is often used to reduce fever, and nasal sprays containing numerous antihistamine drugs have become commonly associated with relief from overactive nasal passages. There are drugs to treat congestion like pseudoephedrine, and there are syrups in every flavor to help soothe your scratchy, irritable throat. Each drug has its temporary benefit, but as many have uncomfortable, sometimes serious side effects, they are not for everyone.
So, How Can Essential Oils Help?
If you are looking for healthy alternatives to cold medicine, you may not even need to step out the door. The same properties which provide the relief in OTC medicines can be found in multiple herbs, and therefore, their essential oils. Some immune supporting essential oils even have anti-viral properties, making them very beneficial in fighting both viral illnesses. Essential oils have the added benefit of having little risk of side effects when used properly. While the list of essential oils beneficial to the treatment of cold and flu symptoms is near endless, let’s take a look at the most promising and well researched oils.
1. Tea Tree Oil
Any serious talk about natural cold and flu relief should include Tea Tree essential oil. Native to Australia, the Melaleuca tree produces this clear oil, which is antibacterial, antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antiviral. A study on Tea Tree oil even found its antiviral compounds to be effective against Herpes simplex one virus. The oil can be used in an inhaler, diffused, or diluted and applied topically to the skin. When used in an inhaler or added to a warm bath, tea tree oil provides relief from congestion and makes a great addition to an antihistamine blend. When diluted and applied to the chest, Teat tree oil can reduce chest tightness and the “itch” of the cough, which reduces the cough itself.
2. Peppermint Oil
The refreshing scent of Peppermint essential oil has always been linked with cooling you off. Like Tea tree oil, a study on peppermint oil found the antiviral compounds in peppermint oil were effective enough to kill the HSV-1 and HSV-2 virus. The main active constituent in peppermint oil is the volatile compound menthol, which is also the active ingredient in many over-the-counter vapor rubs. Menthol is a great decongestant, as it acts to thin mucus in order for the body to eliminate it. It is also an effective expectorant, loosening phlegm and breaking up coughs, which aids in their elimination. The cooling effects of peppermint oil act to numb dry, scratchy coughs.
3. Eucalyptus Oil
As it is more common to backyards and floral bouquets, Eucalyptus essential oil may be one to surprise you with its long list of studied health benefits. In a promising publication on Eucalyptus oil, the authors noted the oils antiviral benefit as well as capability to reduce respiratory symptoms when inhaled. These benefits are due in large part to the main constituent of Eucalyptus oil, 1.8-cineole- fittingly referred to as Eucalyptol. Eucalyptol is a potent anti-inflammatory, which can reduce head and nasal congestion, and help eliminate tightness in the chest.
One study on Eucalyptol even linked its anti-inflammatory function to a reduction in steroid use for patients with severe asthma. It is no wonder it is used as an active ingredient in many OTC drugs. If you want the many benefits of Eucalyptol, eliminate the middle man and go straight to the source- Eucalyptus essential oil
4. Lavender Oil
Lavender essential oil is the most widely used oil on the market. Its ease of access and relaxing smell are definitely behind the oil’s popularity. In addition, the many health benefits of Lavender essential oil have made it a favorite among aromatherapists. A study on the antimicrobial effects of lavender oil supports this claim. In the study, the antimicrobial factors in Lavender oil were shown to have a synergistic effect when combined with other essential oils, giving scientific backing to the practice of combining oils for use in aromatherapy.
Lavender oil is also great for easing the headaches often caused by continuous coughing. Applying a diluted mixture of lavender and peppermint essential oil to the temples helps to calm the tight nerves and muscles that lead to headache.
5. Thyme Oil
As more research is done in the realm of traditional medicines, we find that nature provides remedies to all that ails us. Thyme essential oil is a perfect example. When vaporized, thyme oil removes microbes from the air at a rapid rate. The volatile compounds within thyme oil also aid in loosening phlegm from the chest and opening bronchial airways.
