five oils for fighting back against cold & flu

September 24, 2013

five oils for fighting back against cold & flu

Normally, I’d be spending the days leading up to the Autumn Equinox putting some thought and energy into summer’s transition to fall.

This year, I was putting everything I had into preparations for Untamed Alchemy’s booth at the Santa Fe Renaissance Fair which happened to land on the equinox weekend.

As the Colorado floods wreaked havoc on delivery of key items in the days leading up to the faire, I found myself more and more behind the eight ball through the course of the week, scrambling to get things done in time and, ultimately, throwing self-care to the wind. I stayed up late, skipped meals, didn’t drink enough water, and ate things I normally would never put in my body. (A-hem.)

By Friday, I had the minimum I’d planned to bring done, but many other items had to fall by the wayside. I was also feeling just a wee bit spent.

While the weekend was a rousing success and I delighted in every minute in the booth with my booth-mate, Seda Silks, by Sunday night I was totally run down; Monday morning, I had a full-on beast of a cold. To wit, this year’s Equinox post is less about the Equinox and more to the point that with it comes our old friend, cold and flu season.

I feel compelled to say that the best way to avoid the ick in the first place is to take impeccable care of yourself. (Insert stern, but loving look here…) Don’t go compromising yourself and getting run down or you’ll be all the more vulnerable to the beastly microbes afoot. Nourish your body with nutritious, balanced food, get enough of both sleep and rest, drink plenty of water, and avoid overwhelming your body with sugar(s). If you absolutely must go the distance and throw yourself into a wall, there are some natural remedies to be found that can bring you comfort and relief; I should know as I’ve been using most of them religiously for the past two days…

Essential Oils for Cold & Flu

There are a host of essential oils offering magnificent and varied therapeutic benefits to address colds and flus. I have over a hundred oils, but there were only five that I grabbed when I ran into my studio yesterday: Ravintsara, Balsam Fir, Eucalyptus, Sweet Orange, and Gingergrass. All five are favorites and, together, they make a powerful arsenal in both combatting symptoms and facilitating recovery.


Part of my love for Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora ct. 1,8 cineole) is directly related to its mystery: it’s not particularly well known and is often confused with other oils with similar names (think Ravensara).

Yet Ravintsara–the oil with the high 1,8 cineole content–is a very specific oil with properties so unique it deserves and needs to stand alone: it’s a powerhouse when addressing illness and infection.

To that end, I regularly look to Ravintsara, sometimes called Ho Leaf, when creating wellness blends thanks to its anti-infectious, antiseptic, antibacterial, expectorant, and immunostimulant properties. It is also mucolytic, meaning it helps facilitate decongestion, something I am all too excited about right now. I use Ravintsara in my hand sanitizers as well as in my cold and flu bath salts, inhalers, chest rubs, and creams. It has a sharp, fresh aroma and “crisp” feel about it. The very first time I smelled it, I remember thinking, “This oil means business!”

Balsam Fir

Since my cold has presented with some epic coughing bouts, Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) was one of the first oils I thought to grab: it is not only a powerful decongestant, but also antispasmodic and warming. Its delicious, woodsy aroma makes it a wonderful addition to a steam blend, hot bath, or chest rub, particularly when combined with our next oil, Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus Dives

Eucalyptus has long been a go-to for colds and flus, chest colds in particular. If your mom ever covered your chest in Vick’s Vapo-Rub when you were a kid, you are already familiar with the aroma of eucalyptus and camphor. There are actually many Eucalyptus oils to choose from when blending–Citriadora, Globulus, and Radiata to name a few–but I grabbed Eucalyptus Dives (Eucalyptus dives) for my cold because Dives has an exceptional ability to combat thick mucus, something this particular cold has delivered in spades. (I know. Sorry.) Conveniently, Eucalyptus also serves to soothe exhaustion which can easily creep up after a few days of feeling under the weather.

