essential oils for cold and flu

How to Fight the Cold & Flu Symptoms with Essential Oils this Winter

It’s that lovely time of year again. People of the northern hemisphere enjoy autumnal changes including beautiful foliage of reds, yellows, and purples, and drinking warm libations of clove and pumpkin spice, transitioning slowly toward cinnamon spice. It’s a time to retreat into our home and hearth for reading by a crackling sandalwood enhanced fire under a mantel decorated with sprigs of berry-covered Juniper and lush evergreen branches of laurel while enjoying a cup of spiced tea. From these, we find a serenity unfound in warmer months. Blended in these aromas could be patchouli perfume worn by loved ones. With chili and stews as mainstays of the cold weather diet, the taste of Thyme and Oregano are also familiar to us.

These traditions including drinking and eating, relaxing, and even in decorating are an incredible link to our ancestors and their ancient wisdom. Hidden in these sensual desires and aromas of the cool seasons, lies the heritage of our foremothers and forefathers. Through these cold weather rituals, they pass down to us comfort and protection from illness.

After all, the wonderful smells and rituals of the cooler months aren’t the only thing we associate with them; we also associate the cold and flu bugs with this time of year calling it “cold and flu season”.

This poetic connection to the past has made itself scientifically evident in the present. Aromatherapy, the modern term for the therapeutic or medicinal use of essential oils, is a practice older than most languages spoken today. It was built, not upon randomized controlled trials, but on ancient wisdom. Now, because of the advances in modern science, we are able to verify these traditional practices as effective activities for the prevention and supportive treatment of cold month illnesses.

Published at the end of 2016 in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers updated an extensive review of antimicrobial properties of essential oils. Not surprisingly, many of the essential oils referenced in the article are traditionally associated with the winter months.

You can blend these essential oils with carrier oils and rubbing alcohol to create your own antiviral and antibacterial spray. This is great for disinfecting hands and surfaces without toxic chemicals. This recipe allows you to choose your own delicious essential oil scents to create a sprayable sanitizer, or you can try our own Everyday Antibacterial Blend made with Cinnamon, Clove, and Tea Tree oils very well together, making holiday fragranced and highly potent antimicrobial spray.

Diffusing these essential oils is another way to fight back against ubiquitous seasonal germs. Did you know that the flu virus is so tiny, it is one of the few microbes that can actually float? Most bacteria are too big to stay suspended before falling to the ground and surfaces. All flu is caused by viruses, which are much smaller and more aerodynamic than bacteria, allowing these microbes to hang out in the air.

Diffusing essential oils is a wonderful way to address this seasonal concern. Nebulizing essential oils is known to be the most effective way of diffusing, especially when addressing these tiny particles. Nebulizers emit nanoparticles that can also stay suspended in the air. Essential oils that have been shown to specifically inhibit the avian flu viruses include Kumquat and lemon balm. The influenza A virus has been inhibited by Patchouli essential oil.

While nebulizing produces the smallest particles of essential oil, it is not to say that cool water humidifier-type essential oil diffusers are unnecessary or useless, just that their best application is different. If you are already experiencing sinus or nasal stuffiness, adding several drops of antimicrobial essential oils such as eucalyptus, Bay Laurel and tea tree can help you breathe easier and open up nasal passages. For best effects, set your humidifier near your bed and use it at night.

It’s well known that too much stress and anxiety can weaken our immune systems. And while we hopefully have time to enjoy the cool months, we can certainly be faced with extreme time constraints and stressors. There is nothing like the firm deadline of holidays and your in-laws coming to town to make anxiety shoot through the roof. Thankfully, there are antimicrobial essential oils that are also in the traditional scent of the season which can be used for their calming, anti-anxiety and mental clarifying effects. Sandalwood oil and Juniper oil can be blended together and inhaled from the bottle or applied topically to a carrier oil to the back of the neck and forehead. Consider wearing an essential oil diffusing necklace instead if you don’t have a nebulizer, or in addition to the topical application. Get through your to-do list with calm clarity thanks to these essential oils.

It is pretty amazing that the spices and herbs associated with this time of year are also shown by research to be effective antibacterial and antiviral remedies. They can be diffused to inhibit cold and flu bugs and as decongestants. Put your mind at ease and apply topically for antianxiety and clarity of mind. The scents of the season have been stored away in our collective consciousness for our comfort and joy.

Please refer to our pages on these individual essential oils for additional information on how to use each for comfort and support as needed this cold and flu season. You will find exciting information on how to properly diffuse, nebulizer, or apply topically. Many of these herbs are safe for culinary uses as well. Remember that both essential oils and antibiotics can cause sensitivity to UV light, so cover up your skin before going into the direct sunlight when using.  

Consult a qualified healthcare provider and /or manual

  • Make sure you know:
    • Dosage- how many drops
    • Ratio of EOsto subtract- how many drops of essential oil to the carrier such as alcohol, water, saline or oil
    • Timing- how many times per day for how many days
    • Route- exactly how it is to be consumed such as by mouth, topically, inhaled, etc
    • Education- be aware potential side effects to look out for and what to do such as “discontinue treatment if you suffer itching”, as well as reasons you should not take certain EOs that are special to your health situation such as pregnancy
    • If you take internally you must understand that taking just one drop of some essential oil could be equal to eating several hundred plants at once!
    • Discontinue and call your healthcare provider immediately medical help if your mouth or lips itch.
    • Call 911 and get to ER immediately if your throat swells or you have difficulty breathing.
    • This goes for the use of anything as a drug, including prescription and over the counter drugs regulated by the FDA.

The mainstream recommendation is to consult your healthcare provider when you’re sick or considering using anything like a drug (a substance used to prevent, treat, or cure a disease). We take that a step further and suggest you consult your complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) friendly provider when you need help! Some qualified healthcare providers in this field include naturopathic doctor, holistic family nurse practitioner, Certified aromatherapist, registered herbalist, or at the very least, open-minded family practice medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy. Classically trained physicians can go on to obtain certifications in integrated and functional medicine. These are the folks who will have the training and knowledge necessary to get good information and support your life journey through health and inevitable illness.

Written by                                                                               
Sierra Hamm, CD, BSN, RN
Certified Doula & Women's Health Nurse 



1. Swamy, Mallappa Kumara, Mohd Sayeed Akhtar, and Uma Rani Sinniah. “Antimicrobial Properties of Plant Essential Oils against Human Pathogens and Their Mode of Action: An Updated Review.” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM 2016 (2016): 3012462. PMC. Web. 4 Nov. 2017.

Back to blog