Flu season is just around the corner. Here’s a health expert’s pick for the top seven essential oils to help fight even the toughest strains.
Colds and flus, meet essential oils. Full of medicinal properties to combat illnesses, essential oils are a great choice for natural relief without any side effects.
Read on to discover the top essential oils for this cold and flu season, and how to use them to their full potential.
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Colds and the Flu: How Essential Oils Can Help
Essential oils are extracted from plants, herbs, and roots. These highly concentrated oils often contain antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial compounds that can help fight the flu and cold “bugs” that invade our systems when we get sick. (1)
Studies show that essential oils can combat some of the strongest strains of viruses, like avian influenza A virus (H5N1), with little to no side effects – unlike many prescription medications. (2)
The Difference Between Colds and Flus
Flus and the common cold are both caused by respiratory viruses and come with similar symptoms, so it can be hard to tell within the first few days which one you may be experiencing.
The common cold, scientifically known as the rhinovirus, involves milder symptoms than the flu and tends to manifest as a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, and malaise. (3, 4) Typically, it doesn’t result in developing more serious symptoms.
The flu, or influenza virus, on the other hand, will have similar symptoms to the common cold like a runny nose and coughing, but will also feature nausea, chills, body aches, fever, and fatigue or weakness. (5, 6) It can also lead to more serious complications like sepsis and encephalitis if your immune system isn’t strong enough to fight it off. (7)
Another telltale sign is how fast your symptoms develop. Cold symptoms appear gradually while the flu tends to hit quickly. (8)
7 Essential Oils for Colds and Flus
The following seven essential oils are fantastic for fighting back against colds and the flu. Check them out the neck time you start to sniffle.
Oregano contains an antioxidant compound called Carvacrol that possesses strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. One study shows that carvacrol can help kill the human norovirus in just one hour! (9)
To use oregano essential oil, add a few drops into a diffuser with water and inhale deeply for 15-20 minutes a few times per day.
Traditionally, eucalyptus essential oil was used to help treat respiratory tract disorders such as pharyngitis, bronchitis, and sinusitis. Modern studies show that this tradition may hold some merit, as eucalyptus contains a strong antimicrobial called 1,8-Cineole, which can help kill viruses like adenovirus and even the herpes virus. (10)
Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a diffuser and inhale deeply for 15 minutes twice daily. You can also combine three drops with a tablespoon of carrier oil (like olive oil) and rub on your chest as a DIY vapor rub.
3. Tea Tree
Tea tree essential oil contains compounds called terpenes that have strong antiviral and antimicrobial properties and are especially effective against the flu. Studies show the H1N1 flu virus can be significantly inhibited by tea tree oil if caught in its early stages. (11)
Put a few drops of tea tree oil in a diffuser with water and inhale for 20 minutes, twice daily.
Citrus oils like lemon, orange, lime, and grapefruit not only smell invigorating but can also help stop viruses in their tracks. They contain another type of terpene compound similar to tea tree oil called D-limonene, which can fight yellow fever, tobacco mosaic virus, and herpes. (12, 13)
Add a few drops of citrus essential oil to a diffuser with water, or make your own DIY mist: Add two or three drops to a spray bottle filled with water, plus a dash of two or three drops of eucalyptus. Mist above your face and inhale deeply three to four times daily.
Peppermint essential oil can fight strong viruses that are even resistant to medication, like herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2. It has a unique ability to be absorbed through your skin, making it excellent for topical use to help ward off colds or flu. (14)
Add three drops of peppermint essential oil to one tablespoon of carrier oil like olive or coconut, then rub on your chest. You’ll get the added benefits from using it topically and by breathing it in.
Thyme essential oil contains antiviral properties from another terpene compound called thymol. When combined with other terpenes from eucalyptus and tea tree, it can help slow the spread of potent viral infections. (15)
Combine a few drops of thyme essential oil with eucalyptus and tea tree in a diffuser two or three times a day.
7. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm essential oil (also known as Melissa officinalis oil) contains antiviral terpenes like the other oils on this list; however, it works best when used the moment you start experiencing even a slight symptom, such as a runny nose. This is because studies show lemon balm is very effective in fighting viruses, but mainly in the beginning stages of an infection. (16)
Diffuse lemon balm regularly during cold and flu season. When you’re feeling under the weather, sit near the diffuser for 15-30 minutes intervals, two or three times daily.
How to Use Essential Oils
There are three ways to reap the benefits of essential oils. The best way to use them is often dependent on the type of oil you’re using, so be sure to see the instructions above for the best ways to use each type.
Essential oils can be applied topically when diluted with a carrier oil like jojoba, olive, or almond. Start with a three percent ratio, which is three drops of essential oil per one tablespoon of carrier oil. Mix, then rub on clean, unbroken skin. The chest is a great place for essential oil as you’ll also breathe in the effects.
In a Diffuser
Diffusing oils is a great way to get the benefits during cold season as you’ll inhale the medicinal properties that help treat a stuffy nose and coughing.
To use a diffuser, simply follow the instructions on your machine. You’ll typically add 2-3 drops of oil to a set amount of water. Turn it on and let the essential oil fill the air. Sit nearby for the best results.
Caution When Using Essential Oils
While most essential oils are generally regarded as safe, you do need to remember that they are highly concentrated and can cause a reaction either topically or internally if used improperly or if overused. Keep these simple tips in mind:
- Dilute, dilute, dilute. When using essential oils topically, always use a carrier oil.
- Do a skin patch test. Dab a dime-sized amount of diluted essential oil on the inside of your arm and wait 15 minutes. If no redness or irritation develops, you can proceed.
- Diffuse in a well-ventilated area. When using a diffuser, you’ll also want to take breaks every 30 minutes.
- Only take orally when directed by a doctor. Be cautious when using any oils internally. Many oil dosages depend upon body weight, condition, and type.
Other Home Remedies for the Cold and Flu
There are a few other ways you can help prevent or overcome a cold or flu in addition to using essential oils. Check them out below.
1. Get Your Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps boost your immune system, which can further help your body combat viruses. Studies also show that when you’re lacking vitamin C, your body struggles to fight off viruses and other pathogens. (17) Eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C during cold season, like citrus and berries.
2. Take Immune-Boosting Herbs
Medicinal herbs like echinacea and elderberry can help stimulate your immune system to keep it high during cold and flu season. Studies even show elderberry can shorten the duration of the flu by an average of four days. (18)
3. Reduce Stress
Stress is a huge suppressor of your immune system, which can set you up for catching a cold or flu. This includes not only physical stressors, like working out excessively but also psychological stressors, like a big project at work. (19)
Reduce stress by taking up activities such as yoga or meditation, and make it a point to take a walk every day – particularly when you start to feel overwhelmed.
The Bottom Line
Essential oils are a great tool for defending against the common cold or flu as long as they’re used properly. Give them a try this season along with the above immune-boosting tips, and you’ll be on your way to a shorter cold or flu!
(Read This Next: So, Should You Get The Flu Shot This Year? Here Are The Side Effects.)