Essential Oils to Boost Your Immune System

by Jodi Cohen

I have been noticing essential oils mentioned repeatedly as a tool for combating the colds and flu.  While I would never call essential oils a magic bullet for all ailments, I do believe that essential oils with their anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-viral properties, can be powerful tools in combating viral infections which has been supported by research.

This blog is intended to share the most effective strategies for using essential oils to help boost your immune system and help you avoid being infected with seasonal flu or cold.

How Essential Oils Support Immunity

Research has shown that essential oils help us fight infection with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.

Essential oils provide the key components of the plants’ immune systems.  They help the plants grow, thrive, evolve, and adapt to their surroundings. For example, they protect plants from bacterial and viral infections, heal injuries, repel unwanted predators and other environmental damage and help deliver nutrients to the cells. This makes them “essential” for a plant as they help the plants survive.

Essential oils play a similar role in the human body, perhaps due to our shared chemistry.  Both essential oils and humans are made from three primary elements – carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – which make essential oils highly compatible with human biochemistry.

How Viruses Work

As you may know, a virus needs to find a host in order to replicate. It can live on hard surfaces, such as metal and plastic, where they can be spread when we touch the surface then touch our face.  This is one reason it is important to wash hands regularly and clean surfaces with anti-viral and anti-bacterial essential oils.  Viruses can also spread through airborne droplets.

Once a virus enters your body, the surface proteins of the virus bind to receptors on your cells like a lock and key, which allows the virus to enter your cells and trigger an infection.

Virus Symptoms

The majority of people infected with viruses appear to have mild infections – with mild cold-like symptoms and fever.  More intense virus symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cold and flu symptoms, including a cough, sore throat or nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue

Essential Oils to Help Support Your Immune System Against Seasonal Flu and Viruses

As my friend Elisa Song noted in her article, “Natural agents that are immunomodulatory and immunoregulatory, and bring BALANCE to an overactive immune system, may be one of the best options to support patients with sepsis.”

In other words, natural agents like essential oils may help:

  1. Clean surfaces – Reduce likelihood of infection by helping you sanitize surfaces
  2. Sanitize hands – to prevent the spread of viruses
  3. Support Immune Barriers – like your sinuses, mouth and lungs, to protect against infection
  4. Boost Immune Function – to decrease likelihood of fatality
  5. Immune Modulate System – by balancing the systems that impact immune function (including the nervous system and endocrine system), your immune system has more energy to function
  6. Protect cellular membranes and cell receptors – to prevent against and eradicate the virus

It’s important to note that blends of essential oils can be especially powerful anti-viral tools.  There are certain components of essential oils that have been shown to disrupt the viral lifecycle at different stages.   For this reason, blends of different essential oils can be more effective than single essential oils at preventing viral infection.

1. Clean surfaces

Viruses can survive on surfaces in your home, like countertops, doorknobs, keyboards, clothes and utensils.  These materials can carry infection.  For example, if an infected individual touches a countertop and a healthy individual touches the countertop, the virus can be transferred.  Therefore keeping household surfaces clean can help minimize the risk of infection.

The anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities of essential oils can be used to create an inexpensive non-toxic cleaning spray for hard surfaces in the kitchen and the bathroom.  One of my favorite easy essential oil cleaning recipes is:

  • 2 cups white vinegar (which also contains natural antifungal and antibacterial properties)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon natural dish soap (I like this one)
  • 30 drops Lemon™ essential oil
  • 20 drops Tea Tree™ essential oil

Mix all ingredients in a 16 ounce spray bottle. Shake thoroughly. Spray on hard surfaces like counters, cabinets, sinks, toilets and wipe clean.  Other essential oils with strong antimicrobial properties include Lavender™, Orange™, Immune Support™ or Grapefruit™.

2. Sanitize Your Hands

When you touch an infected surface, your hands can carry the virus and then transfer the virus if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Regularly and thoroughly cleaning your hands with non-toxic, natural hand sanitizers can kill the viruses that may be on your hands.

A simple hand sanitizer recipe involves combining the following in a small glass spray bottle:

3. Support Immune Barriers

Your physical barriers – including your lungs, your mouth and your sinuses –  are your first line of defense against pathogens, like bacteria and viruses that can cause infection.

