The true medical aromatherapists around the globe tell us time and time again: the most effective use of essential oils for health is the combating of infectious illness. Aromatherapy in the US is still mostly relegated to support of the psyche – which it does quite well – but study after study continues to confirm the antibacterial and antiviral effects of essential oils, along with their great compatibility with human physiology. Many protocols (detailed instructions) have been translated and published from the European medical aromatherapy literature – information which you can personally incorporate into your own natural health and wellness program.
For the uninitiated, essential oils are the volatile aromatic compounds distilled from plants. They are the chemicals that give plants their smell; the luscious aroma of a rose or the sharp scent of peppermint. Plants use these chemicals for, among other things, defense from invaders such as bacteria, fungus and viruses. Each plant’s oils have a unique makeup as a result of the plant’s own physiology, natural environment, and its potential microbial invaders. Because of their chemical structure, essential oils are easily absorbed into the human body, passing through cell membranes, then further on into the bloodstream due to their ‘lipophillic’ nature (a structure in alignment with the lipid components of our cell walls). Essential oils can protect us from microbes in many different ways, from keeping the space around us naturally microbe-free, to readying our immune system for defense, to actually destroying the microbes once they’ve entered our bodies.
For starters, lets look at keeping the air and our environment pure and healthy. A cold-air nebulizing diffuser works best for this, as it creates a fine mist of essential oils which disperse throughout your living or work space. Diffusing essential oils into your environment provides three primary benefits: First, the oils are directly eliminating microbes in the air, thus reducing the concentration of live pathogens you may be inhaling or touching at any time and reducing the load on your immune system. Second, most essential oils, and particularly the strong anti-microbial ones, have an uplifting effect on the psyche and a sharpening effect on the mind. Your space will smell nicer, and generally will be more pleasant to be in. This can be very pronounced in certain workspaces where the air can be heavy. Lastly, in many cases, essential oils will actually fortify your own immune system to prevent you from catching an illness in the first place – some studies have shown mammalian cells having increased resistance to microbial invaders after exposure to essential oils. Many single oils can be used for this – Eucalyptus Radiata or Eucalyptus Globulus are excellent all-around choices, as is Ravensara, and the oil of Rosemary of the Cineol chemotype. A popular oil blend can be made using 3 parts clove bud oil, 5 parts lemon oil, 1 and a half parts Eucalyptus Radiata, 1 and a half parts Rosemary Cineol and 2 parts Cinnamon Bark oil. Diffuse these oils to your heart’s content – it’s a wonderful combination!
Next, it’s important to fortify your own immune system. Medical aromatherapists don’t claim essential oils as wonder drugs in this regard – it is important to keep yourself healthy for your immune system to work effectively. Many natural medicine physicians believe it important to keep your own internal ‘friendly bacteria’ in balance for best protection. This can be done by eating a ‘clean’ diet with an abundance of natural and organic foods, and consuming intestinal bacterial support in capsule form (available at almost all health food stores). On the aromatherapy front, the essential oil of Niaouli has been considered by some to be the single most powerful supporter of the human immune system. Niaouli essential oil is distilled from the leaves of the Niaouli tree, native to Madagascar, but now being cultivated in Spain for aromatherapy use. According to Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, one of America’s leading medical aromatherapists, “Niaouli oil is as complex in its composition as it is in it’s uses…One of the fastest-acting and most effective applications of Niaouli is to apply anywhere between 5 and 20 drops to the whole body during the morning shower. This procedure will become entirely holistic if a loofah glove is used and the oil is worked into the skin along the energy meridians. This application…is especially recommended in the flu season, as it stimulates the defense mechanisms of the body.” Niaouli would also be appropriate for diffuser use similar to the Eucalyptus varieties.
Once a bacteria or viral infection has set it, treating it with essential oils can be a little more complex. The difficulty lies in finding the proper oil for one’s particular illness, as some oils are excellent against certain microbial strains, though these same oils may not be the right choice in other instances. Prevention with immune stimulant oils as above is best; however, at the very first signs, application of 10-20 drops to the skin of both Eucalyptus Radiata and Bay Laurel essential oils to the skin in the steam of a shower (so that the skin is more porous) is called for. Eucalyptus can be applied to the chest and back, whereas Bay Laurel should be applied directly to the lymph nodes to support the immune response. The vast majority of individuals will have no sensitivity response to such application – if, however, any skin irritation is noted, apply diluted to 5% in a carrier oil such as olive oil hazelnut oils. Green Myrtle can be used in cases of bronchial infection where Eucalyptus may be found to strong an aroma. Ravensara used in the same manner is called for in cases of colds and flu – it can be a stronger antiviral than the above mentioned oils, and has a pleasing aroma.
In general, Eucalyptus Radiata and Globulus, Green Myrtle and Ravensara can be applied to the skin (dilute if any sensitivity is suspected) or used with a diffuser or inhaler to loosen mucus and support the body’s cleansing process. Rosemary Verbenone is indicated for sinusitis and bronchitis – The medical aromatherapy literature indicates this may be inhaled, applied topically in small amounts, or even ingested (with great caution) one drop two or three times daily. Also, one drop of Bay Laurel can be taken internally at the onset of a sore throat, as it directly supports the lymph system in the area.
When choosing your own self-healing methods as part of your overal natural health and wellness program, it is important to choose the proper modality for each situation. Conventional medicine has it’s place, and should absolutely be employed when it will provide the best results. When it comes to common colds, the results have not been so dramatic. Alternative therapies have offered a reasonable solution, and can be effective if used wisely and with discretion. There are many helpful texts available for the use of essential oils as medicines – Advanced Aromatherapy and Medical Aromatherapy, both by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, are excellent sources for the intermediate to advanced practitioner. Be aware of your own body’s sensitivity to any essential oil and adjust usage accordingly, and seek professional advice whenever necessary.