In the chill of fall and winter, colds are common. All it takes is touching the wrong door handle and you could be under the weather for days. Luckily, several essential oils can strengthen immunity and relieve upper respiratory symptoms, making them the best options for relief from cold and flu symptoms.
When you treat a cold with essential oils, you aren’t just relieving cold symptoms—you’re also supporting the long-term health of your immune system. These six essential oils have plenty of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties that make them well suited for alleviating cold symptoms:
Each one of these essential oils has its own benefits to alleviate cold symptoms, with supporting scientific studies.
Peppermint essential oil has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Plus, the menthol in peppermint may improve airflow and suppress coughs. Menthol has a natural cooling effect that can help relieve a scratchy throat and unclog blocked sinuses.
In an animal study published in the journal Pulmonary Pharmacology, researchers tested the effects of several aromatic vapors on guinea pigs with upper respiratory tract infections. Out of the three compounds tested (menthol, cineole, and camphor) menthol proved to be the most effective, reducing the frequency of coughs by 56 percent.
According to a 2006 report in the journal Phytotherapy Research, the compounds menthol and menthone have significant antimicrobial, antiviral, and analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. Human studies also indicate that peppermint oil can exert positive effects on the respiratory tract.
In a 2013 study, peppermint oil aromatherapy effectively relaxed the bronchial muscles, increased ventilation, and enhanced exercise performance in healthy athletes. It stands to reason that these same properties may translate to patients with respiratory infections.
Ginger contains potent natural anti-inflammatories that can strengthen the immune system and help take the edge off of cold symptoms. For starters, it’s a natural expectorant that can increase lubrication in the respiratory tract.
In a 2013 human study, researchers found that the active components in ginger oil can rapidly relax the smooth muscles in the upper airway. The study’s authors concluded that ginger essential oil may serve as a natural therapy for patients with airway diseases.
Ginger also contains a ton of antioxidants, which can reduce oxidative damage and prevent illness, as well as a potent anti-inflammatory called zingibain. According to a 2013 study, zingibain can significantly reduce chronic inflammation and minimize oxidative damage over time.
Eucalyptus essential oil may help clear congestion in the upper respiratory tract. According to a recent rodent study, cineole, the primary active compound in eucalyptus, can reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes and inhibit mucus production.
Similarly, a clinical trial found that aromatherapy with eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor can improve breathing in patients with acute runny nose. Eucalyptus also possesses a wide range of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In fact, a 2003 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that all three species of eucalyptus can reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
You can make your own DIY vapor rub with eucalyptus oil, coconut oil, and beeswax, and apply to the upper chest and neck.
Rosemary essential oil can be highly effective at relaxing the smooth muscles in the trachea and reducing cough. It also exhibits antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that can boost immunity.
An animal study published in The Journal of Ethnopharmacology demonstrated that rabbits and guinea pigs exposed to rosemary oil experience less coughing. Researchers believe that the active compounds cineole and camphor are largely responsible for its cough-suppressing effects.
Oregano essential oil contains the active compounds thymol and carvacrol, which may help kill the pathogens that cause colds.
A 2017 study in the journal Molecules found that, “Essential oils of oregano are widely recognized for their antimicrobial activity, as well as their antiviral and antifungal properties…these compounds are also potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic and cancer suppressor agents.”
Although oregano oil may not relieve cold symptoms directly, it can provide powerful immune support and be a valuable addition to any medicine cabinet.
Lemon essential oil is also known for its ability to support immunity and increase lymphatic drainage, making it a great tool for recovering from colds quickly. Plus, it also possesses potent antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects.
A 2004 rodent study found that long-term exposure to lemon oil aromatherapy can support the immune system by reducing stress hormone production.
Essential oils can be broken down rapidly by the gut or absorbed through the skin and nasal cavities. For colds, essential oils are most effective via aromatherapy.
When you inhale an essential oil like eucalyptus, the active compounds enter the upper respiratory tract through the nasal passages to relieve sore throat, reduce fever, and treat common cold and flu symptoms.
Start by heating a pot of water on the stove. When it’s done boiling, remove it from the stovetop, add a few drops of peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender essential oil and breathe in the steam vapors.
To target localized aches and pains, like a sore neck or swollen lymph nodes, mix 1-2 drops of essential oil with half a teaspoon of coconut, almond, or hemp seed oil and apply it directly to the affected area.
For an immune boost, add 1-2 drops of pure, food-grade lemon oil with a teaspoon of raw honey to warm water and drink away.
It’s best to pair these natural remedies with other health benefiting practices, like eating a healthy diet and getting appropriate amounts of sleep. Additionally, always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil and apply it to a small test area—that way if it causes an allergic reaction or skin irritation, the symptoms will be less severe. Also, it’s important to note that essential oils can help ease cold symptoms, but they are not a cure-all. Be sure to check in with your doctor if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks.