There are many essential oils that can help rid of a cold or flu virus and help to give you rapid relief from coughs, sore throats, and congestion. The soothing effect of many essential oils can also help treat body aches and pains, chills, and headaches and other flu and cold symptoms. The antimicrobial and healing properties of many essential oils can help to destroy flu and cold viruses and speed up your recovery time. The decongestant effect of some essential oils also helps unblock stuffy noses and help clear your respiratory system from mucus and phlegm.
The common cold or flu infections are spread by sneezing, coughing, or touching surfaces that an infected person has touched, and then transmitting the virus to your nose or mouth. Apart from causing you to have a sore throat, persistent cough, or congested sinuses, the cold and flu can leave you feeling tired and fatigued.
Essential oils like tea tree oil, lavender oil, and cinnamon oil have an antiviral effect on cold and flu viruses. However, the refreshing scent of lavender oil or lemongrass essential oil can also rejuvenate your mind and help you feel that you have more energy. Also, peppermint oil and eucalyptus essential oil act like expectorants to unclog stuffy sinuses and break up mucus. Many essential oils also relieve flu and cold symptoms due to their power to soothe aching joints and muscles.
In this article, I am going to look at what scientific research says about the benefits of essential oils to treat flu and cold symptoms. You will also learn about the best essential oils to get rid of a sore throat, stuffed up airways, and soothe dry coughs. At the end of the article you will find detailed instructions on how to use these essential oils to relieve cold and flu symptoms.
Symptoms of Colds and Flu
Suffering from the common cold or influenza virus can leave you feeling tired and weak with a blocked-up nose, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and a fever. You may also suffer from various aches and pains like headaches, earaches, and body aches.
According to Dr. Steven Doerr from the Exempla Lutheran Medical Center in Wheatridge, Colorado, cold and flu viruses affect upper respiratory tract infections. This causes inflammation in your airways, and your body produces mucus to fight the infection. This leads to typical flu-like symptoms, including stuffed up airways, blocked sinuses, or a dry cough.
Apart from the symptoms already mentioned, you may also have a fever, watery eyes, headaches, muscle aches, and sneezing.1
Cold vs. flu – what’s the difference?
Because the symptoms of the common cold and flu are very similar, it’s is hard to know the difference. So, how can you know if you have the cold or flu?
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that, generally, the symptoms of the flu virus are more severe than the cold. You might have a higher temperature with uncontrollable chills and sweats and you might be in your bed for days with severe body aches. Flu can also cause serious complications like pneumonia and bacterial infections. Generally, the flu lasts longer than the common cold.2
Doctors usually run tests to confirm if a person has flu or not. Unless there is a serious infection like pneumonia, you can treat cold or flu-like symptoms at home. The journal American Family Physician reports that getting plenty of rest and using some simple remedies can do much to help you feel better sooner.3
Why Essential Oils are Effective for Colds and Flu Symptoms Like Cough, Sore Throat and Congestion
There are a number of great reasons to use essential oils to treat cold and flu symptoms. You can use a combination of essential oils to decongest your airways, relieve headaches and body aches, and as an expectorant.
The use of essential oils for flu and cold viruses is also backed up by scientific studies. According to the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a blend of essential oils can effectively help to lessen the symptoms of an influenza virus infections. This was due to the antiviral effect of many essential oils.4
According to the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, many essential oils are highly potent against viruses, bacterial infections, and fungal infections.5
Also, studies into the benefits of essential oils in treating ailments have shown that many are excellent for getting rid of coughs, sore throats, and easing congestion. For example, the journal Parassitologia reported that essential oils can be used as a decongestant, reduce inflammation, immune-booster, expectorant, and natural analgesic.6
Top 15 Essential Oils for Coughs, Sore Throat, Congestion and Other Cold and Flu Symptoms
Let’s look in more detail at the 15 best essential oils for treating cold and flu symptoms. At the end of the article, you will find out some great home remedies for the flu that you can make yourself using essential oils. The home remedies are used in diffusers, massage blends, to relax in the bath, and inhale.
1. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil is widely used as a natural decongestant to help unblock stuffy airways, help you breathe easier, and break up phlegm and mucus.
The journal Alternative Medicine Review reported that eucalyptus oil has antimicrobial properties and can naturally treat various upper respiratory infections. The antispasmodic effect of eucalyptus essential oil can also help reduce coughing fits. Because of its effectiveness in treating respiratory disorders, scientists suggested that eucalyptus oil can be used as an alternative to pharmaceuticals to make breathing easier.7
If you have a blocked or stuffy nose, putting a few drops of eucalyptus oil on a tissue and breathing it deeply can be enough to help relieve congestion in your nose, sinuses, or upper chest.
Peppermint essential oil is another natural remedy that has cold-fighting properties to relieve coughs, sore throat, and hoarseness.
Peppermint oil helps to open up your airways, and the vapor from the oil has antimicrobial properties to help kill off infections. According to the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, oil extracted from peppermint has antibacterial and antiviral properties and also helps suppress coughing. It was found that an essential oil blend containing peppermint oil can help to immediately alleviate the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.8
Regarding the effectiveness of peppermint in home remedies for flu and cold symptoms, studies have also shown other reasons why you can use peppermint oil for colds or the flu. For example, peppermint has a cooling effect on the skin, it helps to treat sore throat infections, relieves coughs, and reduces mucus in the sinuses and airways.22
Peppermint oil is also one of my best essential oils to relieve muscle pain and inflammation. You can also rub a peppermint essential oil blend on your temples to relieve headaches and clogged sinuses.
3. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a powerful antiviral and antibacterial essential oil that is perfect to destroy cold and flu virus pathogens.
Tea tree oil is a well-researched essential oil that has many healing properties. For example, research published in the journal Antiviral Research found that tea tree oil can effectively destroy flu virus bugs.9 In fact, other scientists have even said that tree tea oil is a promising drug for treating various strains of flu virus infections.10
Tea tree oil can be added to a steam inhaler or diffuser to help kill off germs in the air. Also, inhaling tea tree essential oil in a steam bath will reduce coughing, soothe sore throat, and act as a decongestant to clear mucus.
You can also use a tea tree oil spray to disinfect surfaces to prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses.
Rosemary is a fragrant cough-suppressing essential oil that can help to clear away phlegm, mucus, and reduce inflammation in your respiratory system.
Using rosemary in home remedies can help to reduce coughing and sneezing due to a compound called 1,8-cineole.8 A study into the relaxant effect of rosemary found that it has the potential in treating bronchial conditions. Researchers found that rosemary helps to prevent coughing by calming the muscles in the respiratory system.11
In fact, rosemary is so effective at helping to get rid of coughing and getting rid of mucus, that I’ve included it in my best essential oils to treat bronchial infections.
5. Oregano essential oil
Oregano essential oil is an excellent essential oil for viral infections with cold-fighting properties to help clear up influenza virus and cold infections quicker.
Oregano essential oil contains a compound called carvacrol. According to a study in 2014, the compounds in oregano oil have an antimicrobial effect and antiviral properties and can help to destroy various kinds of viruses.12
6. Lemon balm essential oil
Another essential oil for cold and flu relief that destroys viruses is lemon balm. Lemon balm is also a mood-enhancer and can help improve your feeling of wellness while you are fighting a viral infection.
Inhaling lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) can help to fight viruses naturally and reduce the severity of a cold or flu. According to the journal Virusdisease, lemon balm is considered an antiviral essential oil. It was found that lemon balm can inhibit the spread of various viruses.13
Also, a study published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that extracts from lemon balm can also help deal with anxiety. Researchers found that lemon balm can help to improve anxiety disorders and help a person enjoy a better night’s sleep.14
So, adding lemon balm to your essential oil mix will not just kill off respiratory viruses quicker, but will help you feel better while you are recuperating from the flu.
7. Frankincense essential oil
Frankincense is a healing essential oil that can get rid of congestion and get rid of a respiratory viral infection quicker.
Frankincense oil is a natural disinfectant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory essential oil. However, there are many other benefits of using frankincense as a home remedy for colds and the flu.
