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6 Essential Oils for Cold and Flu Symptoms

    Essential oils have been used as a holistic approach to healthcare for thousands of years. Relieving cold and flu symptoms are no different. Essential oils can be used to prevent infections, treat cold and flu symptoms, and support the immune system in the fight for homeostasis. Working directly on the respiratory system, or moving through the vascular system, certain essential oils can have a profound effect when combating a stuffy nose or viral infection. There are chemical constituents within essential oils that have been tested and proven useful allies during humanities fight in the cold and flu season. Today we will take a closer look at the essential oils containing high percentages of these chemicals and provide natural support for those suffering with a cold or flu.

            Symptoms of the cold and flu are somewhat similar, the major difference being that the flu is accompanied by high fever, body aches, and headaches. Both infections have respiratory issues such as coughing and nasal congestion and often cause fatigue due to lack of sleep or stress on the body. Useful therapeutic properties to relieve and combat these symptoms are mucolytic, antispasmodic, analgesic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immune stimulant. By choosing these therapeutic properties, we create a broad range of holistic healing. This article will share six essential oils with chemical constituents that support these therapeutic properties. These essential oils can provide a spectrum of therapeutic uses that can either stand alone for support or work synergistically to create an even more powerful line of defense against infection and to relieve symptoms.

1. Eucalyptus Oil (Eucalyptus globulus)

Although there are several different types of Eucalyptus oil, in this article I discuss Eucalyptus globulus. This oil consists mostly of the oxide 1,8 cineole, followed by the monoterpenes d-limonene and a-pinene. Alpha-pinene is mucolytic and 1,8 cineole stimulates expectoration.1 These two chemicals work together to break down mucous build-up and rapidly expel it from the body. In turn, this relieves the pain and discomfort associated with congestion of the nasal and sinus passages as well as speeds the process of eliminating the virus infected cells from the body. 

A study of 152 people with acute rhinosinusitis found that 1,8 cineole relieved symptoms such as headaches, nasal obstruction, and nasal secretions without the use of antibiotics. 2 This study’s findings indicate relief from both flu and cold symptoms.

2. Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Tea Tree oil began its healing quest in Australia, where the Melaleuca alternifolia tree is native. Now it has become one of the best known essential oils, due to its many therapeutic properties. According to Len Price’s book Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, these properties include: analgesic, anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immunostimulant. Furthermore, Tea Tree’s anti-inflammatory effect works directly on the sinusitis.3 This is relevant to cold and flu symptoms because these viruses cause an inflammatory response within the nasal cavities, where the virus proliferates, causing discomfort and the congested feeling we get when the cold for flu is present.

Tea tree oil is highest in the monoterpene terpinen-4-ol, which contributes to its active values. This oil is also high in γ-terpinene, and α-terpinene. An in vitro study done on Tea Tree oil and its major constituents found antiviral action on influenza, chiefly due to terpinen-4-ol.4  Terpinen-4-ol is also primarily responsible for Tea Tree’s immunostimulant properties. A study found that the major constituent and the oil itself has the same effect on white blood cell activation: stimulating monocytes, which are a type of cell that is significant in the immune system’s response to infection.5

3. Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)

frankincense resin

Frankincense dates back to ancient times. It was first used in Egypt as aromatic incense and later to fumigate people who are sick. Ancient Egyptians believed frankincense warded off evil spirits that caused the sickness. Based on the therapeutic properties of this oil, there is no doubt the fumigation of Frankincense relieved symptoms of the sick. Price notes I his book that Frankincense has anti-infectious, anticatarrhal, and expectorant properties, which work great against respiratory problems.3

This resinous oil is high in α-pinene and d-limonene. As stated in the Eucalyptus section in this article, α-pinene is mucolytic. This component lends Frankincense its anticatarrhal and expectorant properties. D-limonene has immunomodulatory activity. Limonene was shown to increase white blood cells, antibodies, and antibody producing cells.6 This relates to Frankincense’s anti-infectious ability.

4. Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

Bergamot is a citrus oil, but has unique qualities that make it more complex than standard citrus oils. Upon smelling Bergamot, you can instantly tell the oil has more depth than other citurs oils. Typical of citrus oils, Bergamot is high in d-limonene. Uncharacteristically, this oil is also high in linalyl acetate and linalol. Linalol is attributed with antispasmodic action.1 Bergamot oil is highly regarded as an antispasmodic, helping with spastic coughing and stomach cramps. Linalol is also an antiseptic and sedative.7 Linalol helps the body’s immune response to fight infections, and its sedative nature calms the body’s stress that it enduring through sickness. Bergamot’s antispasmodic and sedative nature are a great combination for nighttime relief of cold and flu symptoms.

Both Bergamot and Eucalyptus oil are noted by Robert Tisserand in The Art of Aromatherapy as being cooling oils making the oils effective when a fever is present.

4. Lavender (Lavandula agustifolia)


Lavender has been known as a cure-all for ages. Its list of therapeutic properties is bountiful, and it is no doubt an overall health promoter. It has similar properties as bergamot, being high in linalol and linalyl acetate. Lavender is an effective sedative, as well as being an antispasmodic. Lavender also contains terpinen-4-ol, which is the main component of Tea Tree oil and has shown antiviral and immunostimulant properties. Lavender is also known as having an anti-inflammatory effect on the sinuses3. The tight congestion that one feels from a cold or flu is mainly caused by the body’s inflammatory response to the infection, which adds unnecessary discomfort when the body is fighting off the virus.

6. Thyme ct. Linalol (Thymus vulgaris ct. linalol)

The chemotype linalol of the essential oil Thyme is gentle enough for use in children, but still provides a powerful asset when fighting off the cold and alieving symptoms. Thyme ct. linalol is said to have anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties.3  This essential oil’s main constituents are linalool and terpinen-4-ol. Therefore, Thyme’s therapeutic properties are very similar to that of Lavender and Tea Tree.

The oils mentioned in this article can be blended synergistically in a number of ways to create a range of therapeutic effects. The most effective blend will depend on a number of factors, such as the client’s age, symptoms, and even the time of day when relief is needed. For example, as a preventative measure, you could make an aromatherapy inhaler for an adult to use throughout the day of Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, and Lavender to ward off any infection and support the immune system. In contrast, a gentler blend for adults and children seeking nighttime relief would be Lavender, Frankincense, and Bergamot in a diffuser. There are a multitude of safe and effective blends that can be made with these wonderful oils for relief and prevention of the cold and flu virus. 


  1. Bowles, E. J. (2003). The chemistry of aromatherapeutic oils (3rd ed.). Sydney, Australia:: Allen & Unwin.
  2. Kehrl, W., Sonnemann, U., & Dethlefsen, U. (2004). Therapy for Acute Nonpurulent Rhinosinusitis With Cineole: Results of a Double‐Blind, Randomized, Placebo‐Controlled Trial. The Laryngoscope, 114(4), 738-742.
  3. Price, S., & Price, L. (2012). Aromatherapy for health professionals (4th ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

4.Garozzo, A., Timpanaro, R., Bisignano, B., Furneri, P. M., Bisignano, G., & Castro, A. (2009). In vitro antiviral activity of Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil. Letters in applied microbiology, 49(6), 806-808.

  1. Budhiraja, S. S., Cullum, M. E., Sioutis, S. S., Evangelista, L., & Habanova, S. T. (1999). Biological activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil component, terpinen-4-ol, in human myelocytic cell line HL-60. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, 22(7), 447-453.
  2. de Cássia da Silveira e Sá, R., Andrade, L. N., & de Sousa, D. P. (2013). A review on anti-inflammatory activity of monoterpenes. Molecules, 18(1), 1227-1254.
  3. Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Simon and Schuster.
  4. Tisserand, R. (1978). The art of aromatherapy: The healing and beautifying properties of the essential oils of flowers and herbs. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.

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