The Anti-Viral Action of Essential Oils

Posted on Saturday 14 November 2009

The body of scientific evidence regarding the potency of plant medicines against a great variety of viruses is growing. And with the concern of viral illness in the headlines, now is the time to investigate all the ways you can protect your health and the health of your family. Essential oils from many plant families have now been demonstrated to have antiviral properties in laboratory research across the globe. More and more people are turning to the vast healing potential of these plant medicines, realizing the great potency they have, along with the balance of our natural environment that is supported through their use. These essential oils are readily available at health food stores — though the most consistent high grade therapeutic quality may be from internet sources. Using essential oils for immune system support is a tried-and-true application of these powerful natural medicines. In fact, most medical aromatherapists consider the most important use of essential oils in medical applications will be for the prevention and treatment of infectious illness (see Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt’s ‘Medical Aromatherapy’).

Read the Research: Science Backs the Anti-Viral Action of Essential Oils

For the treatment and prevention of infectious illness, essential oils are used for two purposes: the general strengthening of the immune system and the direct eradication of viruses. A great many peer-reviewed research papers have been produced showing the efficacy of essential oils for both purposes. Using the database of the National Institute of Health ( one can review the data by searching for terms such as ‘essential oil virus’ (currently producing 93 results) or ‘essential oil immune’ (producing–3 results) and the like. Essential oils have been shown to actually increase the power of lymphocytes (the immune system’s troops, so to speak), making them better able to eliminate foreign invaders in the body (viruses, bacteria, and the like). Oils can also increase the speed at which the immune system produces antibodies to eliminate an infection.

The direct eradication of viruses is also a feature many essential oils display, in addition to their immune-stimulating effects. This makes complete sense to practitioners of plant medicine, as plants themselves also must defend from viral infections. While the transmission methods these viruses use are different, their primary structure is not all that different from viruses infecting mammals. Essential oils have been shown to destroy the SARS virus, and prevent the cell-to-cell transmission of the Herpes Simplex variants. These same oils should also be effective at eradicating other ‘pandemic’ viruses we’re facing today. And not only do these oils eradicate viruses, but also demonstrate protective effects such that cells acquire resistance to viral penetration. For these effects, essential oils can be used topically (diluted in ‘base’ or ‘carrier’ oils) or even better, they can be dispersed in the air in your home or office by a nebulizing diffuser (we’ll explain this more toward the end of this article).

Choosing the Right Oils for the Strongest Immunity

For these applications, essential oils can be characterized by the desired effect. Certain oils are considered especially effective as immunostimulants — when looking for any sort of support of the immune system, it is always crucial to take into account the vitality of one’s overall health. Obviously a person in poor health, or even in a very poor emotional state, will be more susceptible to infection than those in tip-top health. Those individuals reporting lower levels of stress will also have the best immune system function. In this regard, Frankincense essential oil, particularly Boswellia carteri species produced by carbon dioxide extraction, is considered one of the most highly effective oils. Other oils to consider to bolster one’s overall vitality (with a stronger immune system as a result) are Bergamot (highly regarded as an anti-depressant), Rosemary (for assisting detoxification, thereby lessening the load on the immune system), and Lavender (an anti-stress agent, as well as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial). These oils can be used via any classic aromatherapy method — topical massage on the feet surprisingly may be the most effective, as the feet are highly receptive both energetically and biochemically to essential oils. Diffusing these oils, again singly or in combination in a nebulizing diffuser (which makes a fine, easily evaporated mist of the oils in the air) is a simple way of protecting your entire household (the directly anti-vial oils can be used in this way as well).

The Anti-Viral Essential Oils: Melissa

Melissa, a member of the Lamiaceae family also known as Lemon Balm, has been shown particularly efficacious against the herpes simplex virus. The oil has also been shown to have significant antidepressant effects, and can positively modulate the action of the immune system. While somewhat costly, as the plant itself yields a very small amount of essential oil, its potency is considered exceptionally high. Even small amounts within your formula can provide important protection. Melissa is noted specifically by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt in ‘Advanced Aromatherapy’ to work in very low dilutions; Dr. Schnaubelt believes the oil’s effects will still be strong when used at one part per hundred in topical recipes.