Sweet Orange

Sweet Orange

Ah, the sweet, bright, hopeful aroma of Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)! Given the association between oranges, vitamin C, and wellness, it’s not surprising that this citrus oil would be in scope.

Sweet Orange is antiseptic, bactericidal, antispasmodic, and antidepressant. With its sweet, fresh, fruity, and citrus aroma, it also serves to balance the fragrance of the sharper oils like Ravintsara and Eucalyptus.


Gingergrass (Cymbopogon martini var. sofia) has an intriguing, inimitable aroma that I find incredibly exotic: while it feels “warm and sunny” in the nose, the oil is actually cooling. Also, despite its bright, uplifting fragrance, it actually has a calming energetic association–and it’s great for fatigue. Of course, the real reason it found its way into my medicine kit for this cold is specifically thanks to its ability to provide sinus congestion relief.

A Few Cautions with These Oils

As always, you should follow common sense and employ safety considerations when working with essential oils. For these oils specifically, add the following considerations:

  • Do not use for babies or children under the age of ten
  • Do not use Ravintsara if you are asthmatic
  • Avoid using Eucalyptus Dives if you are pregnant
  • Never add more than 2 drops total essential oil to a steam blend
  • Limit the total amount of Balsam Fir to 5-6 drops where it will be applied directly to the skin (as in bath salts, chest rubs, or creams)

Ways to Use Them

Bath Salts

True confession: we have a crappy bath tub. I absolutely LOVE soaking in a hot tub, but I rarely indulge here at home because our tub is so small. Instead, I bring bath salts along when I’m traveling, where I am more likely to have the opportunity to soak in a large tub without the chance of being interrupted by a curious dog or needy cat. That said, when body aches and chest colds present, all bets are off: I’m in that bad boy two times a day, minimum, to relieve the discomfort and soak in the dreamy, steamy goodness.

To make your own bath salts, first decide which oils you would like to use–I try to stay with up to three personally. I’ve been indulging in Ravintsara, Gingergrass, and Sweet Orange together in the mornings and Eucalyptus Dives, Balsam Fir–no more than 5-6 drops total), and Ravintsara in the evening. You can blend your bath salts in epsom salts or in Himalayan or dead sea salts. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to add approximately 10 drops TOTAL of the essential oils you’ve chosen. Close off the bathroom so the steam remains in the room. Mix the oils with the salt while you draw the bath. (You’ll want to add them after the tub is full so you can be present to experience the aromatic steam when you add them.) To facilitate the disbursement of the oils (and for that like a queen feeling), you can add some milk or cream to the bath.

Chest Rub

Straight out of the tub, I use a cold and flu chest rub of pure jojoba oil and essential oils. The essential oils are not only absorbed in my skin, they also provide aromatic relief as they warm on my chest and evaporate. Here I like 10 drops combined TOTAL of Eucalyptus Dives, Ravintsara, Gingergrass, and Sweet Orange to about one ounce of jojoba oil.


Even when I don’t have an inhaler blank handy, I still rely on the aroma of essential oils: I just add 3-5 drops directly to the center of one of my father’s old handkerchiefs, wad the hankie up to avoid direct contact with the drops on my hands, skin, nose, and lips, and cup my hands with the hankie inside, taking a deep breath of the oils. Here, I am all about Eucalyptus Dives and Gingergrass as they help my nose and sinuses ever-so-much.

Steam Inhalation

I used to avoid steam inhalation: I always felt silly with a towel over my head and my face over a bowl. The fact is, steam inhalation can be a powerful means of using essential oils. To make your own steam blend, first, have a towel handy so you can drape it over your head and experience the steam. Pour some boiling water into a heatproof bowl and add ONE drop Eucalyptus dives and ONE drop Ravintsara–absolutely no more than one drop of each! CLOSE YOUR EYES and lean in, pulling the towel over your head to collect the steam around your face. Inhale deeply for a few minutes.

Under any and all circumstances, remember to drink plenty of water, get the rest you need, and be kind to yourself.

Be well! Bless and blessed be!


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