The journal BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine reports that compounds in frankincense have an antiviral effect against the influenza virus.15 This means that inhaling frankincense can help to get rid of a viral infection in your airways and sinuses. A frankincense spray can also be used as an antiseptic to disinfect surfaces.
Other medical studies into the cold-fighting properties of frankincense have found that it can help to alleviate sneezing, postnasal drip, and a runny nose.16 It has also been found that frankincense contains healing compounds similar to those that are found in many anti-inflammatory painkillers used for headaches and muscle aches.17
Lavender can help in treat many of the symptoms associated with colds and flu-like congestion, headaches, body aches, coughs, and insomnia.
When it comes to making your own home remedy for flu and cold virus symptoms, lavender is a great all-rounder. For example, the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences found that lavender can effectively treat sore throats and the symptoms of asthma. It also has an antimicrobial effect that can prevent flu or cold symptoms getting worse.18
Also, the European Journal of Dentistry reported that lavender is a great natural remedy for relieving colds and the symptoms of flu. Researchers stated that lavender is anti-inflammatory for colds, flu, and throat infections.22
You can also use lavender as a muscle rub to help reduce stress and tension in aching muscles and joints.
Lemongrass is a widely-used essential oil as an alternative medicine to help reduce inflammation, the effects of viral infections, and treat digestive issues.
The benefits of using lemongrass in home remedies for colds and flu were reported on in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research. In the study, researchers found that compounds in lemongrass extracts have powerful antioxidants and antimicrobial properties. These also act as anti-inflammatories in the respiratory and digestive tract.19
Among the cold-busting properties of lemongrass is its ability to reduce nausea, soothe headaches naturally, bring down your body’s temperatures, and ease muscle cramps.
Lemongrass can help to treat cold and flu symptoms because it helps relax the mind and give you a better night’s rest. Getting plenty of sleep and rest are essential to helping your body fight a viral infection.
Cinnamon essential oil has an antimicrobial effect to help beat the flu virus quickly. Cinnamon can also help improve your digestive system and help you regain your appetite quicker.
Cinnamon is a strong-smelling oil that contains many healing compounds. The Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine reported that cinnamon can treat many inflammatory disorders associated with viral infections. Studies into cinnamon found that it can help kill off many viral and bacterial pathogens. Cinnamon is also a natural remedy for nausea and other digestive issues.20
Clove oil is a great essential oil for fighting the flu virus that also helps to relieve many symptoms of the common cold.
According to the journal Phytotherapy Research, the healing properties of clove include antiviral and antimicrobial properties as well as having the ability to numb pain.21
Sandalwood can help to boost your mood while your body is fighting a cold or flu infection. Sandalwood essential oil also has a sedative effect that can help to reduce persistent coughing and sneezing.
A report in 2016 on natural remedies to treat sinus and nasal infections found that sandalwood can help reduce the cold and flu symptoms. Researchers reported that sandalwood can help a person relax and lessen feelings of anxiety. Sandalwood essential oil also reduces the amount of nasal mucosa and helps to soothe nerves of glands in the airways.16
13. Basil oil
Basil is a fresh-smelling essential oil that can help to reduce nasal congestion and pain, as well as helping your body fight infection.
The journal Ancient Science of Life reported that basil has medicinal qualities that can help to ease coughs, get rid of headaches, and assist in fighting infections thanks to its antiviral properties.23
14. Thyme oil
You can help get relief from a stuffy nose, sore throat, and a cough if you use thyme as part of your essential oil blend for colds and flu symptoms.
PubMed Health says that thyme can help to alleviate a dry cough that is caused by a cold or respiratory infection.24
15. Ginger essential oil
Ginger has many healing properties that are useful in treating many ailments, including the symptoms of the common cold and flu.
Research published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that ginger oil has anti-inflammatory activities. Ginger oil can also help to relieve inflammation in the digestive tract and prevent nausea – which is often a symptom of the cold or flu. Ginger also has an analgesic effect and can help as a painkiller.25
You can also add ginger oil to your essential massage blend to help reduce the flu-like symptoms of muscles aches and pains.
