Got The Sniffles? Essential Oils To The Rescue!

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I’m continually amazed by the healing potential of essential oils. The more I learn about these concentrated substances, the more inspired I am to add more to my collection.

Now that we’ve moved into cold and flu season, I’m revisiting my notes and rifling through my collection of oils. It’s so easy to carry a few small bottles in your purse or bag, and it can mean the difference between the total misery of clogged up head for days – or the sweet relief of busting that bug out of your system fast.

Because of their antimicrobial properties, essential oils are go a long way in preventing a cold or flu from ever taking hold.

I don’t depend solely on essential oils to knock out a case of the sniffles (you can read some more tips on preventing and treating colds and flus here and here), but I do love the fact that I can carry an arsenal of healing in a few inches of space. All you really need two or three versatile oils to address most respiratory problems – but if you want to branch out and experiment with more you won’t have to clear much space in your medicine cabinet.

10 Beneficial Essential Oils For The Respiratory System

Remember, it’s important to use high quality essential oils that have not been adulterated with other substances. These are not perfumes but concentrated plant essences.

The best oils include a Latin name on the bottle and are packaged in tinted glass. True essential oils will vary in price depending on the oil. You’ll find a nice selection of high quality oils here and here, and many health food stores carry a line of therapeutic grade essential oils.

Ready to bump up your winter wellness with essential oils? Here’s a list of oils to try.

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus, or E. radiata) – acts as a decongestant, potent antiviral and antibacterial and is ideal for treating sinus infections. Since it is drying it is particularly beneficial for those colds that produce copious amounts of mucous. E. radiata has a cooling and anti-inflammatory action.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – a steam inhalation (see below) can help clear sinus and lung congestion and even treat infection.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – An antiseptic oil, this is a good choice for lung congestion, sore throats and canker sores. Can also be added to steams.

Ravensara (Ravensara aromatica) – A good antiseptic treatment for bronchitis and sinus congestion. It can reduce throat irritation and when I first learned about this oil I was told to put a drop of the oil on a throat lozenge to address the infection as well as soothe the sore throat. This one can also be helpful for seasonal allergies

Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) – Can alleviate laryngitis, spasmodic coughing and lung congestion. Try a drop in a cup of water and gargle at the first sign of a sore throat. It’s antiviral action can nip a cold or flu in the bud and it works to slow the spread of an infection. Also good for coughs.

Hyssop (Hyssopus decumbens) – Be sure to get the “decumbens” variety and not “officinalis” which contains ketones that can be hazardous. Hyssop is a sinus and lung decongestant and can also help with allergies and asthma. Its antiviral action make this oil a good choice for viral bronchitis, and chronic conditions. It can help to stop wheezing.

Marjoram (Origanum majorana; or Marjorana hortensis) – another potent antiviral that also acts as a sedative to ease muscle spasms and cramps. It’s sometimes used for laryngitis and definitely works to treat colds and flus.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, var. linalol) – once used as a remedy for whooping cough, thyme is a potent antibacterial and antifungal and still is a great choice for relieving lung congestion. The “linalol” variety is the safest to use as it is less irritating to tissues. It acts as an expectorant and can numb the throat.

Niaouli (Melaluca quinguenevia) – Also sometimes reffered to as “MQV,” this oil is a nice alternative to tea tree. It is less astringent and heating but still has powerful antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It’s a good choice for infections that cause lots of mucus and other moist conditions.

Lemon (Citrus Limon) – This refreshing smelling oil helps to counter all viral and bacterial infections. It’s effective against the bacteria that causes strep and pneumonia infections. It also works to boost the immune system and when used in a massage oil it stimulates detoxification of the lymph system.

How To Use The Oils

Okay, so you’ve got a few of these tiny bottles of essential oils and you feel the sniffles coming on. How do you use the stuff?

Remember these substances are highly concentrated and potent. It’s best not to use essential oils undiluted unless directed by a qualified practitioner. Here are some of my favorite methods to treat a cold or flu with essential oils (and a few quick recipes):


This is my tried and true method for moving out a congested infection that is not responding to other natural remedies. A steam will carry the essential oils directly to sinuses and lungs and helps open the nasal and bronchial passages with warm, moist air. You can steam several times a day if you are able to.

You’ll need a small pot with a tight-fitting lid and a towel. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil. Then carry it over to a table or counter,  and add up to 6 drops of essential oils. You could just use eucalyptus, or a try a mixture of any of the oils listed above (if using thyme though, only use one drop – it’s strong!)

Lean over the pot and drape the towel over both your head and the pot, creating a little cocoon. Very carefully lift the lid just a bit and begin to inhale the aromatic steam. You can close the pot and lift the lid several times, continuing to breathe in the steamy aroma.


Although steaming brings the benefits of the hot vapor along with the therapeutic qualities of the essential oils, you can still derive their benefits by simply breathing in the aroma.

Try placing 1-2 drops of oils of your choice on a cotton ball or Kleenex and placing it in your nostril. Or, just keep it close by and breathe in the aroma. You can also place a few drops on a handkerchief, or even on a special mouth and nose mask.

