Aromatherapy, literally ‘scent treatment’, is the practice of using essential oils extracted from trees, flowers, and herbs as an alternative medicine to ease all kinds of ailments and conditions including stress, depression, and cold symptoms. Essential oils stimulate our mood sensors while providing germ-killing power, as well as medicinal properties to ease symptoms of disease and illness. The restorative powers found in the molecules of essential oils can be inhaled through the nose with the aid of steam or vapor. Essential oils are also used in products such as massage oil, soap, and lotions to be absorbed into the skin. The idea behind aromatherapy is that the natural chemicals found in an essential oil work in synergy with each other and with our bodies to stimulate our brains.
The use of essential oils has been around for centuries, documented in the Bible and ancient Egyptian manuscripts. Remember the Magi bringing gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh? Most likely you’ve experienced the power of aromatherapy without realizing it. Does the smell of popcorn remind you of the move theater? How about the smell of your mother’s perfume conjuring up memories of your childhood? Have you ever used Vick’s VapoRub to clear congestion or rubbed aloe vera on a sunburn? Do you burn citronella candles to keep the bugs away in the summer? All these examples demonstrate the foundation of how aromatherapy works.
Which Essential Oils are Best for Colds and Flu
There may not be a cure for the common cold or flu virus, but there’s no need to suffer through the miserable symptoms. Introducing essential oil vapor into a room can keep your space bacteria-free. Inhaling the essences can kill bacterial and viral infections once they’re in your body. Continues use can also boost your immune system to keep from catching colds in the first place. There are several common essential oils that are recommended for prevention and treatment of cold and flu symptoms.
Eucalyptus- This essential oil is steam distilled from Australia’s blue forests. Used in common over-the-counter cold remedies, it is known to clear up mucus in the lungs and heal the throat and nasal passages. Eucalyptus is a strong antiseptic and can be used on wounds or as a germ-killing sanitizer. It is also known to boost energy levels.
Tea Tree Oil- Sometimes called a ‘medicine cabinet in a bottle’, tea tree oil is distilled from the Melaleuca tree in Australia. It’s been studied by the medical community and proven to have healing benefits even where other medicines fail. Used for everything from acne to lice to bad breath, it serves as a killer of all types of infections: viral, bacterial, and fungal. It can be used to clear up sinus infections and other respiratory ailments including runny nose, cough and sore throat. As an anti-viral, it can fight off the flu.
Peppermint- One of the most widely used essential oils, peppermint is most well-known for benefits to the digestive system. It is often recommended to pregnant women to aid in morning sickness and bloating. But it has other wonderful qualities to help with a cold or flu. Peppermint is a natural pain reliever and kills viral infections. It can clear chest congestion when steam inhaled or mixed in a chest rub. Experts agree it is a strong mental stimulant and can improve concentration. Some even claim it’s an aphrodisiac.
Bergamot- If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey tea, then you’ve experienced the aroma of Bergamot. Some may find the fruity scent more pleasing than the earthy aromas of the Eucalyptus or Tea Tree oils. Bergamot helps stave off viruses including the flu and the chicken pox. It also has antibiotic properties to combat sinus infections. Inhale Bergamot at night as a relaxant if your cold is keeping you awake.
Lemon and Orange- The oils from lemons and oranges are cold pressed for extraction. Lemons have been used to soothe coughs and sore throats for centuries. The oil stimulates the immune system to fight infection. Oranges have a mood lifting property that will help ease the exhaustion that often comes with the flu.
Lavender- A Mediterranean herb used long ago by the Romans in their famous baths, Lavender is best known as a stress aid. It can be used for pain relief, easing muscle cramps and headaches as well as an antiseptic to treat infections. Lavender has one of the most pleasing and well-loved floral scent. It’s also been known to lift depression and can help with those winter blues.
Using Essential Oils in Treating Colds and Flu
Now that you know which essential oils will relieve your symptoms, what do you do with them? To get started at a basic level, the only thing you’ll need to purchase is the oil itself. From there you can experiment with different methods of using the oil. You may want to purchase an aromatherapy diffuser.
