There was once an herbalist I knew who swore off illness. He believed that illness was a state of mind. He claimed that he had not been ill for years. Perhaps it was his state of mind, and perhaps it was the fact that he was a hermit living in a remote part of New Mexico with no kids, not a lot of friends and no mate. The reality for most of us is that we will get sick this winter. How we handle it is our choice. Because there is a wealth of information given on herbs for colds and flu, this article is dedicated to some of my favorite heavy-hitting essential oils and formulas to help brighten those dark winter months; the months that are often spent coughing and sneezing, or worse.
French aroma therapists wished to formulate specific oils for infection, and were surprised by their findings. Doctors took the same strain of viral and bacterial samples from many different people. They combined these samples with single essential oils to see what was most effective. They discovered that different essential oils were effective against the infection on a per person basis. Meaning that one person with strep may respond well to cinnamon oil, while another with the same strain of strep didn’t respond to cinnamon as well, but responded to thyme. This information can make it difficult to get specific. But based on their studies, the French have given us an excellent general marker of essential oils most effective against certain strains of bacterial and viral infections.
Using just that specific oil is not enough. Illness is multi-dimensional. A part of the proof is in the symptom picture. If we view illness as a dissonance that is created in the body, we must admit that it takes more than one note to create that dissonance. The germ is doing many things to thrive. We then create a formula that restores harmony. And finally, after a bit of work, we come to the point where homeostasis is restored.
When using an aromatherapy formula for relief of an acute illness I recommend several paths to support health: first, know your symptom picture and choose oils accordingly. It is tempting when dealing with alternative modalities to throw everything at the illness. But keep your formula simple to make a powerful healing agent that saves resources and cuts costs.
Secondly, chose oils that are effective immune boosters. Unbeknownst to many, adding one from this category makes a world of difference. It can often mean the difference between getting full-blown sick, and being a bit under the weather.
Finally, when possible, employ the use of essential oils as anti-infective agents that are specific to what you believe you may have or have been diagnosed with.
I will give a brief introduction to the oils. This information is in no way complete, but merely an example of what these oils can do for you. Following that, I will list some general formulas I have used in my practice and how to incorporate them into your treatment. I encourage people to pick their own formulas based on the information given.
Bay laurel, chamomile, cinnamon, eucalyptus globules, frankincense, lavender, lemon, marjoram, myrrh, thyme and vetiver.
Categorization of Uses
Lymphatics and Immune Boosters: vetiver, frankincense, and bay laurel
Respiratory: cinnamon, marjoram, thyme, eucalyptus globules, myrrh,
Sinus: eucalyptus globules, thyme,
Anti-Infective Agents: cinnamon, lavender, marjoram, thyme, lemon,
Sedative So-You-Can Rest: chamomile, vetiver, marjoram, lavender
Headaches: chamomile, lavender, eucalyptus
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis):
Anti-infective, anti-inflammatory especially used for lymphatic inflammation, sedative; use for colds, flu, inflamed lymphatic conditions
Chamomile (Matricaria recutica, Chamaemelum nobile):
Anti-inflammatory, sedative; headache insomnia
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Contraindications: sun exposure, sensitive skin
Anti bacterial, anti viral, anti fungal, cold conditions of the lung; uses found by French: effective against staph, strep, pneumonia, meningitis
Analgesic, antiviral, decongestant, expectorant; sinus and respiratory infections, headaches, muscle aches and pains; to less of a degree, the French found eucalyptus to be effective for the same things cinnamon was
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii):
Strong immune-stimulant, lifts depressed energy, antiseptic, expectorant; respiratory conditions, colds and flu
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia.):
Anti-spasmodic, antiseptic, antispasmodic; flu, spastic cough, respiratory distress and infection, headaches, appropriate for migraines, nervous tension, insomnia, muscle aches and pains
Lemon (Citrus limon):
Contraindications: sun exposure, sensitive skin
Strong antiseptic, diaphoretic; colds, flu, fevers, respiratory and throat infections
Marjoram (Origanum majorana):
Antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, bactericidal, diaphoretic, expectorant, sedative; muscle aches and pains, respiratory conditions with spastic cough (used for whooping cough in France), colds, headaches, insomnia
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
Anti-inflammatory, antiviral; respiratory infections, and throat infections (as a gargle),
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris):
Antispasmodic, anti-bacterial and viral, expectorant; respiratory illness, sinus, colds and flu, insomnia, headaches; excellent against infectious illnesses; the French found thyme to be almost as effective as cinnamon in fighting the same bacteria
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides)
Strong immune-stimulant, strengthens circulation, calming
Sample Formulas and Their Uses
Immune Tonic Formula for cold prevention: Vetiver, eucalyptus globules, lavender, myrrh, cinnamon
I recommend making a 3% dilution of this for periodic use. Add 4 drops of each oil to 1 oz. of carrier oil…almond, grape seed, jojoba or apricot seed oil. This is a strong dilution, but is effective if applied immediately. I use it on myself when my kids are sick. During allergy season I replace the cinnamon with peppermint and use it throughout. If you feel a cold or illness arising, apply several times daily and before bed on neck and chest.
Respiratory and Sinus Support: cinnamon, lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus globules
Mix equal parts of these pure essential oils in a bottle with an orifice reducer (plastic insert that slows flow to drops). Add about 6 drops to a cool water humidifier during the day and overnight. I recommend re-adding the drops about every 3 hours.
Neck Rub for Lymphatic Swelling: bay laurel, vetiver, frankincense
Bay laurel is quite strong, and should only be used for about a week. I make a 3% dilution of this one as well. Add 7 drops of each oil to 1 oz. of carrier oil (oils as mentioned in Immune Tonic formula). Apply to lymph nodes in the neck or anywhere there is lymphatic swelling. To continue use for more than a week, substitute something else for bay laurel.
Anti-infectious Hand Spray: lavender, thyme, cinnamon, vetiver, lemon
We use this a lot in our house. I have also been known to add eucalyptus to it instead of lemon. Add 12 drops of each oil to a spray bottle with 2 oz. of witch hazel and 2 oz. of distilled water. Shake before each use. We use this to spray our hands instead of using anti-bacterial hand gel. Spray some on a paper towel and wipe down phones, light switches and computer keyboards. Spray handles, doorknobs, and faucets…anything that needs decontaminating.
You can do everything right and still get sick. Getting sick can be part of our development. Kids need to develop their immune system, and grow. They get pushed to their developmental limits, their defenses go down, and they get sick. Adults grow, too. When we stress, we are pushed to our emotional and sometimes physical breaking point. This point forces us to make physical choices about how we are living our lives, and to grow emotionally and spiritually. It is at this time when our defenses are down, and we get sick. It is our body’s way of telling us to take a rest and evaluate.
Whatever the reason, essential oils can lessen the discomfort, severity and duration of illness in many cases. They can help us rest in the wake of distress, and there is great therapy in appealing to our sense of smell. It is important to remember that with plant therapies formulating per person is best. It is within this holistic approach that we fight the infection, while also supporting the specific needs and rebalancing the system of the individual.
Disclaimer: There is a time and a place for medical intervention and drug therapy. If you have any concern, symptoms are worsening and you are not getting better with in 5-7 days, consult your doctor. They are the only folks legally able to diagnose your condition. You can usually continue your alternative therapies along with drug therapy, and sometimes a diagnosis can help you more appropriately chose what alternative approach you enlist. Consult a trained practitioner for their advice on contraindications and drug interaction. And always check contraindications of essential oils and herbs before beginning any therapy if you have reason to be concerned.