Our bodies are biologically programmed to naturally react to essential oil constituents (Tisserand 2020). Essential oil molecules interact with a variety of receptor sites, neuro chemicals and enzymes within the body and so afford potential for a therapeutic response. Indeed, the therapeutic action of essential oils is well evidenced in relation to microbial staving, wound healing, pain management, anxiety, depression, agitation, insomnia, alertness and memory.
However, no matter how valuable they are, essential oils are not ‘cure-alls’, but rather, they are one of many integrated components that contribute to holistic health and wellbeing.
COVID 19 is a novel, easily transmittable, virus. It’s symptoms range from mild to severe, and include high temperature, persistent dry cough, and difficulty breathing.
Many people who are infected by the virus do not show any symptoms (asymptomic incubation period – stage one), while others, who progress beyond the asymptomatic stage, display mild to moderate symptoms (these include the above but may also include other ‘flu-like symptoms and , for some, a temporary loss of taste and smell – stage two). In most cases, this virus does not lead to serious infection, and will clear up within five to seven days from the onset of stage two. However, for some, symptoms become more severe (respiratory symptomatic stage with high viral load – stage three), and may ultimately be life threatening, especially for people with underlying health conditions and weak or suppressed-immune systems.
At this stage, the virus rapidly proliferates and the immune system triggers an inflammatory response in attempt to stave and contain its spread. This is when infection becomes critical, not only because the virus is disabling alveoli cells, increasing fluid build up and inhibiting gaseous exchange, but also because the immune system can go into overdrive, triggering a pathogenic autoimmune response; that is, the immune system begins to attack the body’s tissues and organs. This critical response involves the whole immune system (antigens, antigen-presenting cells, T and B lymphocytes, messenger molecules, cytokines, chemokines and their receptors, and signalling and co-stimulatory molecules) and can be life-threatening.
To combat and manage COVID 19, Shi et al (2020) suggest the immune system should be boosted during the first and second stage of infection, when there is better chance the infection can more easily be contained, but suppressed during the inflammatory phase; at this stage, oxygen uptake and gaseous exchange, and the lungs ability to remove waste and mucous, is critically compromised.
NB: Essential oils should definitely NOT be applied during the inflammatory third stage of infection, that is, when infection spreads to the lungs (among other reasons, their antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions are superseded by the compromised function of the lungs).
Because COVID 19 is a novel virus, no one yet knows what will work as a combatant: whether a single panacea or multiple strategies. Vaccines are being developed, but it will take some time to appropriately test these and ensure they are safe. Meanwhile, existing drugs and natural remedies are being trialled. For example, vitamin C, applied to COVID patients in Wuhan and New York hospitals, appears to demonstrate some supportive success (Zuo 2020, Hemila 2003); high doses of vitamin C modify susceptibility to various bacterial and virus infections. Vitamin D3 offers yet another avenue of potential support; vitamin D regenerates endothelial lining in blood vessels and is shown to minimise alveolar damage (Kakodkar et al 2020). Also, there is vitamin B3, which is highly lung protective and could be used at the onset of coughing (Shi et al 2020), and vitamin A, which helps the lungs, heart, and kidneys, and other organs, function properly (Ayyadurai 2020).
While essential oils should definitely not be used during the third stage of Coronavirus, they might usefully be employed for their general anti-microbial properties, for example, managing hygiene, and during very early phases of infection. However, as previously established, this is a novel virus, and just as there isn’t an identified specific drug, or vaccine, that might combat the virus, neither is there an essential oil or essential oil component with proven specific effectiveness.
All essential oils possess anti-microbial properties, to some degree. Some essential oils possess broad-spectrum bactericidal and anti-viral qualities, while others are more specific in their action. Effectiveness depends on many things; targeting a specific essential oil or blend of essential oils depends on the chemical composition of an essential oil and the type of microbe; broad-spectrum in this context does not mean a single essential oil or blend of essential oils will kill all viruses or all bacteria. Essential oils,even so, are generally and variously antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and mucolytic, among other properties.
Essential oils, thus, work well preventatively. They support hygiene, and may support the immune system to stave infection and pathogenic invasion, and are especially useful during the early stages of infection. Essential oils may alleviate symptoms, such as those associated with colds and ‘flu; for example, headaches, nasal and sinus congestion, muscle aches, insomnia, depression and anxiety. Unlike conventional antibiotics, essential oils do not appear to disrupt the body’s microbiome.
Essential oils also instigate psycho-emotional responses that may potentially instil a sense of feeling peaceful and calm, uplifted and grounded; optimal states which support efficient function of the immune system. In deed, feeling happy, relaxed, calm, positive and optimistic demonstrably positively influences physical function, including heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels, endorphin release, digestion, and so on. Thus, our state of ‘being’ is very significant – for example ‘being in stress’ or being in equanimity’, ‘being in fear’ or ‘being in peace’. We are often reminded that unconditional love is an optimum state of ‘being’.