Potent Australian Essential Oils

Tea Tree, because we’ve all been using for so long, slips our mind when considering oils for more ‘serious’ applications. The naturally occurring terpines in Tea Tree are among the most potent anti-viral constituents found in essential oils. Yet not all of us are very fond of Tea Tree’s aroma; what’s important to know that Tea Tree actually has a wonderful ‘nutmeggy’ aroma when it’s fresh – and Tea Tree happens to be one of the essential oils that is better tolerated when it’s fresh (if the smell is unpleasant, it’s likely old or not of good quality). The research backing the antiviral action is probably more comprehensive than any other essential oil. While aromatherapists do not consider Tea Tree the first line of defense for influenza, it could certainly be a helpful component in blends with other appropriate oils for this purpose. Also in the Melaluca family is Rosalina, or ‘Lavender Tea Tree’. This relatively new oil seems to have an exceptional balance of properties, acting as both an anti-stress agent and a potent antimicrobial. Some therapists consider this oil may be the better choice for anti-viral protection.

Essential Oils Specific for Influenza

A great many other oils are recommended by medical aromatherapists for infectious illness which may be transmitted through airborne contact. Bay Laurel (also known as Laurel Leaf or Laurus Nobilis) is mentioned by researchers as particularly effective in eradication of the virus causing SARS, and should certainly be included in any anti-viral formulas. Eucalyptus Radiata (also known as Narrow Leaf Eucalyptus) has been called the ‘Aromatherapist’s Designer Oil’ for its pleasant aroma AND its immune supportive and anti-viral action. Ravensara aromatica (not to be confused with Ravenstara) is used for bronchial infections. Hyssop is another oil thought to have potent anti-viral activity; it naturally contains a very broad array of natural constituents which creates this potency. Finally, the essential oils from Thyme and Oregano herbs are strongly antimicrobial, and are often called for in immune and cold care recipes. These oils are very strong, and should be used with caution – only used in small amounts in diffuser blends of very diluted (to less than 5%) in topical formulas.

Putting It All Together

Making your own formulas for home use, whether in a diffuser or for topical application is exceptionally easy to do. Don’t be wary of mixing your own – once you do it, you’ll find it fun and educating, likely even giving you more personal ownership and understanding of the use of oils. Diffusing the oils in your environment is considered by some practitioners is considered by some therapists to be THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to use their protective effects. For this use, an example formula may be equal parts of Bay Laurel, Eucalyptus Radiata, Tea Tree, Hyssop decumbens, and Ravensara. If you find any of the aromas overwhelming, just reduce the portion of the blend of that oil. So you could just pipette 1 milliliter of each oil into a separate bottle, then use this formula in a nebulizing diffuser. The same formula can be mixed for topical application by blending 1 part of this recipe into 9 parts of a carrier oil (such as gently melted virgin Coconut oil – which is considered to have antiviral properties itself) and used as a daily foot massage. Melissa oil can be included if you wish to enhance the formula. Rubbing this blend into the areas of the body where the lymph nodes are close to the surface is also recommended: the sternum, armpits and neck are receptive areas. If you choose to use the blend in a diffuser, remember that the carrier oil should then NOT be used (it will not evaporate properly!).

The same essential oils can be mixed in a small spray bottle for traveling. Again, a 1:10 dilution in water, mixed in a 1 ounce bottle with a spray cap, vigorously shaken, can be taken along on a plane. You can mist yourself and your environment using this, and even your hotel room and rental car can be ‘treated’ with your mixture.A final note on blending and use – as essential oils are highly concentrated, be sure to keep them away from the eyes, and out of the hands of younger children (please consult a practitioner if you intend to use these formulas with the young ones; while the recipes are appropriate, the concentration of essential oil should be significantly lower for children under 12. In no case should the oils be used with infants – for more information on properly using essential oils with children, see ‘Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child’ by Valerie Ann Worwood).

Essential Oils are the Foundation of Aroma-Medicine: Use Them!

The essential oils mentioned here are readily available, safe and easy to use. Their efficacy as anti-viral agents has a long history of use in traditional medicine, and should not be considered ineffective if one doesn’t believe in the more ‘new age’ aspects of aromatherapy. Essential oils are simply the carefully distilled, highly concentrated ‘volatile’ components of plants — and it is these same components the plants use to defend themselves from viral infection. They have long been used in Europe for just such purposes; it used to be in France that one would get an essential oil blend prescription from their doctor that was then filled at a special dispensary. The oils are not meant to replace other effectively means of preventing the spread and contraction of viral illnesses, but to complement them — as many therapists believe this may be the best use of essential oils in the medical arena, why not make use of them!

The author is a consultant for Ananda Aromatherapy Essential Oils, found at Find more resources are available on carrier oils through the website.

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