Remember old-fashioned smelling salts? Well, the same principal can be used for a portable natural inhaler for soothe congestion and clear the head. Make your own nasal inhalant by placing a tablespoon of rock salt into a small vial. Add two drops each of eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils and one drop of peppermint oil. Inhale as needed.


Many types of diffusers are used to spread a pleasant aroma throughout a room, but to treat a cold or flu you’ll need to use an electric diffuser or a nebulizer – not a little dish with a candle. Try 2-8 drops of essential oils in your diffuser and breathe in the aroma for a 10-15 minute session. Repeat frequently if you are dealing with a serious infection.

You could also use the diffuser in a sickroom every hour or two to clear out airborne bacteria with the antimicrobial essential oils.


I love simple saltwater gargles to disinfect and treat a sore throat, but essential oil gargles can be a tasty and effective alternative. Try a drop or two of lemon or cypress oil in a couple of ounces of water. Or really boost the effectiveness by adding the oils to a cup of warm thyme or sage herbal tea.

Room Disinfectant

Clear out airborne bacteria and prevent more illness by using a diffuser as mentioned above. Or make a quick and simple disinfectant room spray by combining 6-10 drops of essential oils in an ounce of water and place it a bottle with a spritzer top. Shake well each time you spray the room.


Forget the Vicks! You can make up a quick chest rub with essential oils that smells and feels way better. You can also find many natural vapor balms in natural foods stores. Rub some of the salve or oil on the chest, back and throat. Then cover with some flannel or warm fabric to hold in the warmth. Try this recipe:

1 t. peppermint oil
1 t. eucalyptus oil
½ t. thyme (var. linolol) oil
½ cup olive or almond oil
¾ ounce beeswax, grated or shaved
Heat the oil and beeswax on very low heat until the beeswax melts. Cool a little then stir in the essential oils. Pour the mixture into a jar and allow to harden.

If this sounds too complicated you can just make it as a massage oil and skip the beeswax and the heating. Use the same way.

(Recipe from Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green – a highly recommended resource for information on essential oils.)


A steamy soak is another excellent way to take in essential oils. Use caution when adding strong essential oils to your bath. Fill the tub with hot water, then add just a few drops of essential oils, being sure to swish them around thoroughly in the bath. You could also add essential oils to almond oil or another carrier oil, and then add this fragrant and therapeutic “bath oil” to your bath.

Maggie Tisserand recommends regular bathing with lavender oil to build up resistance to colds, she also uses lavender oil to treat the ‘flu. Her recommendation is to mix a few drops of lavender oil with a carrier oil and rub on the body, especially chest and back of neck. Then jump into a warm bath and soak for 10 minutes. Follow this with going right to bed.


Add several drops of antimicrobial essential oils of your choice to a couple of ounces of almond oil, or another carrier oil. Rub this therapeutic oil under your arms, on the soles of your feet, and the palms of your hands. This will bring the beneficial properties directly into your lymph system.

Nose Drops

A direct method to treat serious congestion or a sinus infection. Mix 4-6 drops of essential oil in ¼ ounce of a carrier oil. Hazelnut oil or tamanu oils are both good base oils for this formula. Place the drops on a Q-tip and swab out the inside of your sinuses.


Have you used essential oils to prevent or treat respiratory ailments? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!


7 Responses to Got The Sniffles? Essential Oils To The Rescue!

  1. Great timely article. I had been thinking about putting together a essential oil it will be much easier..thanks Sarah.. printing this one out!

    • HI Bobbi. So glad you found this helpful. Please pass on to any friends who might be interested.

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Your blog is very neatly and wisely written. I really admire your wisdom and knowledge of herbs.
    I hereby nominate you for Liebster Award. Plz let me know if you have less than 200 followers as this award is only for those blogs that have less than 200 followers.

    Check out my site, see your nomination and pass on the mojo.

    • Thank you Surabhi! I am honored. I sent you an email about this – and love your site!

  3. I am just getting over a particular nasty little head cold. I used essential oils extensively to treat my symptoms, but wish I had seen this article as there were some of your suggestions I would have liked to have known about. When my cold went into my sinuses, I swabbed the inside of my nose with Melaleuca, and layered Rosemary, Lime and a respiratory blend called Breathe over my Sinuses. When I ended up with Pink Eye, I used Melaleuca and Melissa to help get rid of it.

    Thank you for such a well written informative article. I love learning everything I can about essential oils, and I learned many new things from this article.

    • Hi Joni, thanks for stopping by the blog! I’m glad you found the article useful – and too bad you didn’t come across it before your head cold! But now you’ll have some more ideas for next time! I’ve never used essential oils to treat pinkeye – what a good idea. Did you just dilute them in water or a carrier oil and apply as a compress? I’d love to know how that worked.

      • Hi Sarah,

        I applied the oils neat around my eye bone. They made my eyes water a bit, but it really cleared things up fast! I applied the Melaleuca several times a day, and the Melissa once a day.
        You really can’t dilute essential oils in water unless you are going to ingest them. Especially hot oils, water will intensify them. If you are going to dilute for topical application, it’s always best to use a carrier oil. I found that out the hard way.

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