An Easy Way to Stay Well or Feel Better Faster During Cold, Flu, and COVID Season
If there is one thing plants and most essential oils are great at, it's fighting "germs".
Plants, after all, live in dirt (unless your a fancy plant and live in a hydroponic high rise or such). But the majority of plants have to carve out a space in a literal jungle -- be it tropical, urban or otherwise and that means warding off things such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
As an aromatherapist I've come to learn that many essential oils offer anti-microbial as well as anti-spasmodic, immune supportive, and decongestant properties. (1,2,3)
I've also learned that steam is very helpful in supporting respiratory health.
So it makes sense that a synergy of essential oils combined with steam is a powerful way to support immune and respiratory wellness.
In our home, in addition to diffusing essential oils and using them in the shower (either adding drops to the shower floor or using a shower steamer) adding essential oils to steaming water and inhaling it is a powerful defense against germs, helps open airways, and as a bonus makes your home smell amazing.
I boil water every day for tea. So it's easy to add some of this to a bowl or mug, add a drop of essential oil or blend and close my eyes and simply inhale (or for a more intense experience add a towel over my head and breathe in the vapors).
If I'm in a rush I might pop a mug of water in the microwave (controversial I know!) add a drop of essential oil or blend and breath in for 5 or so minutes to fight germs or open up my airways (keep tissues handy).
If you start to feel a bit under the weather, this is a great way to ward off getting sick. Essential oils can help fight off germs before they invade your cells. So employing steaming at the first sign of a cold or as a wellness practice helps fight germs before they start wreaking havoc.
And if you are suffering from a cold or allergies a steam tent can help open airways and fight germs as well.
Most of the research suggests essential oils are helpful at fighting viruses BEFORE they get into cells -- so steaming at the first sign of a cold or when you've been around crowds is a smart way to boost wellness. Some research suggests that patchoulol, which is present in patchouli essential oil, however, may also help prevent viruses from replicating thus preventing viruses from getting an upper hand. (2)
Bonus Content: My Sinus Steam Blend:
So what essential oils should you use in a steam blend? While most essential oils offer some level of anti-microbial activity some are more powerful than others. And some (like clove or oregano essential oil) may be great germ fighters but are highly irritating to the nose and throat. And some essential oils offer multiple benefits, such as decongesting and anti-spasmodic benefits (which can help ease non-productive cough for example).
In a pinch I simply use a drop of Mentha x piperita or peppermint or Eucalyptus globulus/radiata. But in our sinus support steam blend I include:
So this could mean adding 1.25 ml of each to a 5 ml bottle or 1 part of each to any size bottle. And to steam I literally use ONE drop.
To create a steam tent heat water to a boil, add to a ceramic or glass bowl or mug add a drop (at most 2 or 3) of the sinus steam blend, close your eyes, tent your head with a towel and inhale for 2 to 10 minutes. Keep tissues handy because your nose will run. And if it's too strong, take breaks. And note -- this blend is for adults. Oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus can be too strong for children.
Oils to AVOID in Steam Blends:
While I am a fan of steam blends I do see well meaning but misinformed folks advocating blends that are down right dangerous. Spicy oils such as clove, cinnamon, and oregano, while excellent at fighting germs will burn, burn, burn. Citrus oils can be very irritating. And too much essential oil can also be irritating -- literally a drop will do.
When in doubt consult an aromatherapist -- which is different from someone passionate about essential oils. Aromatherapists are trained to understand the chemistry and safety of essential oils.
And while there are lots of people who enjoy expressing their opinions, passions, and thoughts, a lack of training can mean a lack of understanding in how to use essential oils safely. I've seen some downright dangerous advice on creating "flu bombs" and such using oils such as oregano and can only hope people did not damage their delicate nasal mucosa.
But done in the right way steaming with essential oils can help ward off colds and flu and help one to feel better faster. Have you heard of steaming with essential oils or herbs before? What are your thoughts?
Astani A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P. Comparative study on the antiviral activity of selected monoterpenes derived from essential oils. Phytother Res. 2010 May;24(5):673-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2955. PMID: 19653195; PMCID: PMC7167768.
Wu H, Li B, Wang X, Jin M, Wang G. Inhibitory effect and possible mechanism of action of patchouli alcohol against influenza A (H2N2) virus. Molecules. 2011 Aug 3;16(8):6489-501. doi: 10.3390/molecules16086489. PMID: 21814161; PMCID: PMC6264369.
Benencia F, Courrèges MC. In vitro and in vivo activity of eugenol on human herpesvirus. Phytother Res. 2000 Nov;14(7):495-500. doi: 10.1002/1099-1573(200011)14:7<495::aid-ptr650>3.0.co;2-8. PMID: 11054837.