Can you boost your immune system with essential oils? As autumn approaches and the leaves change into lovely colors, the change in the air temperature also signals the start of the “cold and flu season.”
But luckily you don’t have to succumb to getting a cold or the flu this year. There are multiple ways of boosting your immune system to help you avoid catching the latest colds or flu, including the use of essential oils.
Which Essential Oils Boost Your Immune System?
There are some great ones…but before we look at which essentials work best and how to use them, let’s take a quick look at essential oil basics. Since essential oils are volatile plant compounds that can potentially be toxic in certain cases, I want to ensure that you have a good knowledge of proper use. Even if you’ve been using essential oils for a while, you may learn something new… 😉
What Are Essential Oils?
From the Essential Oil book by Susan Curtis, “An essential oil is the natural fragrant essence extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, roots, fruit peels and berries. The most concentrated and potent of plant extracts, essential oils are approximately 75-100 times more concentrated than dried herbs.”
Essential oils are produced in a variety of ways including steam distillation, extraction, and cold pressing, depending on what works best with the originating plant material.
How Do Essential Oils Work?
A great example of holistic health is aromatherapy (the use of essential oils) since essential oils work on the mind, body, and spirit. The sense of smell is very powerful, as you likely know, conjuring up old memories with a single whiff of perfume or odor. And research suggests that we respond strongly to scents in the part of the brain that deals with emotions and memories. The olfactory gland also communicates with parts of the brain that control blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, hormones, and more. So just smelling an essential oil can have a big impact on our physical and emotional body.
When essential oils are absorbed through the mucosa lining of the nose, lungs or skin, their chemical compounds are distributed throughout the body, interacting with and altering the immune system as well as pathogens and disease. All essential oils are antibacterial in nature, and some are also antifungal and antiviral. Different essential oils work differently against pathogens and diseases. And some work better than others depending on the pathogen at hand. So I recommend consulting a reliable book or an Aromatherapist before trying to treat yourself with essential oils.
Essential Oil Use and Safety
Before you start using essential oils there are several important safety factors to be aware of:
- Essential oils are a volatile substance with potential for skin reactions and burns if not used correctly. They should never be used directly on the skin, but always diluted with a carrier oil before use. Those with sensitive skin should spot test a small area before use to ensure no reaction. You can find a chart showing recommended dilution here (bottom of page.)
- Essential oils should never be used on children under 2 years of age. Above age 2 consult an Aromatherapist before treating a child with essential oils.
- Ingesting essential oils is never a good idea. While some essential oil companies condone taking essential oils internally, the UK’s Aromatherapy Trade Council’s safety guidelines advise against the internal use of essential oils. Ingestion of essential oils creates potential for irritation of the sensitive mucosal lining of the mouth, esophagus and gut. Plus the whole dose is released into the bloodstream at once and on to the liver, with potential for toxic overdose.
- Though many aromatherapy companies claim different “certifications” there is no universal certification process for essential oils so their quality can and does vary widely.
Essential Oil Use With Pets
Although many essential oils companies, products, and websites recommend treating pets with essential oils, the studies don’t jive with the marketing hype. Again, essential oils are very volatile and pets are very small. If we are only using 3-4 drops for an adult person, even one drop for a pet may be toxic. In particular most essential oils are highly toxic to cats whose livers cannot metabolize the phenols in essential oils. Please refer to the The Lavender Cat (PDF) for information on essential oils for cats. Also, this article 30 Essential Oils Not Safe For Pets covers dogs and cats as well as birds and rabbits. Because out cats are “our kids” and we don’t want to take chances, our rule of thumb is no essential oils around our cats. Period.
So now that we know what essential oils are, how they work, and how they should be used, let’s learn how to boost your immune system using essential oils!