The benefits of thyme oil as an antibacterial have been supported by many studies, and while anti-bacterial substances are no good at fighting viruses like the cold and flu, they provide support to your hard-working immune system by reducing the load on the body. By diffusing a few drops of thyme oil overnight, you can reduce microbes in the air by 90%, and help loosen up that tight chest cough. A respiratory supporting, anti-bacterial essential oil that can help that tight cough? All in good thyme.
6. Ravintsara Oil
A lesser known contributor to immune health, Ravintsara essential oil is no less potent. The oil is a known immune stimulator, and has been linked to reduction in oxidative stressors in recent testing. As the botanical name Cinnamomum camphora suggests, Ravintsara essential oil is high in camphor. Camphor is a volatile compound present in many OTC analgesics, cough suppressants, and muscle rubs. A constituent of camphor was studied and found to be a promising inhibitor of viral activity, making its use by patients with the flu very beneficial.
A simple inhalation of a drop of Ravintsara essential oil on a tissue may be enough to alleviate that nagging cough, and Ravintsara synergistically blends with other oils like eucalyptus and peppermint, to put those symptoms to rest for good.
7. Rosemary Oil
Rosemary essential oil is another medicinal oil packed full of 1.8- cineole. The compound is effective at breaking up mucus and controlling inflammation, making Rosemary essential oil a great expectorant and immune supporting oil. The anti-microbial components of Rosmarinus officinalis even inhibit bacterial and fungal growth, making it a great choice for cleaning up the air!
1.8-cineole supports the airways , according to a review in Pubmed, and shows promise in ameliorating chronic respiratory symptoms due to its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. It can act in a synergistic way with other Eucalyptol containing essential oils such as Eucalyptus and Lavender.
Essential Oils Recipes That Can Help
If you are just getting started with your essential oils, it may be a bit overwhelming to hear all these benefits and not know where to start! Here are our favorite recipes for each of the symptoms of the cold and flu. Try them out, and let us know which recipe you use most!
Congestion and Cough
- 10 drops Tea Tree oil
- 10 drops Eucalyptus oil
- 10 drops Lavender oil
- 5 drops peppermint oil
- 5 drops rosemary oil
- 4 oz coconut oil
- Put ingredients in 4oz container, mixing well. Rub onto chest as needed for relief.
- 2 drops Tea Tree oil
- 2 drops Peppermint oil
- 2 drops Lemon oil
- Add to an aromatherapy diffuser and diffuse for 30-60 minutes as needed for relief
- 2 drops Eucalyptus
- 2 drops Tea Tree oil
- 2 drops Rosemary oil
- Add to aromatherapy diffuser and diffuse in the house to reduce airborne microbes
- 5 drops Eucalyptus oil
- 5 drops Ylang Ylang oil
- 5 drops Lavender oil
- Use in a personal steam inhaler as needed for relief
Immune System Booster
- 5 drops Ravintsara oil
- 5 drops Peppermint oil
- 5 drops Thyme oil
- 5 drops Lemon oil
- Diffuse in aromatherapy diffuser throughout the day when you feel your immune system needs a boost!
- 1 drop Tea Tree oil
- 1 drop Rosemary oil
- Pinch of salt
- Add to a glass of warm water, mixing well. Gargle as needed for symptom relief.
The Choice Is Yours
As medicinal science advances, so does the search for knowledge about what we put into and on our bodies. As more studies are done into traditional drug solutions, many consumers are wary of the unwanted side effects and unnecessary harm medications can do to the body over time. Pure essential oils provide a natural alternative to many of the active ingredients in western medicinal cures, with little of the risk.
As with any new treatment option, discuss your proposed treatment with your natural health care professional. They can educate you further and advise you against taking anything which may interact with current medications or cause allergic reactions in your body. Though allergic reactions from essential oils are rare when used properly, it is important to note that pure essential oils need to be diluted, either in carrier oil for the skin, or in water in a diffusor. Using safe practices ensures you the best experience with your essential oils.