Keeping these protective immune barriers intact helps physically slow or block these pathogens from entering your immune system.  You might think of these barriers like the castle walls and the moat that physically protect the kingdom from attack. It is much easier to keep the bugs out of your system then it is to fight them once they enter your system.  Anything you can do to fortify these barriers, like your sinuses, mouth and lungs,  helps you protect your body against infection.  Read more about supporting immune barriers HERE.

Support Your Lung Barrier

Helping to fortify your lung barrier against respiratory viruses can help you avoid infection. Essential oils have expectorant properties that help loosen mucus so you can cough it up. It does this by increasing the water content of the mucus, thinning it out, and making your cough more productive.

In your airways, your upper respiratory tract filters small particles and viruses.  Coughing and sneezing remove larger irritants from the airways and nasal passages and are essential defensive reactions.

Chemical exposure to airborne toxins like cigarette smoke, car exhaust, sprayed pesticides, air pollution and other airborne chemicals or toxins, like pollen or mold spores, can compromise the integrity of the tight junctions in your lung barrier.  Exposure to mold and mold myotoxins create a constant assault on your lung barrier, a condition Dr. Datis Kharrazian calls “leaky lungs” where mold enters your body through your lungs, then spreads through your lymphatic system.

Comprised function can present as symptoms like asthma, frequent cough or respiratory issues, like difficulty breathing or frequent clearing of the throat.  If lung function is compromised, you might notice you feel worse on days when air quality is compromised. Any easy self-assessment is to take two deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling deeply.  If these deep breaths trigger a cough reflex, you might consider supporting your lung epithelium.

For example, Breathe™ blend contains three different types of Eucalyptus oil, a potent antiseptic, expectorant and decongestant that can help clean and strengthen the lungs. Breathe™ also contains Peppermint™ essential oil whose expectorant qualities may help support upper respiratory congestion caused by asthma, bronchitis, allergies, cold or flu. To use, apply 1- 2 drops  topically on throat and upper chest (Breathe™ contains a lot of hot oils and can turn the skin red. Therefore, we recommend diluting with castor oil, coconut oil or olive oil before topical application). Breathe™ can also be inhaled using steam inhalation (Place 2 to 3 cups boiling water + 5 drops of Breathe™ in a bowl, cover your head with a towel, close eyes and bring face close to the bowl and gently inhale the steam) or used with a hot wet towel compress to the lungs and throat areas.

Essential oils can also be used in combination with nebulizers, a pressurized air stream that breaks essential oils down into very tiny particles, allowing for quick absorption. This helps ensure that the oils are taken into the body via the respiratory system (your lungs) where they are most needed to kill the virus and prevent it from invading your body.  Nebulizing does not involve heat and does not alter the chemical composition of the oils. Datis Kharrazian recommends nebulizing essential oils of clove, thyme and oregano.

Do take care to use your inhaler with clean hands though as you could contaminate the casing and then introduce the virus directly into the nasal passages.

Supporting Your Sinus Barrier

Your sinuses and the nasopharynx pathway that connects your nose to your mouth, are lined with mucous membranes to preventing pathogens from crossing from your external environment into your body.  Within our nasal cavity we have tiny, hair-like structures called cilia that line the inside of the sinuses. These cilia move back and forth to push mucus around. This is how mucous gets from these cavities into either the back of the throat or to the nose where it can be blown out.

Elisa Song believes nasal irrigation may help prevent viruses.  “This is because after exposure to a virus, the influenza virus tries to invade and multiply in your nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before you develop any symptoms. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place!”

Applying 2 – 3 drops of Sinus Support™ and/or Histamine Balance™ to a Q-tip and swabbing the inside of the nasal passages 2 – 6 times daily can help with nasal irrigation.  For optimal effectiveness, you can leave the Q-tip in the nasal passage for up to 20 minutes. Try to relax and focus on breathing through the nose.  This increases the speed and coordination of the cilia so they can more effectively remove the allergens and other sinus irritants.  This technique can significantly reduce the risk of sinus infections or dramatically improve symptoms and improve the time to recovery.

Support the Mouth Barrier

You mouth is a key entry point for viruses and bacteria.  Helping to support that physical barrier and minimize the number of pathogens in the mouth can help minimize your risk of infection.