So, essential oils may aid and support resilience in many ways.
Some of the most potent anti-microbial essential oils include: Cinnamon bark and leaf, Clove bud and leaf, Eucalyptus globulus, Pine, Tea Tree and Thyme, among others (these oils must be applied with caution, as they are potential skin and mucous membrane irritants – it is important to check the properties and qualities of an essential oil before applying it).
Essential oils are valued for their preventative and supportive properties (for example, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and tissue regeneration, and psycho-emotional), and may be useful during the early stages of an infection. However, although some essential oils posses a broad spectrum of antibiotic-like qualities and actions, others are more specific, or targeted, in their action, while others are weak in strength and potency. A clear understanding of an essential oils individual anti-microbial components and the nature of pathogens and how these infiltrate and affect the body, is required to target essential oils effectively and safely. If symptoms are persistent, unexplained, or you feel generally unwell, you are advised to seek medical advice from a certified healthcare professional.
General Guidelines for Safe Use
If essential oils are used frequently, for whatever reason (in beauty products, as perfumes, for minor conditions, for relaxation, and so on), then regularly change the oil or blend of essential oils you use (there are numerous essential oils with similar qualities, so alternatives are available) and have a break from use every so often. This will reduce the risk of sensitisation.
Add up to 15 to 20 drops of essential oil to a hand sanitizer (non-perfumed liquid soap dispenser). Do not add essential oils to an antibacterial sanitizer or pre-scented sanitizer (it is not necessary, and avoids risk of irritation). Soap, itself, is antibacterial – soap and water (careful hand washing and drying) are usually sufficiently effective.
Do not diffuse irritating essential oils in public spaces or too close to other people. Always dilute essential oils in an emollient (for example, vegetable oil, cream or lotion) when applying them to skin.
Do not take any essential oils internally. Babies, children, people who are asthmatic or have other pre-existing respiratory conditions, or very elderly or frail, are especially vulnerable in terms of sensitisation and potential irritancy of their airways when exposed to essential oil vapours.
Do not apply essential oils neat to skin, instead add 2-3 drops to 6 ml of vegetable oil, non-perfumed lotion, cream, or ointment.
Meanwhile, you will find useful information about essential oils and how to apply them safely and effectively, here:
Bacterial – a substance that kills bacteria. Bactericides are disinfectants, antiseptics or antibiotics
Bacteriostatic – prevents the growth of bacteria
Anti-viral – effective against viruses, do not destroy pathogens but inhibit their growth
Virucidal – deactivates or destroys viruses
Antimicrobial – active against microbes
Microbes – a microorganism, especially a bacterium causing disease or fermentation
Germs – a microorganism, especially one that causes disease
My books (Published by Inner Traditions, Vermont USA) provide comprehensive detail about essential oils and provide very useful sources of reference for anyone wishing to use essential oils safely and effectively. You can purchase these books from most online or high street bookshops:
- Tisserand, R (2020) https://roberttisserand.com/essential-oils
- Shi, Y., Wang, Y., Shao, C. et al.COVID-19 infection: the perspectives on immune responses. Cell Death Differ(2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41418-020-0530-3 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41418-020-0530-3
- Zuo, M (2020) Vitamin C deployed in big doses to help treat coronavirus patients. Southern China Morning Post, China/Society 28th March 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3077341/vitamin-c-deployed-big-doses-help-treat-coronavirus-patients
- Hemila, H. (2003) Vitamin C and SARS coronavirus; Journal of Antimicrob Chemother, 56:6 p1049-1050. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7110025/
- Kakodkar, P., Kaka, N., Baig, M. N. (2020) A Comprehensive Literature review on the Clinical Presentation, and Management of the Pandemic Coronovirus Disease 2019 (COVI-19). 12th April, 12(4): e7560. https://www.ncbi.nlm.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7138423
- Ayyadurai, S., Dr. MIT PhD (2020) Coronavirus is the right time to discuss immune health: You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzC59WiW_Fs&feature=youtu.be