How to Use Essential Oils to Treat Cold and Flu Symptoms
There are many ways that you can use essential oils to treat cold and flu symptoms and speed up your recovery time.
For example, gargling with an essential oil mixture can help to kill of bugs that are causing a sore throat. Some essential oils will also help soothe any inflammation at the back of your mouth.
Inhaling essential oils is a popular way to unblock sinuses and relieve stuffy airways. Usually, a few drops of a decongestant essential oil like peppermint or eucalyptus in a bowl of hot water is enough to help make breathing easier. Even adding some essential oils to a warm bath while you relax is a way to inhale the healing properties of essential oils.
Massage essential oil blends or soothing muscle rubs can contain various essential oils that have pain-relieving properties. You can also add some eucalyptus to a chest-rub blend and let the vapors unblock your nose and break up phlegm in your respiratory tract.
It is good to remember that essential oils are too concentrated and powerful to put directly on your skin. Therefore, you should always dilute them in a carrier oil like grapeseed oil, olive oil, coconut oil or sweet almond oil.
Studies have shown that grapeseed oil also contains healing properties to alleviate cold and flu symptoms. For example, the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology reported that grapeseed extracts contain antimicrobial properties. Grapeseed oil contains a compound called resveratrol which helps to reduce the spread of the influenza virus.25
Let’s look at some easy natural remedies for treating cold and flu symptoms at home.
Essential oils for body aches and pains
You can make a great massage oil rub to help treat muscle aches and pains that accompany a cold or flu. This is what you should do:
- Mix together 4 drops peppermint oil, 4 drops ginger oil, and 4 drops rosemary oil with 1 oz. (30 ml) grapeseed oil.
- Massage some of the pain-relieving oil to the affected area until the oil is absorbed into your skin.
- Repeat 2-3 times a day until the aches and pains caused by the flu virus have gone.
The massaging action helps to increase circulation to the sore muscles and the essential oils penetrate the skin and help relax muscles.
If you want, you can exchange the essential oils for other pain-relieving essential oils that are mentioned in this article. For example, lavender oil, thyme, and eucalyptus oil all are great pain relieving essential oils.
Use this essential oil blend to get rid of a backache, sore legs, or shoulder pain while you are fighting the flu virus.
Use Essential oils to fight fatigue and low spirit during a cold
If you are feeling under the weather and have no energy while battling your cold, you can make your own uplifting blend of essential oils to inhale. This is what you should do:
- Mix together 4 drops sandalwood oil, 4 drops lavender oil, 4 drops lemon balm oil with 1 oz. grapeseed oil or sweet almond oil.
- Massage a little of the oil onto your temples frequently throughout the day to help reduce feelings of fatigue and low mood.
Alternatively, you can add some of the above oils to your vaporizer and inhale to help give you more energy and lift your mood.
Essential oils to improve appetite during a cold or flu infection
If the cold or flu is making you feel nauseous or you have lost your appetite, you can use some effective essential oils to help regain your appetite. To help get rid of nausea while you have a cold or the flu, this is what you should do:
- Put a few drops of ginger oil and a few drops of cinnamon essential oil on a tissue.
- Inhale frequently throughout the day to reduce feelings of nausea.
Alternatively, you could use the steam inhalation method to get rid of nausea natural. This is what you should do:
- Put 3 drops of cinnamon oil and 3 drops of ginger oil in a large pot with water.
- Bring the water to the boil.
- Put a towel over your head and inhale the steam deeply to help reduce feelings of nausea.
How to Use Essential Oils for Sore Throat
Many essential oils are great for getting rid of a sore throat that has been caused by a viral cold or flu infection. The combined effect of massaging an essential oil mix and inhaling the vapors can help to reduce the discomfort a sore throat causes.
This is how to make your own essential oil home remedy for a sore throat:
- Mix 5 drops eucalyptus essential oil, 5 drops of your other favorite essential oil from this article with 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil.
- Gently rub the remedy on to your neck, chest, and behind your ears to help treat the symptoms of a sore throat.