My favorite technique for reducing bacteria in the mouth is oil pulling, which consists of swishing 1-2 teaspoons of edible oil (like coconut oil which is said to be naturally antibacterial or sesame oil) in your mouth around your teeth and gums, similar to how you might swish mouthwash.  The longer you push and pull the oil through your mouth, the more pathogens are pulled free, so be careful not to swallow any. Spit out the oil after for 10 – 20 minutes.

The oil is able to reach and attract harmful substances between teeth and in the gums like bacteria and plaque much the way a powerful magnet attracts metal bits.

You can optimize the benefits even more by adding essential oils like Clove, Cinnamon and Peppermint™ to your oil pulling routine.  For example, Clove oil contains the active ingredient eugenol, which helps naturally numb and reduce pain and anti-inflame.  A study found that eugenol is more effective at reducing pain, inflammation, and infection than another type of analgesic toothpaste.

My friend Katie Wells at Wellness Mama created a super easy recipe for making essential oil pulling chews HERE.   I have tested a variety of essential oil flavors, including clove, cinnamon and peppermint.  I find Peppermint to be the most refreshing.

4. Boost Immune Function

A strong immune system is the best defense against viruses. Hot essential oils, like Oregano, Thyme, Clove and Cinnamon, can stimulate infection-fighting white blood cells and stimulate antibodies against germs.  In fact, research found that essential oils high in eugenol, like Cinnamon and Clove, gave the most protection against viruses.

Heat, including heat from hot essential oils, makes antiviral and antibacterial immune responses more efficient. Much of your body’s immune response is designed to respond to a heightened body temperature, including antiviral and antibacterial immune responses. A fever-range temperature also allows your body to better remember germs it’s exposed to, making it stronger at fighting them off in the future.

Essential oils can safely bring the body’s internal temperature to 102°F, mimicking some of the major immunity benefits of a fever. Heat helps to kill the viruses, which is one reason why warm remedies, like chicken soup or hot tea, are given when we are sick.  Heating up the body for short periods of time to induce health is called hyperthermia and it is one of the reasons that healing technologies like infrared saunas, biomats and Epsom salt bathes are such effective healing techniques.

This is a key reason why hot essential oils are so powerful at fighting illness.  Our Immune Support™ blend, which builds on the popular immune fighting essential oil formula known as “Thieves” blend includes a combination of hot essential oils like clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary, that reinforce your immune system against a viral or bacterial onslaught.

Your thymus gland, located in front of your heart, also plays an important role in your immune system.  It helps mature infection-fighting white blood cells that are made in your bone marrow.   You can help increase the release of your white blood cells by stimulating your thymus.

Essential oils and a technique called thymus thumping, gently tapping on the thymus gland by stimulate your thymus to boost your immune system.  Thymus stimulation also helps to slow down gland atrophy that occurs after puberty.  It is believed that this atrophy occurs because we have lost the instinct to stimulate your thymus gland more regularly.

The thymus helps regulate the immune system  through the lymphatic system (the body’s defense network) and the endocrine system.  It also houses our sense of self, not-self, self-worth and emotional boundaries with others, which allows us to separate what belongs in the body from what does not belong in the body and protects the body against autoimmunity, which occurs when the immune system turns against itself.  A weak immune system can fail to protect the body and even attack it, mistaking “self” cells for invading pathogens, resulting in autoimmune diseases.

Natural remedies, like essential oils, allow the immune system to return to balance and function in a coordinated manner.  Essential oils have long been recognized for their immune modulating properties.  Recent research found that an essential oil blend of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary “exhibited significant effects on the levels of protein biomarkers that are critically involved in inflammation, immune modulation, and tissue remodeling processes. The study also found that the essential oils “robustly affected signaling pathways related to inflammation, immune function, and cell cycle control.”  We tested those oils and optimized them even further in our Thymus™ blend.

Thymus™  helps to strengthen the thymus gland for optimal immune support against infections, viruses, bacteria, fungus, parasites, tumors and inflammation.  Thymus™  contains Black Cumin, also known as Black Seed Oil or Nigella sativa, which aids the immune system and upper respiratory conditions, helping to kill and expel pathogens. Black cumin  has been touted as a “cure for anything but death!”  It’s many therapeutic properties are attributed to the component thymoquinone which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, bronchodilator, hepatoprotective (liver protective) and immunomodulatory properties.

