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Getting sick is just no fun, but with our fast-paced lifestyles, sometimes it’s difficult to keep our stress levels low and our immune system strong. Enter Aromatherapy – Essential oils so commonly used as natural perfumes and mood-lifters can have a have a powerfully-supportive effect on the immune system. In fact, the medical aromatherapy literature makes the point that the most promising use of essential oils in terms of natural health care is in cases of infectious illness. Not only will they help combat illness once it sets in, but therapeutic grade oils can also fortify the immune system to make you more resistant to illness in the first place.
For a brief review, essential oils are the pure aromatic compounds naturally extracted from herbs, trees, roots, and flowers. They are the chemicals that give plants their smell; the luscious aroma of Jasmine or the sharp scent of Wintergreen. Plants make these chemicals as a defense from invaders such as bacteria, fungus, viruses, and insects. Each plant’s oil has a unique composition, hence there are thousands of variations of essential oils, each with its own chemical profile. Because of their chemical structure, essential oils are easily absorbed into the human body, passing through cell membranes, then further on into the bloodstream. Essential oils can protect us from microbes and viruses in different ways: by clearing the air around us naturally, by fortifying our immune system, and by destroying microbial invaders once in our bodies.
Get a little nervous when friends or co-workers have a sneezing or coughing fit? Here’s an excellent defense tactic – diffuse one or more of the powerful yet pleasant smelling antimicrobial oils into your space. ‘Narrow Leaf’ Eucalyptus (or Eucalyptus Radiata) is a very popular variety for this – it has been referred to as an ‘aromatherapists designer oil’ because of its broad range of immune-supportive effects and its pleasant aroma. Other oils used with a little softer scent are Green Myrtle and Ravensara – all these oils may be blended to your ‘taste’. A very pleasing yet powerful blend can be made using three parts clove bud essential oil, five parts lemon essential oil, one and one-half parts Eucalyptus Radiata, one and one-half parts Rosemary Cineol essential oil and two parts Cinnamon Bark essential oil. For immune-supportive purposes, a high-quality cold-air nebulizing diffuser is best, as it will make a fine mist of the oils which will disperse within a space at a relatively high concentration.
The next step is strengthening your body’s own immune defenses. Aromatherapy oils have been noted to mitigate viruses from actually penetrating our cell walls, keeping bacterial levels in check, and cleansing toxins from our bodies. Two very important immune boosting oils are Niaouli and Bay Laurel leaf. Niaouli is a powerful overall fortifier of the immune system; apply 10-20 drops over the body immediately after a shower for best absorption. This is particularly recommended during the ‘cold and flu season’ to stimulate the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Laurel is of particular support to the lymph system; a few drops can be applied to the nodes at the neck for the relief of swollen glands in many cases. Using a few drops on the solar plexus in the same manner as Niaouli described above once or twice a week will also provide general immune system support. These methods in combination may provide significant protection when you’re feeling susceptible to illness, or those around you are getting ill and you’d be more than happy to avoid it!
While preemptive care is the best medicine, some relief can be had if you’ve already contracted a cold or flu. At the very first signs, application of ten to twenty drops to the skin of both Eucalyptus Radiata and Laurel to the skin after a shower. Eucalyptus can be applied to the chest and back; Laurel can be applied directly to the lymph nodes of the neck. Orally ingesting one drop of Bay Laurel once or twice a day at the first sign of a sore throat is also indicated (be sure of the quality of your essential oil source!); this may have a dramatic effect reducing further symptoms. Green Myrtle, with its medicinal actions but the sweeter aroma, can be used in cases of bronchial infection where Eucalyptus may be found too strong. Ravensara used in the same manner is called for in cases of colds and flu – it can be a stronger antiviral than the above-mentioned oils, and has a pleasing aroma. If the skin is sensitive to these oils, they can be diluted down to 5% in a carrier oil, or inhaled directly from a nebulizer. As with all aromatherapy use, listen to what your body is telling you. If an oil seems offensive, don’t use it! This is your natural indicator that you may be sensitive to the oil, or it’s simply not the right one for your condition. And of course, consult a health professional if your symptoms continue to worsen.
To create a natural wellness medicine chest for cold and flu care, keep Eucalyptus Radiata (Narrow Leaf) or Globulus (Blue Gum), Green Myrtle, Ravensara Aromatica, Rosemary Verbenone and Thyme essential oils on hand. The Eucalyptus, Myrtle, and Ravensara will support bronchial conditions through topical application or inhalation; inhalation of Rosemary and/or Thyme can be of help with head colds and sinus infections – they can be inhaled directly from a diffuser. Other methods of use can be appropriate if directed by a health professional. These are all very powerful oils and should be used with respect.
When selecting natural medicines within your own program, do as much research and gather as much professional advice as possible to precisely apply these botanicals. A ‘shotgun’ approach will not likely have as dramatic an effect and can be dangerous with improper use of certain varieties of essential oils. There are several books available for the aromatherapy practitioner with protocols translated from the European aromatherapy literature, and the number of naturopathic doctors with such knowledge is growing. With the right knowledge, using therapeutic grade essential oils to support your immune system and overall health can be very rewarding, and even fun!*