- Repeat 2 times a day until your cold or flu infection has gone.
You can also find a great home remedy to make your own healing sore throat syrup at home.
If a cold is making your throat feel like sandpaper, you could make a gargle to ease the pain. Saltwater and essential oils for a sore throat help to soothe the irritation that makes it difficult to swallow or gives you a dry cough. This is what you should do:
- Add 2 drops of thyme oil or peppermint oil along with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to a glass of warm water.
- Gargle the essential oil remedy for a minute or so to help soothe the pain in your throat.
- Spit out the mixture.
- Repeat 2-3 times a day to help alleviate a sore throat and kill off any germs in your mouth.
How to Use Essential Oils to Ease Congestion
The strong and potent vapors of some essential oils help to break down mucus and phlegm and ease congestion. Some of the best essential oils for congestion are eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, and lavender oils.
This is how to make your own vapor rub remedy for colds and flu symptoms:
- Mix 4 drops eucalyptus oil, 4 drops peppermint oil, and 2-4 drops lavender oil with 2 tablespoons sweet almond oil.
- Gently massage the remedy onto your chest and cover with a blanket.
- Or, you can massage the oil mixture on the soles of your feet and cover with socks before going to bed.
How to Use Essential Oils to Get Rid of a Cough
To help reduce inflammation and irritation at the back of your throat that is causing a cough, you can use essential oils that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Inhaling essential oils like tea tree oil, lavender, lemongrass, or cinnamon can help to get rid of any respiratory infection that is making you cough up phlegm or have a dry cough.
The easiest way to get the healing properties of essential oils to alleviate your cough is to use a diffuser or vaporizer. This is what you should do:
- Put 4 drops tea tree oil and 4 drops of either lavender, lemongrass, or cinnamon oil in your diffuser.
- Inhale deeply to help the healing power of the essential oil blend soothe your throat and respiratory tract.
You can also try using peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, or any other of the essential oils for flu and cold symptoms that are mentioned in this article.
You can also try my highly effective garlic syrup for chest infections to get rid of a chesty cough for good.
Essential Oil Bath Soak
Soaking in a bath with essential oils is great to soothe aching muscles caused by flu, relax your mind, as well as inhaling the essential oils to ease congestion and blocked sinuses. Mix 10-12 drops of essential oils from the above list with 1 oz. (30 ml) of a carrier oil and add it to your bath water (you can also add 1 cup of Epsom salt to enhance the effect of relieving body aches and sore muscles).
When to Call a Doctor
Usually, home remedies are enough to alleviate the symptoms of a cold or flu virus. The antiviral and antimicrobial effect of many essential oils will also help prevent an upper respiratory tract infection from getting worse.
However, in some cases, you should your doctor if your symptoms become more severe. Doctors from the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend seeing your healthcare provider in the following circumstances for severe cold or flu symptoms:3
- You have a high fever along with a sore throat, persistent cough, and congestion in your chest.
- Your cold or flu symptoms last longer than 10 days.
- You have a severe earache or drainage from one ear.
- Your cough won’t go away.
- You bring up mucus or phlegm from your chest.
Read my other related articles:
- MedicineNet. Common cold.
- CDC. Cold versus flu.
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- BMC Complement Altern Med.2010 Nov 15;10:69.
- Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2016: 3012462.
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- Altern Med Rev.2010 Apr;15(1):33-47.
- Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 2011: 690346.
- Antiviral Res.2011 Jan;89(1):83-8.
- Lett Appl Microbiol.2009 Dec;49(6):806-8.
- J Ethnopharmacol.1991 May-Jun;33(1-2):57-62.
- J Appl Microbiol.2014 May;116(5):1149-63.
- Virusdisease.2016 Jun;27(2):170-8.
- Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011 Dec; 4(3): 211–218.
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- Indian J Pharm Sci. 2009 Mar-Apr; 71(2): 134–136.
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- J Tradit Complement Med. 2012 Jan-Mar; 2(1): 27–32.
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- NCBI. Common colds.
- Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Jun; 77(12): 3982–39
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