Ginger Root also helps stimulate your immune system, ease respiratory infections, reduce swollen glands and support drainage of a runny nose or excess mucus. Ginger is especially helpful for treatment of colds, flu, fever, congestion, cough, and sore throat.

Oregano is the most antiseptic of all essential oils. Called “Nature’s Antibody” for its remedial properties, it helps boost all the systems of the body, particularly the respiratory system making it effective in treatments for chronic bronchitis, colds, whooping cough, pulmonary tuberculosis, pneumonia, and asthma.

Finally, Frankincense™ strengthens the immune system by proliferating white blood cells and reducing inflammation. Frankincense™ also contains compounds called sesquiterpenes, which have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and deliver powerful anti-inflammatory compounds to your brain.

Research supports the benefit of Frankincense in inhibiting inflammation that can cause damage to the lungs.  This can lead to fluid leaking from small blood vessels in the lungs. The fluid collects in the lungs’ air sacs, or alveoli. This makes it difficult for the lungs to transfer oxygen from the air to the blood.

Frankincense has been shown to calm intense inflammatory storms, known as a “cytokine storms”. Your immune cells produce cytokines to fight infection, but if too many are released, it can cause problems in the body. These intense inflammatory responses in the body can trigger complex immune reactions and affect the function of multiple organ systems. This excessive immune response causes some of the damage during infections.

5. Immune Modulate

Your immune system works in conjunction with other systems in your body, like your endocrine system and your nervous system.  Your body will always prioritize immediate survival, which means that when you are under emotional stress or physiological stress, it lowers your immune defenses and makes you more vulnerable to illness. More specifically, stress lowers your white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs, and actually creates more inflammation that contributes to illness.

If you can calm stress by balancing both your endocrine system (hormones) and your nervous system, you will balance the systems that down-regulate immune function.  If these systems are not pulling energy away from your immune system, you will have  more energy to heal.

When your immune system is out of balance, it can fail to protect the body and even attack it, mistaking “self” cells for invading pathogens, resulting in autoimmune diseases.

Immune modulation – or balancing and over-reactive or under-reactive immune system – can bring the immune system back in to balance and help us heal. Read more about Immune Modulation HERE.

While many remedies can boost the immune system, a constant state of stimulation is not necessarily ideal.  For example, over stimulated immune cells, like T-cells, may enhance the pathology associated with inflammatory bowel disease or other inflammatory conditions.  Similarly, we don’t want to simply suppress an overactive or hyper-responsive immune system.

Instead, the goal is to modulate or balance the system and natural remedies, like essential oils allow the immune system to return to balance and function in a coordinated manner.  Therefore, there is a need to balance the immune system; not to boost or to suppress it. Natural products have a chance of maintaining balance in healthy individuals

Essential oils have long been recognized for their immune modulating properties.  Recent research found that an essential oil blend of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary “exhibited significant effects on the levels of protein biomarkers that are critically involved in inflammation, immune modulation, and tissue remodeling processes. The overall inhibitory effect of EOB on these protein biomarkers suggests that it has anti-inflammatory and immune modulating properties.”  The study also found that the essential oils “robustly affected signaling pathways related to inflammation, immune function, and cell cycle control.”

Parasympathetic™ can help create harmony in your nervous system and endocrine system which diminishes the infectious power of viruses. Viruses can obtain a stronghold in the body when the physical and emotional terrain is out of balance.   As you may know, your autonomic nervous system has two states: the “fight-or flight” sympathetic state and the “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic state. The parasympathetic state helps to reset the immune system and switch off production of proteins that fuel inflammation.  Another key impediment to immune modulation is an impaired digestive system. If you are not absorbing and assimilating nutrients that are the raw materials to support the immune system, it is hard to heal. To ensure optimal immune function, you can apply the Parasympathetic™ blend, which contains clove oil found to support immune modulation, to the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone) before meals to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system “rest-and-digest” state.

6. Protect Cellular Membranes and Cell Receptors

Disease begins at the cellular level, more specifically at the cellular membrane level.  Viruses bind to your cell receptors on the surface of cellular membranes where they can trigger an infection. Your cellular membranes serve as a semi permeable, protective barrier, regulating what enters and leaves your cell, including viruses.

