Winter can be a difficult season on our emotional and physical health. After all, the days are shorter and darker, it's pretty freezing in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and colds and the flu abound!
Research on essential oils has shown that many have specific antiviral and antibacterial effects. For example, a study reported in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2010 showed that a blend of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary significantly suppressed the influenza virus. Other oils like thyme have shown similar effects. One study reported that thyme can be considered a potential antimicrobial agent for the treatment of some respiratory tract infections.
Winter is also a moment in time when we can feel pretty blue: The key is to release feel-good chemicals in our brain (like dopamine). Inhaling essential oils may just be one of the most effective ways to relieve depression, increase energy, improve health, and just feel good overall. This is because essential oils have direct pharmacological effects systemically via the blood supply to the brain. They also have an indirect effect via the olfactory nerve pathways into the brain.
The scent that enters our brain is stored in our memory, which we retain for decades, it seems, and even across generations. As our noses receive information with subtle individuality, the same kind of aroma can produce different sensations within each of us.
Here are some ways you can incorporate essential oils into your daily routine to support your health and well-being all winter long—use this as an opportunity to play with your scent personality, and discover your feelings about aroma.
Lavender is without a doubt the most commonly used essential oil in aromatherapy, and it has antibacterial, antidepressant, and anti-inflammatory effects. This herbal oil is especially helpful in clearing up a stuffy nose, making it ideal for allergies and minor illnesses like the common cold.
How-to: Break up congestion by adding five drops to your humidifier each day.
Oregano has very powerful immune-boosting, antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. All of these strengths come together to fight off illness and make your immune system stronger. It also weaves warmth and cheer into the psyche—scented magic indeed.
How-to: Oregano is especially helpful for relieving a sore throat. Add two drops to a glass of water, juice, or nut milk to help soothe, but be prepared for it to taste terrible!
When earaches or swelling in your lymph nodes has you feeling icky, rub a little lemon oil (with carrier oil) around your ears and lymph nodes to allow them to drain off.
How-to: Lemon oil also helps energize (a nice bonus when you're feeling under the weather), making it perfect for an uplifting DIY air freshener.
- 4 cups vodka (any vodka will work)
- Peels from 2 to 4 lemons
- 30 to 35 drops lemon essential oil per 16-ounce bottle of air freshener
- 1 storage jar
- 1 glass spray bottle
- Place the citrus peels in a storage jar. Pour the vodka over the peels. Place the vodka in a cool, dark place and infuse for 7 to 14 days (or longer for a stronger scent).
- Fill a spray bottle with ½ the infused vodka and ½ distilled water.
- Add the essential oils until you reach the desired scent.
Peppermint helps to stimulate your immune system, but if you are already sick, it can help with several symptoms that are common with winter illnesses. If you have a sinus headache, you must alleviate the pressure from your sinuses for it to go away—peppermint helps to relieve this sinus pressure and drain them so that you can get rid of the pain and stuffiness.
How-to: Add 3 drops of peppermint oil into a bowl of steaming water. Grab a towel and cover your head with it and lean over the bowl. Keeping your eyes closed, inhale the steam vapors deeply for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat several times a day.
Great for coughs, frankincense is said to be a natural remedy for the lungs. It also has immune-boosting and purifying properties, as well as a calming, grounding effect that helps dispel feelings of anxiety and stress—mandatory when you're under the weather. Oh, and it just smells “holy”.
How-to: For asthma, bronchitis, coughs, colds, flu, and laryngitis, use 2 to 3 drops in 1 ounce of carrier oil like coconut oil. Rub on chest for asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and cold, and on the throat for laryngitis. You can also use 2 to 3 drops in a diffuser or steam inhalation.
This antiseptic and antibacterial oil is often found in cough drops and ointments (if you've ever used VapoRub, you've smelled it). Eucalyptus stimulates the immune system and combats inflammation in the lungs. Use it to make your own steam inhalation remedy and for healing nasty sinus infections.
How-to: Add a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil to a steaming bowl of water for some homemade aromatherapy. Place a towel like a tent over your head and inhale the scented steam. You can also rub an ointment containing eucalyptus onto your chest before bed to clear nasal passages and ease chest pain.
Warming and stimulating, rosemary helps to increase circulation and is good for achey muscles. Mix into a massage oil or salve and rub into sore areas on the body or use in inhalations if that's more your jam.
How-to: Add 5 drops of rosemary, lemon and tea tree oil into 2 ounces of raw coconut oil and massage directly where needed.
8. Wild orange
The very smell of orange reminds me of some of my happiest summer moments! That's why this oil is so frequently used in aromatherapy. It creates a joyful, relaxed feeling and works as a mood lifter, which is perfect for those who suffer from depression or chronic anxiety.
How-to: Put five drops of orange oil on a tissue and inhale whenever you need a metaphorical hug!
Warming and strengthening, cinnamon is stimulating for the digestion and its natural antiseptic properties make it good for treating colds and flu. Don’t use it neat on your skin—instead dilute it an an atomizer or for invigorating inhalations.
How-to: Put 2 drops in empty vegetable capsule for immune support and your own DIY supplements!