- Almeida, L.F., Paula, J.F., Almeida, R.V., Williams, D.W., Hebling, J., Cavalcanti, Y.W.; Efficacy of citronella and cinnamon essential oil on candida albicans biofilms; Acta Odontol Scand 2016 Jul: 74(5): p 393-8; PubMed
- Alves-Silva, J.M., Zuzarte, M., Goncalves, M.J., Cavaleiro, C., Cruz, M. T., Cardoso, S.M., Salqueiro, L.; New Claims for Wild Carrot (Daucus carota carota) Essential Oil; Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2016; 2016: 9045196, PubMed
- Becker, S. PhD (2018) Essential Oils to prevent the spread of flu. Tisserand Institute: https://tisserandinstitute.org/essential-oils-flu/
- Becker, S., PhD RA (2020) Essential Oils and Coronovirus. The Tisserand Institute. https://tisserandinstitute.org/essential-oils-coronavirus/
- Brower, V. (2004) When the Immune System goes on the Attack. EMBO Rep. Science and Society 5(8) p757-760. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1299128/
- Garozzo, A., Timpanaro, R., Bisignano, G., Castro, A. (2009) In vitro antiviral activity of Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil: Society for Applied Microbiology. https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1472-765X.2009.02740.x
- Kavanaugh, N.L., Riggeck, K., Selected Antimicrobial Essential Oils Eradicate Pseudomonas spp and Staphylococcus aureus Biofilms: Applied and Environmental Microbiology 2012 78(11): p 4057-4061, American Society for Microbiology: ncbi.nim.nih.gov
- Kokodkar, P., Kaka, N., Baig, M. N. (2020) A Comprehensive Literature review on the Clinical Presentation, and Management of the Pandemic Coronovirus Disease 2019 (COVI-19). 12th April, 12(4): e7560. https://www.ncbi.nlm.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7138423
- Nunez, L., Aquino, M.D.; Microbicide activity of clove essential oil (Eugenia caryphylleta); Brazilian Journal of Microbiology 2012 Oct-Dec; 43(4): p 1255-1260
- Ooi, L.S., Li, Y., Kam, S.L., Wang, H., Wong, E.Y., Ooi, V.E.; Anti microbial activities of cinnamon oil and cinnamaldehyde from the Chinese medicinal herb Cinnamomum cassie Blume; Am J Chin Med 2006; 34(3): p 511-22. https://libpaper.jnu.edu.cn/papers/browse/browsePaInfo.action;jsessionid=C5143518B4CE3C82D0E099C3A0C653F4?id=2962
- Radha G., Chandi, C.R., Dash, S.K., Mishra, R.K.; In vitro antimicrobial potential assessment of carrot and celery seed essential oils against 21 bacteria; Journal of Essential Oil Bearing Plants, 2004, vol 7 issue 1 p 79-86
- Sharifi-Rad, J., Sureda, A., Tenore, G.C., Daglia, M., Sharifi-Rad, M., Valussi, M., Tundis, R., Sharifi-Rad, Ma., Koizzo, M.R., Ademiluyi, A.D., Sharifi-Rad, R., Ayatollahi, S.A., Iriti, M.; Biological Activities of Essential Oils: From Plant Chemoecology to Traditional Healing Systems: Molecules 2017 Jan; 22(1): 70 Published online 2017 Jan 1.doi: 10.3390/molecules22010070 PubMed
- Swamy, M.K., Akhtar, M.J., Simon, U.R.; Anti Microbial Activity of Six Essential Oils Against Human Pathogens and Their Mode of Action (an updated review); Evidenced Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2006; 2016:3012462
- Varga A., Acimo, M., Starkouic J., Cvetkovic, M.; Anti microbial properties of essential oils from wild and cultivated carrot seed; (Conference Paper) 2016: Research Gate
- Wang, H., Song., L., Ju, W., Wang, X., Dong, L., Zhang, Y., Ya, P., Yang, C., Li, F. (2017) The acute airway inflammation induced by PM2.5 exposure and the treatment of essential oils in Balb/c mice. Scientific Reports. 7:44256. https://www.ncbi.nlm.gov./pmc/articles/PMC5343586/
- Wei, L.S., Wee, W., Chemical composition and anti microbial activity of citronella essential oil against systemic bacteria of aquatic animals; Iran Journal of Microbiology 2013 Jun: 5(2): p 147-152; PubMed PMC 3696851
- Bowles, J. E. (2000) The Basic Chemistry of Aromatherapeutic Essential Oils: E. J Bowles, Sidney, Australia
- Clarke, S. (2002) Essential Chemistry for Safe Aromatherapy: Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh
- Godfrey, H. D. (2019) Essential Oils for the Whole Body: The dynamics of topical application: Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont USA
- Svoboda, K. P., Svoboda, T. G. (2000) Secretory Structures of Aromatic and Medicinal Plants: A review and atlas of micrographs: Microscopix Publications, Powys UK
- Tisserand, R., Young, R. (2014) Essential Oil Safety: A guide for Health Care Professionals 2nd ed: Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier, Edinburgh
- Valnet, Dr. J. (1980) The Practice of Aromatherapy: C.W. Daniel Co. Ltd., Saffron Walden UK
- Vasey, C. (2018) Natural Antibiotics and Antivirals: 18 Infection-Fighting Herbs and Essential Oils: Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont USA
- Williams, D. G. Williams (2006) The Chemistry of Essential Oils: an introduction for aromatherapists, beauticians, retailers, and students: Micelle Press, Dorset England