Aromatherapy Recipes and Practices for Cold and Flu Prevention


One of the most rigorously studied aspects of aromatherapy is the ability of essential oils to support immune function. Many oils have proven antibacterial and antiviral action, while also having the ability to improve the action of our immune systems. The prevention and treatment of infectious illness is where many natural health professionals believe aroma-therapeutics will really shine, and might bring essential oils out of their niche and into mainstream medical use. The oils and the practices to keep your children and family (or for professionals, your co-workers and clients) illness-free during the so-called cold and flu season. Here’s a look at the science, the practices, the oils, and some easy-to-make recipes for the home practitioner.

What Are Essential Oils and How Can They Help Us?

For the uninitiated, essential oils are the volatile aromatic compounds distilled from plants. In this way, they just happen to be a particular form of herbal medicine, just any other medicinal plant extract. At the same time, they’re quite unique in terms of their health effects: Firstly, they are easily absorbed by our bodies, getting into the nooks-and-crannies of our physiology — some other forms of herbal medicine are difficult to absorb, and require extensive preparation, which is really already done by the person who has distilled the essential oil. Second, in terms of infectious illness, essential oils can do for us EXACTLY the same thing they do for plants: prevent infection from bacteria, viruses and fungus. An excellent analogy would be extracting particular antioxidants from a plant and ingesting this for capturing oxidative radicals in our bodies — the antioxidant serves precisely the same function for the plant.

The Science Behind Essential Oils As Agents For Immune-System Protection

For the treatment and prevention of infectious illness, essential oils are used for two purposes: the general strengthening of the immune system and the direct eradication of viruses. A great many peer-reviewed research papers have been produced showing the efficacy of essential oils for both purposes. Using the database of the National Institute of Health ( one can review the data by searching for terms such as ‘essential oil virus’ (currently producing 93 results) or ‘essential oil immune’ (producing 143 results) and the like. Essential oils have been shown to actually increase the power of lymphocytes and increase the speed at which the immune system produces antibodies to eliminate an infection. And of course many essential oils are highly-regarded antibacterial agents (we all know about Tea Tree and Oregano), and a few of them have been shown to destroy viruses directly (Laurus Nobilis was shown to eradicate the virus causing SARS, and very recently Tea Tree was shown to be effective against the Swine Flu virus).

Using Essential Oils At Home and in Clinical Settings

So how can you employ essential oils for the health of your family and children? Or for those in clinical settings, how can oils be used to prevent the spread of infection? There are two primary features to the oils that you’ll want to utilize: their direct eradication of microbes in the air, and their ability to support our immune systems to prevent infection within our bodies. There are two methods of using essential oils for these purposes: Diffusion and topical application. Both these methods are also useful if one has already caught a cold or flu, particularly in the early stages.

Easy, Profound Benefits Through Diffusion

Diffusing essential oils is one of three primary modalities of aromatherapy (the other two being aroma-massage and ingestion). Evaporating the oils in your environment offers several important benefits: the air is disinfected, the scent of the oils is apparent — offering mood lifting effects, and secondary immune-enhancing effects for some people, and the oils are inhaled and absorbed by the body. This is an exceptionally useful means of using the oils for immune support in crowded environments, having the potential effect of reducing the spread of contagions. Perhaps the most important effect is the direct contact of the essential oils with our respiratory system — the sinuses and the lungs — where having cells be more resistant to infection can have the most beneficial result.

The Right Diffuser For The Job

One means to do both is using a professional-grade essential oil diffuser. For all these purposes, a high-quality nebulizing diffuser is the best choice, capable of making the highest concentration of essential oil in the air in your environment. Other diffusers will make a nice aroma for sure, but the cold-air (as opposed to ‘ultrasonic’) nebulizer will make a fine mist of pure essential oils, and is easily adjusted to suit the size of your environment. A nebulizer should only be used for a few minutes every hour; essential oils are very potent, and one should never feel overwhelmed by their aromas. By using a diffuser coupled with a timer, you can cycle the diffuser ON for 10 minutes, then OFF for 50 throughout the day and night. This method also conserves the oils to keep costs to a minimum.

Other Modes of Application

Because essential oils pass readily through human tissue, topical application is also particularly effective. For this purpose, the essential oils are diluted in another oil like Sweet Almond, Jojoba, or Coconut (virgin Coconut oil is fast becoming popular for this particular therapeutic purpose, as it is considered to have antimicrobial actions even by itself — just warm until liquid to mix with essential oils). A 5% dilution of essential oils in the “carrier oil” is common for adults (this is 40 drops total essential oils per fluid ounce of carrier — we’ll look at some recipes in a moment). Use up to a 10% dilution if applying to the feet. For children, use only a 1-3% dilution (the lower dilutions for the younger ones). Do not use essential oils with infants unless you’re guided by a professional. A simple aroma-therapy bath can be had just by adding a tablespoon of your formula to a bath once its already drawn, swirling the oils into the water. A deep soak while the pores and sinuses are open is a time-honored treatment method.

Simple Aroma-Therapeutic Massage

Your oil blend can be massaged into regions of the body associated with the immune system: the lymph glands are near the surface in the front of the arm pits, on the sternum, and the sides of the neck. Some folks will massage the blends into their sinus areas and temples as well. Further, the tops and bottoms of the feet are very receptive to the actions of essential oils — by consulting a reflex point chart, you can even pinpoint spots associated with the respiratory and lymph systems. Regular, daily application to either the feet or lymph-node regions can be a highly effective means of gaining the immune-supportive benefits of oils when diffusion is not practical, such as when traveling.

Choosing The Essential Oils

The list of antimicrobial and immune-supportive oils is lengthy; here we’ll narrow it down as much as possible to those that are also highly regarded as specifically antiviral as well. Melissa — also called “lemon balm” may be the most versatile, all-around immune-supportive essential oil. It is well-known to make cells resistant to viral infection, and its aroma is one that has statistically significant antidepressant properties. It is thought to potentate the effects of other oils, and because of its very high potency, can be used in very small percentages in relation to other oils. Tea Tree is the most widely studied of the antibacterial and antiviral oils, and the only essential oil thus far shown to specifically eradicate H1N1 influenza. Bay Laurel — or “laurus nobilis” has been shown to have direct action against against a highly infectious virus causing severe respiratory ailments. Narrow-leaf Eucalyptus has both antiviral and proven immune-modulating actions. There are several other important oils worth mentioning: Lavender (great for children), Hyssop, Thyme, and Rosemary Verbenone.

Mixing any three of these oils will create an effective synergy (it appears that the more chemically-complex essential oils have greater antiviral action, and blending this way replicates this). A specific formula may be made like this: 1 milliliter each of Bay Laurel, Eucalyptus, and Lavender, plus 8 drops of Melissa. This recipe can be used directly in a diffuser, or blended in a carrier oil as above. In one ounce of carrier, this would make a 10% concentration (for foot use), in 2 ounces of carrier for application to the rest of the body and as a bath oil. Continue diluting the recipe as necessary for children depending on their age. Essential oils are highly potent, so don’t be afraid of really diluted them down for use by children (in fact, this should be the rule!).

Keep Your Immune System Healthy With These Simple Practices

During the cold seasons, these simple uses of essential oils can have profound results for your immune system, and the health of your friends, co-workers, clients, family and children. You can be confident of the scientifically-supported benefits of these wonderful herbal medicines. And as oils have so many positive health effects outside of just supporting immune system function, you’ll open the door to a new realm of natural health.

Aromatherapy with therapy-grade oils is a wonderful means of lifting your spirits in the winter months. Try essential oils like Bergamot and Rose for their well-known mood-brightening effects.



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