Viruses use the same cell receptors as others hormones in your body. When you are physically and emotionally  healthy, it  makes it harder for a virus to get into your cells. For example, when happy and healthy hormones are circulating through your body, viruses can’t enter your cells because the happy and healthy hormones block all the potential virus receptors. Essential oils can lift emotions, strengthening the immune system, and directly attacking the virus population.

Essential oils can help you maintain the health of your cellular membrane as your cellular membranes are comprised of fat and healthy fats from diet and transdermal application make membranes more fluid and efficient.

Essential oils can interact with and help heal cellular membranes and receptor sites.  For example, essential oils travel in the blood stream and find the appropriate cells receptor just as viruses do. Essential oils can block cell receptor sites, making it harder for a virus to get into a cell.

Cell membranes are fat loving, as are essential oils. This compatibility of chemical composition, along with the super small size of essential oil molecules, allows essential oils to directly traverse your cellular membrane, cleaning and mending receptor sites on your cellular membranes, which in turn improves their ability to prevent viruses from entering into cells and avoid viral infections.

For example, research has found that essential oils, like Lavender™, can bind to the receptors on your cells that receive your body’s calming neurotransmitter, Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and help balance your brain’s level of excitation and inhibition which is vital for normal brain function and a healthy nervous system. Read More HERE.

The ability of essential oils to increase permeability of your cell’s membranes is one of the reasons they are so effective at eliminating pathogenic bacteria, like biofilms in your gut.  Significant research on essential oils, like Thyme and Oregano in the Immune Support™ blend, demonstrates that how active constituents, like  carvacrol, can impact the structure and function of your cell membranes, resulting in increases in cell fluidity and permeability, allowing both more healing nutrients into your cells and  more waste to be released from your cells.

Some of the best antiviral essential oils include Cinnamon bark, Clove, Eucalyptus, Oregano, Lemon, Thyme, Oregano, Nutmeg, Rosemary, Mandarin, and Ginger Root, all of which are included in Immune Support™.  Key constituents of these essential oils are able to disrupt the viral lifecycle at different stages. To help support cell membrane health, apply Immune Support™ 2- 3 times daily on the throat (diluted) or the bottom of the feet.

Parasympathetic™ may help mend and repair your cellular membranes.  The parasympathetic state helps your body and cells recover.  What’s more, research shows that Eugenol, an active constituent in Clove oil, may help “clean” your insulin receptors in order to restore proper insulin signaling.  Eugenol has been shown to interact with cell receptors and inhibit or activate signaling cascades, which is how it effectively inhibits symptoms of pain and inflammation.

Another component found in clove essential oil, known as phenylpropanoids, has been shown to bind with cell receptors and consequently inhibit or activate your cell receptors to help your cells better respond to the presence of insulin.  In essence, essential oils may help unblock blocked receptor sites which cause cells to be resistant to the effects of insulin. To help mend cell membranes, apply Parasympathetic™ blend, which contains clove oil, to the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone).

Supporting your lymphatic system can also help repair your cellular membranes. Your lymph system acts as the sewer system of your body, removing metabolic waste and toxins from cells. When toxins are carried out of the cells, they first pass through the extracellular matrix to your lymph, and then on to your organs of elimination. When your lymph is congested or stagnant, toxins can back up in your extracellular matrix and cells, which can cause a worsening of symptoms.

To enhance lymphatic flow and drainage, generously apply Lymph™ around the sides of your neck, under your arm pits and along your bikini line.  You can also apply Lymph™ around the gut so that the rest of the lymph in the body can flow to the gut for elimination.


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About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

2 responses to “Essential Oils to Boost Your Immune System”

  1. Coronavirus: Would you mind making some EO recommendations for those of us with Autoimmune Illness regarding Th1 and Th2 stimulation? My understanding is that Th1 cytokines defend against viruses and certain bacteria and we would therefore want to use EOs that stimulate Th1 production for coronavirus. Yet, many autoimmune illnesses are Th1 dominant and, therefore, Th2 stimulation (defends against bacteria, toxins, and allergens) is often used to counteract Th1 overproduction driving the illness. I am advised to avoid stimulating Th1 production. The concern, as I understand it, is how to use EOs to protect against coronavirus without increasing autoimmune symptoms. Can you help?

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Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!