Steam Inhalation– In the same way that a hot shower can relieve chest and nasal congestion, you can use essential oils to inhale in steam form. Start by boiling 2 cups of water, pour into a bowl, then add a few drops of oil, such as Eucalyptus. Keeping your face about a foot away from the bowl, breathe in the steam for about 5-10 minutes. You can place a towel around your head to keep the steam concentrated, but be sure to inhale slowly and keep your eyes closed.
Quick Inhalation– Place a few drops of the oil or a mixture of the oils, such as peppermint and tea tree, on a tissue to carry around with you. Place the tissue near your nose and inhale. This is a good solution if you’re on the go. Stash it under your pillow at night.
Massage or Bath- You can also mix a few drops of your preferred essential oil with an ounce of a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil or olive oil. Pour it into a running bath or use it as a massage oil.
Overall Room Diffuser– Following the steps for steam inhalation, but instead of direct inhalation, leave the bowl of boiled water mixed with the essential oil placed in a room to disperse naturally. You can use a few more drops of oil for this method.
A more efficient way to fill a room with aromatherapy is to use a diffuser. There are various types of aromatherapy diffusers available for purchase. One choice would be a diffuser that uses a tealight candle to warm the oil. Advantages of a candle diffuser are that they are inexpensive and don’t require electricity or batteries. They can also be more aesthetically pleasing than other diffusers, with some being works of art in themselves. Disadvantages are that one must be very cautious since essential oils are flammable and the aroma produced by this method is light and doesn’t last long. Heat can compromise the components of the oil and therefore the therapeutic qualities may not be as strong as with a cold air method. But if you’re just getting started in aromatherapy, then a candle diffuser, such as this one, may be a good option. Just keep it out of reach of kids and pets.
This hand carved oil diffuser is made of 100% natural soapstone. You mix a few drops of essential oil with purified water into the removable bowl. The candle is placed through the opening underneath the bowl. Soapstone is a dense and non-porous stone which disperses the heat evenly for a quick and steady release of the aroma.
You can get the Joy Soapstone Aromatherapy Oil Diffuser on Amazon.
By far the most efficient way to get the most out of your essential oils is to use a high quality nebulizer. It should be noted that an aromatherapy nebulizer is not the same as a medical nebulizer that’s used for asthma and croup patients. A nebulizer for aromatherapy breaks up the molecules of essential oils to disperse smaller particles into the room. The smaller molecules are easier to inhale and therefore increase the healing power of the essential oil. While these devices are more expensive than other methods, a nebulizer allows you to use less of the essential oils since it transforms the oil more efficiently. This will save money in the long run.
Made in USA, this nebulizer from Aroma-Pro uses the classic style glass bulb to disperse vapors using an air pump to break up the molecules of the essential oils. The air pump can be placed out of sight. The oil sits in a well to allow for mixing and refilling while the unit is running. The style of the bulb offers the full healing benefit of direct inhalation. Or you can use it as a room diffuser. The figure 8 shaped well is specially coated to protect the integrity of the essential oils. This glass bulb system is highly recommended by professional aromatherapists for optimal therapeutic benefits.
The Aroma-Pro Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser/Nebulizer sells on Amazon for $99.95.
If you have kids, a more practical option may be an ultrasonic aromotherapy nebulizer. Using ultrasonic technology, these units break up the essential oils into smaller molecules much like the air pump nebulizer. The oils are mixed with water and using high frequency vibrations create a cold mist for inhalation or room distribution. These nebulizers are also able to handle the thicker oils such as sandalwood and patchouli without getting clogged like the glass bulb model sometimes can.
Tips for Buying Essential Oils
Don’t be confused by other terms such as “fragrance oil” or “perfume oil”. These are not essential oils used for aromatherapy. There should not be any other ingredients other than the plant itself- no added chemicals or fragrance. Essential oils should always be stored in glass bottles, preferably dark in color. Avoid products sold in plastic. The oil can eat through plastic which will compromise the quality. You should also not store a rubber dropper in the bottle for this same reason, as the rubber can disintegrate into the bottle.
It may be a better idea to buy certified organic essential oils. These oils have been extracted from plants that have been raised without the use of pesticides and are generally reported to be of superior quality by aromatherapists. Don’t buy from companies who sell all their products at the same price. You probably won’t be getting what you pay for. For example, Jasmine is going to be much more costly than the more common Lavender oil.