Essential Oils for Colds: A Natural Remedy - The Public Goods Blog Essential Oils for Colds: A Natural Remedy - The Public Goods Blog

Essential Oils for Colds: A Natural Remedy

When you’re suffering from a bad cold, there’s no shortage of advice from family and friends:

two public goods essential oil bottles, tissues

  • “Feed a cold, starve a fever.”
  • “Eat onions and garlic.” (Or eat chicken soup, of course.)
  • “Take lots of extra Vitamin C.”
  • “Stay inside, rest and don’t exercise.” (Or, get lots of exercise and sweat it out.)
  • “Don’t drink milk, it’ll create more mucus.”
  • “Put VapoRub on your feet and wear socks.”

Hey, we didn’t say it was good advice — just advice.

As just about everyone knows, there’s no actual cure for common colds. They’re caused by viral infections, so antibiotics don’t help. Over-the-counter pain relievers and cold medicines can help ease symptoms, but they don’t make the cold go away any faster. A couple of your friends’ and family’s suggestions like chicken soup and rest may help a little.

But primarily, all modern medicine can tell you is to take it easy, stay hydrated, and do what you can to ease symptoms like sore throats, coughs, stuffy noses and clogged nasal passages, until you feel better.

Most alternative medicine therapies can’t do much to cure your cold either, but relieving the symptoms is another story. In particular, aromatherapy has been shown to be surprisingly effective at easing much of the pain and discomfort caused by severe or nagging colds.

And there’s some evidence that a few essential oils, such as tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil, not only have antibacterial properties, but antiviral properties as well — which would make them possible treatments for common colds.

Is that enough information to make you interested in learning more about essential oils for colds? We thought it might be. Let’s get started.

Essential Facts About Essential Oils

If you’re new to essential oils, here’s what you need to know.

Essential oils are extracted from plants. As their name implies, they contain the essence of the plants’ beneficial and medicinal properties.

Just as not all plants are good for your health (when was the last time you ate a poison ivy salad?), not all essential oils are good for your body. But in the same way that spinach and carrots are good for you, many essential oils distilled from plants can provide major health benefits without the side effects of prescription medications.

It takes a lot of work to extract essential oils, which are heavily concentrated and sometimes expensive. However, they contain much more medicinal power than the extracts created by soaking the plant in a solvent or cold-pressing it. Because the oils are so strong, they have to be diluted before use, with a few drops of essential oils for each ounce of carrier oils like sweet almond or coconut oil. They normally cannot be used undiluted.

All essential oils have different properties, so they’re not a “one-size-fits-all treatment.” It’s important to consider the symptoms you’re trying to relieve and then choose the best essential oils (or essential oil blends) to treat that problem. An experienced aromatherapist can be invaluable in suggesting the right oils or combination for your cold.

There are several different ways essential oils can be administered.

Aromatherapy Diffusers or Vaporizers

Diffusers spread the essential oils into the air to be inhaled; they can be nebulizers, ultrasonic, evaporative or heat-driven.

Steam Inhalation

Drops of essential oil are placed into boiling water, and the head is covered by a towel or “tent” above the container so the vapors can be inhaled.

Bath Oils

A less-effective but calming method is to put a few drops of essential oil into a warm bath.


A few drops of diluted essential oil can be applied directly to the affected area to treat some pains and illnesses.

Diffusing techniques or vaporizers are most common, but once again, an aromatherapist can provide the best advice on essential oil administration for your particular symptoms.

Best Essential Oils for Colds

Many of these natural remedies do double-duty against several different issues, and can be combined for even greater effectiveness.

Eucalyptus Essential Oils

Most experts believe eucalyptus oil is most effective for colds because of its key ingredient, eucalyptol. Eucalyptol has antimicrobial properties that can help fight bacteria; it’s also an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. The menthol in this essential oil can help ease both sinus congestion and chest congestion by acting as an expectorant. Eucalyptus, by the way, is the same ingredient contained in many over-the-counter chest rubs used to treat coughs.

Peppermint Essential Oils

This is an excellent choice for treating respiratory system issues, since peppermint oil also contains menthol that can numb or ease sore throats while acting as a decongestant. Peppermint can also relax the windpipe’s bronchial muscles to prevent coughing and breathing difficulties.

Tea Tree Essential Oils

Tea tree oils and extracts have been shown to have strong therapeutic benefits due to their antiviral, antimicrobial and antibacterial powers. When inhaled, these oils can break up congestion and help sore throats; they can also help heal cold sores when diluted and applied topically with cotton balls.

Lavender Essential Oils

The medicinal benefits of lavender oils are almost too many to mention. When it comes to cold symptoms, two of lavender oil’s most important properties are its ability to boost the immune system, and to loosen the phlegm that causes breathing issues and coughs.

Rosemary Essential Oils

Rosemary is another decongestant with antibacterial properties that help the immune system. Other similar herbal oils, like oregano and thyme essential oils, are antimicrobials and antifungals as well. They contain a substance called carvacrol that can protect against both viruses and bacteria.

Lemon Essential Oils

Lemon oils are not only suggested for colds, but they’re one of the choices recommended for flu symptoms due to antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that ease coughs and congestion, body aches and swollen glands. Diluted lemon oil is also an excellent ingredient for a gargle when you’re suffering from a cold or the flu.

A Little Extra Advice for Your Next Cold

Other essential oils often used to treat cold symptoms include sandalwood, lemongrass, frankincense and chamomile.

None of these essential oils have been proven as a preventative. Nonetheless, many aromatherapists suggest that prophylactic use of eucalyptus, tea tree, and thyme oil during the flu season — as your grandmother might say — can only help.

One added benefit: many of these essential oils have disinfectant properties, so they’re also perfect for cleaning up the mess remaining after you’ve recovered from your cold.

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Comments (2)

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