During the winter months, when we spend more time indoors, exposure to cold and influenza viruses is common. Viruses are present all year but heighten in winter when cold air keeps them stable, and low humidity allows them to remain in the air. Close contact with others, busy schedules and stress are contributing factors to the efficacy of our immune system. Maintaining good hygiene by washing our hands often, eating a nutritious diet, staying hydrated, and getting regular exercise can help us prevent viral infections.
If we do find ourselves with a cold or the flu, there are many natural things we can do to promote recovery. Essential oils offer a natural way to fight colds and ‘flu and have been used for centuries to fight infection and strengthen the immune system. Direct inhalation is the most direct way to obtain therapeutic benefits from essential oils: using a diffuser or room spray are the fastest ways to distribute essential oil molecules into the room where their healing benefits are inhaled. Another excellent inhalation method is the nasal inhaler, which can be carried with you and used 3-6 times day.
Here are some excellent options for helping prevent or recover from a cold or flu infection:
Clove Bud (Syzygium aromaticum) – Useful for bronchitis, colds and flu due to its potent antiviral and expectorant properties. Use only in low dilution: .5% or less as it may cause skin irritation.
(Not for the bath, children under 5, and is contraindication with certain medications.)
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata) – Especially useful for respiratory ailments and fever complaints, this essential oil is helpful with bronchitis, catarrh, colds, coughs, flu, sinusitis and throat infections.
(Not to be taken internally, not for use in the bath, and not for children under 5.)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Regarded as the most therapeutically versatile essence, Lavender is very relaxing to the nervous system and can help with a headache and insomnia. It is also useful for bronchitis, catarrh, laryngitis, throat infections, whooping cough and the flu. Lavender is an excellent choice for use in the bath.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – A familiar aroma to many, Peppermint has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, expectorant, and febrifuge properties. It is helpful for asthma, bronchitis, fevers, flu, sinusitis, spasmodic cough, and provides relief from head colds. (Not for use in the bath, not for children under 5, contraindicated for use with certain medications, not for sensitive skin: dermal maximum 5.5%.)
Ravensara Leaf (Ravensara aromatica) – Traditionally referred to as the “oil that heals,” Ravensara helps with colds, congestion, flu, sinusitis, throat and lung infections, whooping cough and viral infections. A maximum 1% dilution is recommended for dermal application, because of the high level of estragole. Can be used in the bath in low dilution.
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) – A potent immune stimulant, Tea Tree has anti-infectious, antiviral, bactericidal, and expectorant properties. This oil is useful for asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs, sinusitis, whooping cough, colds, ‘flu and fever. Can be used in the bath.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris var. linalol) – One of the earliest medicinal plants used in the Mediterranean region, Thyme helps to reduce asthma, bronchitis, cough, catarrh, laryngitis, sinusitis, sore throat, tonsillitis, chills, colds, and ‘flu. (Not for use in the bath, contraindicated with certain medications, not for sensitive skin: dermal maximum 1.3%.)
Essential oils may also be used topically with carrier oils to achieve their benefits. Always look at the specific precautions and perform a skin test first to check for sensitivity and dilute as recommended.
Herbal tinctures can also offer a natural therapy against viruses and strengthen our immune system. They are either alcohol or glycerin-based herbal infusions which are administered orally.
They are excellent as a first-line defense and for immune stimulation.
Here are a few of our favorites herbal tinctures:
Osha Root (Ligusticum porteri) – A native of the higher altitudes of the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest United States, the root of the osha plant is a traditional Native American herb used to support the respiratory system. Its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it suitable for respiratory conditions such as coughs, colds, ‘flu and other types of viral infections. It is especially useful as an expectorant. (Follow manufacturer suggested dosage instructions. (Not for use during pregnancy or nursing; consult a qualified healthcare practitioner if taking medications.)
Elder Berry (Sambucus nigra) - European elder is a plant native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western-Central Asia. A long history of use in traditional European medicine, its berries are useful in supporting immune health. Evidence suggests that Elder Berry may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, including the sinuses, and help alleviate nasal congestion due to its anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-viral and anti-influenza properties in Elder Berry have been shown to shorten the duration of infection by three days. (Follow manufacturer suggested dosage instructions. (Not for use during pregnancy or nursing; consult a qualified healthcare practitioner if taking medications, DO NOT use unripe or uncooked berries.)
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) – Also known as the purple coneflower, this perennial was initially native to the Midwestern United States but is now widely cultivated. Research suggests that Echinacea root contains substances that boost immune function, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have antiviral effects. People have used this herb throughout history for a wide variety of ailments, and there is evidence that shows it was used by the Native Americans as a general “cure-all” for over 400 years. Today, it is used to shorten the duration of colds and flu and reduce symptoms such as a sore throat, cough, and fever. (Follow manufacturer suggested dosage instructions. Not for use during pregnancy or nursing.)
If you do not have time to make tinctures, both Mountain Rose Herbs and HerbPharm carry a line of excellent quality herbal extracts and tinctures.
It is vital for us to look after our health and awareness is critical. Making time for relaxation and stress relieving activities are essential aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Adequate rest and replenishment encourage a robust immune system and are vital in keeping us well. Incorporating these things into your daily routine can make a huge difference in your health and overall quality of life.
Wishing you a healthy winter!
Tisserand, Robert and Young, Rodney, Essential Oil Safety, Second Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014, p. 254-255, 271-273, 325-327, 375-376, 403-404, 440
Lawless, Julia, The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Conari Press, San Francisco, CA, 1992, 2013, p. 76-77, 86-87, 121-122, 139-140, 154-155, 167-169, 189-190, 191-192
Research provided by Natalie Zalenka, Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy Mastery Level Student.