Essential oils used in aromatherapy are a natural cold remedy, not only for preventing sniffles but for softening the blow when you do get a bug. It’s been common knowledge for centuries, and modern science is finally coming around to acknowledge the powers of botanicals in helping us resist colds and flu.

Cold weather brings cold and flu season and a low-tech practice—the use of essential oils in aromatherapy—offers comfort as a natural cold remedy, as well as the possibility of preventing the common bugs which cause them from getting a foothold.

Today, health practitioners still recommend the simplest possible aversion technique for protecting our health: washing our hands frequently with warm water and conventional soap. In fact, the FDA recommends that food industry and hospital workers not substitute gel hand-sanitizers for soap and water (though it’s fine to use both). Health experts also recommend that we avoid touching our eyes, especially during cold and flu season, since microbes are easily introduced from the hands to the body’s internal systems via the conjunctiva—simply by rubbing our eyes.


Menthol, found in Peppermint and Spearmint, has a centuries-long history in easing breathing difficulties, validated by many abstracts published on Pub Med, the database of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for peer-reviewed journal articles ( Menthol, like many essential oils, works in multiple ways to ease respiratory distress. The astringent properties of this botanical alcohol shrink inflamed tissues, allowing for easier breathing and swallowing. But the primary benefit is a sort of body-brain illusion, experienced as a refreshing, cooling sensation. Menthol chemically triggers special temperature sensors, proteins known as TRP channels, located in the epithelial cells of the nasal lining. Because menthol “tricks” these sensors into registering a flow of chilly air, the nose in essence convinces the brain that it is no longer congested (see for more detail). This remarkable effect makes enduring the common cold more comfortable.

Other essential oils, especially that of Lavender, have been used for centuries as a natural cold remedy. This was true long before human eyes ever gazed through a microscope and observed a pathogen. Yet, the word “Lavender” itself relates to the word “lavare”, to wash, and cleanliness has been associated with health for millennia.

Inhalation of essential oils, especially in the medium of steam, can break up congestion on the sinuses and nasal passages and ease the inflammation of the nasal lining and sore throat—just by breathing in micro-particles of essential oils of Eucalyptus and Peppermint in particular.

Traditional herbal medicine has long relied upon the powers of essential oils. A classic example is the oil of the Eucalyptus in the healing traditions of South Asia and Australia, and more recently the West. Like many essential oils, Eucalyptus oil offers relief from many common maladies in multiple synergistic ways.  This aromatic botanical has been proven to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, which help to sanitize and disinfect in order to prevent microbes from taking hold– in other words, a natural cold remedy.


But this oil offers subtler, long-term benefits as well, which help to reinforce the oil’s immediate effects. These more holistic effects include smooth-muscle relaxation, antioxidant activity, mucus-thinning, immune stimulation and support, and anti-inflammatory action to ease the symptoms of respiratory ailments including bronchitis, asthma and sinusitis.