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While much emphasis has been placed on the mood-elevating, anti-anxiety effects of essential oils, the medical aromatherapy literature repeatedly states that the most promising use of natural aromatic oils is in supporting immune system function. Many guides are available for detailed instructions for using essential oils in this way – here we’ll offer a primer on using aromatherapy to bolster your own immune response and supporting your body through the cold and flu season.
Briefly, essential oils are the volatile components of plant chemistry – the chemicals made by plants that give them their wonderful scents. While these oils have a variety of uses for the plant, they act primarily as a defense mechanism against microbial and other invaders. Due to the unending variety of plant species, environments and possible ‘invaders’, there is an enormous variety in the composition of essential oils from different plants around the world. The aroma of Basil, for example, is quite distinct and can be differentiated from other plant aromas. Each plant’s aromatic oil has a distinct chemical makeup, and as it turns out, some are extremely effective in supporting our own body’s defense against microbial invaders such as viruses and bacteria. Essential oils can protect us from microbes in many ways, from keeping the space around us naturally microbe-free, to fortifying our immune defense, to actually destroying the microbes once they’ve entered our bodies.
The first line of defense is keeping your environment cleansed by diffusing essential oils in the air. 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. Eucalyptus Radiata is probably the most popular 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. A very pleasing yet powerful blend can be made using 3 parts clove bud oil, 5 parts lemon oil, 1 and a half parts Eucalyptus Radiata, 1 and a half parts Rosemary Cineol and 2 parts Cinnamon Bark oil. Use this in a cold-air diffuser which makes a fine mist of the oils, dispersing them throughout your environment for best protection.
Beyond your outside environment, it’s important to strengthen your own immune system. Essential oils have been studied for their ability to prevent viruses from actually penetrating our cell walls, keeping bacterial levels in check, and cleansing toxins from our bodies. Of the many oils available, two very notable oils are Niaouli MVQ and Bay Laurel (or Laurel Leaf). Both can be applied directly to the body, though if you encounter any skin sensitivity, dilute the oil or discontinue use. Niaouli is a powerful overall fortifier of the immune system; apply 10-20 drops along the meridians of the body directly after the morning shower when the pores are still open and the skin is soft. This is particularly recommended during the ‘cold and flu season’ to stimulate the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Bay Laurel is of great support to the lymph system; a few drops can be applied to the nodes at the neck or armpits for immediate 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 (Laurel may have sensitizing effects on the skin if used continuously for long periods – do not use more frequently than necessary for best effects).
Dealing with the common cold or flu with essential oils once the illness has set in will help ease the symptoms, though prevention is still the best medicine. If you’ve managed to catch an illness, however, at the very first signs, application of ten to twenty drops to the skin of both Eucalyptus Radiata and Bay Laurel essential oils to the skin in the steam of a shower is called for. Eucalyptus can be applied to the chest and back, whereas Bay Laurel should be applied directly to the lymph nodes to support the immune response. Orally injesting one drop of Bay Laurel once or twice a day at the first sign of sore throat is also indicated, and has been noted to have a pronounced effect on reducing further symptoms. Green Myrtle can be used in cases of bronchial infection where Eucalyptus may be found to strong an aroma. 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 such as Hazelnut, or inhaled directly from a diffuser. As with any aromatherapy application, be careful not to overdo it! Your body will tell you when you’ve had enough – essential oils do tend to work quite well in suprizingly low concentrations.
For general cold and flu care, Eucalyptus Radiata (Narrow Leaf) or Globulus (Blue Gum), Green Myrtle and Ravensara Aromatica can be applied topcally or used with a diffuser or inhaler to loosen mucus and support the body’s cleansing process. In addition, Rosemary of the Verbenone chemotype is indicated for sinus infections and bronchitis; medical aromatherapy texts indicate this may be inhaled, applied topically in small amounts to the chest area, or even dripped into the nose, one drop at a time (caution is noted here for sensitivity). Also, Thyme essential oil is called for in many cases of bacterial infection – inhalation from a nebulizing diffuser can be an effective route of administration.
When choosing your own self-healing methods as part of your overall natural health and wellness program, it is important to choose the proper modality for each situation. Conventional medicine has it’s place, and should absolutely be employed when it will provide the best results. When it comes to common colds, the results have not been so dramatic. Alternative therapies have offered a reasonable solution, and can be effective if used wisely and with discretion. There are many helpful texts available for the use of essential oils as medicines – Advanced Aromatherapy and Medical Aromatherapy, both by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, are excellent sources for the intermediate to advanced practitioner. Be aware of your own body’s sensitivity to any essential oil and adjust usage accordingly, and seek professional advice whenever necessary.*