Essential Oils - Nature's Strongest Anti-Virals
(see also 'Anti-Viral Essential Oils' in our article database)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. 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').
The Data Is In: Immunostimulants and Direct 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 produces showing the efficacy of essential oils for both purposes. Using the database of the National Institute of Health (www.pubmed.gov) one can review the data by searching for terms such as 'essential oil virus' (currently producing 93 results) or 'essential oil immune' (producing 143 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. Using one or more oils topically (they are easily absorbed through the skin) or in a diffuser on a daily basis can support this effect (more on which oils to use in a minute).
Perhaps even more exciting is the number of research papers showing the direct effect of essential oils in actually killing viruses. To those in the natural medicine field, this is not so astounding -- essential oils work as part of a plant's immune system, and plants need to defend themselves from viruses as well. And the viruses which infect plants are not all that different from the viruses that infect humans -- their envelopes and other structures are fairly similar (though with different transmission strategies), such that the mechanisms of killing the viruses will still be useful for human use. The same oils that are effective against SARS and HSV should show some, if not all of the same activity against H1N1 (also known as Swine Flu) and H5N1 (Avian influenza). At the same time, essential oils are relatively non-toxic for humans, allowing for regular use as both preventative and healing agents. In fact, when studying the anti-viral effects of essential oils, researchers found that normal cells seemed to acquire a special resistance to viral penetration, though the mechanism for this effect is not yet known.
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, therby 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, easliy 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 Officinalis
The collection of scientifically validated research of the ability of essential oils to act directly against viruses has exploded in the last several years, with more interest in this field growing dramatically in 2009. Many oils have shown to be effective not only in petri dishes, but in living subjects as well. Melissa, also known as 'Lemon Balm' is an essential oil distilled from an herb with a long history of use in natural medicine. It is one of the only oils thought to be able to completely eradicate the Herpes Simplex virus in humans, and prevents the virus from transmitting from cell to cell. While somewhat costly (if the oil is found at a price that seems to good to be true, it is more than likely not 'true' Melissa), the oil is only needed in very small amounts to be effective (Dr Schnaubelt, in 'Advanced Aromatherapy' consideres a 1:100 dilution to still retain the efficacy of the pure oil). Melissa is safe for human ingestion and direct topical application.
Melaleuca Alternifolia: All Purpose Tea Tree
Tea Tree, because we've all been using for so long, slips our mind when considering oils for more 'serious' applications. Yet 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.
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. For diffuser 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 milliter of each oil into a seperate 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!). All these oils are included in our Super Immune blend, in a full-strength recipe. See http://www.anandaapothecary.com/essential-oil-blends.html
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).
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