Six Essential Oils to Boost your Immune System
- Clove Oil — Intensely aromatic, uplifting, energizing and warming, Clove Oil can be used in combination with cardamom and bergamot oils to boost the immune system during a chronic infection. Mix 2 Tablespoons of carrier oil (such as sunflower, almond, grape seed or jojoba oil) with 2 drops clove oil, 4 drops Cardamom Oil, 4 drops Bergamot Oil, and massage into head, neck, chest, and shoulders twice a day. I also put 2-3 whole clove buds in my water bottle each day during the cold and flu season for added immune boosting.
- Ginger Oil — Comforting, warming, stimulating and strengthening, Ginger Oil is a great essential oil for boosting the immune system at the start of the cold and flu season. Make a foot bath soak with 2 drops of ginger oil. Or put 2 drops of ginger oil on a tissue and inhale a few deep breaths. Also try adding fresh grated ginger to your meals!
- Lemon Oil — Refreshing, cleansing, and tonifying, Lemon Oil is a fantastic antibacterial for any infection. It also stimulates the white blood cells strengthening the immune system. To fight of a cold try a steam inhalation of 3 drops of lemon oil plus 3 drops of Tea Tree Oil in a humidifier, or in a pot of hot water (not boiling.) Place a towel over your head and pot and inhale deeply. Or put 2 drops of lemon oil on a tissue and inhale a few deep breaths.
- Tea Tree Oil — Fresh, stimulating, and toning, Tea Tree Oil is a powerful antibacterial and anti-fungal which is very useful in the treatment of colds, flu, and sinus infections as well as boosting the immune system against infections. Mix 2 Tablespoons of carrier oil (such as sunflower, almond, grape seed or jojoba oil) with 4 drops Tea Tree oil, 2 drops Black Pepper Oil, and 4 drops Bergamot Oil, massage into chest twice a day.
- Melissa Oil — Calming, uplifting, and nurturing, Melissa Oil (lemon balm) boosts the immune system and is also excellent at fighting viruses, relieving fevers and helping with respiratory issues. Mix 2 Tablespoons of carrier oil (such as sunflower, almond, grape seed or jojoba oil) with 2 drops Melissa and 4 drops Mandarin Oil, and massage into head, neck, chest, and shoulders twice a day. One of my all time favorite products is Melissa Hand Wash which is great for the cold and flu season.
- Organic Defense Blend — So maybe you love the thought of using essential oils, but just don’t have the time or inclination to create your own blends? This one is for you! Neal’s Yard Remedies has taken all the work out and made a fantastic immune boosting blend of essential oils called Organic Defense Blend which includes: Tea Tree, Cinnamon, Lemon, and Thyme oils. It stills need to be blended with a carrier oil for topical use.
Where to Find Quality Essential Oils
Ok, so now you’re ready to boost your immune system with essential oils, but how do you know where to find good quality oils? There are a lot of poor quality oils out there so knowing where to find quality oils is important. Full disclosure, I may be a bit biased as a consultant for UK-based Neal’s Yard Remedies 😉 but our essential oils are really fantastic. Not only does the company make everything in small batches by hand, they produce very high-quality oils certified organic by the Soil Association. An independent organization, the Soil Association guarantees that plants used in Neal’s Yard Remedies organic essential oils are grown free from synthetic chemical herbicides and insecticides and produced to exacting standards for organic certification.
Neal’s Yard Remedies essential oils are available in stores in the UK, online in the US, and in stores and online throughout the world. Unfortunately due to customs regulations the US doesn’t currently carry all of the essential oils that Neal’s Yard Remedies makes and that are available in the UK. So when I can’t purchase a specific essential oil through Neal’s Yard Remedies, my other favorite sources of high-quality organic essential oils are Aura Cacia and Mountain Rose Herbs.
While the art and science behind aromatherapy and the use of essential oil is too broad to cover in detail in this blog post the Essential Oil book is a great resource. You can read excerpts from it online here to learn more. The Essential Guide to Oils, by Jennie Harding is another good reference.
I’d love to know your favorite essential oils and uses so please leave a comment and share.