top of page

Are Essential Oils Effective Against Viruses?

The common cold as well as the flu and other illnesses such as mononucleosis, chicken pox, and shingles are caused by viruses. A virus is a rather strange "organism" that can't survive on its own but needs a host to multiply and replicate. And that's how they wreak havoc -- by hijacking host cells to multiply and causing the symptoms and sicknesses they do. Viruses can be rather weak and cause mild symptoms such as runny nose and slight fever or can be as extreme as the flu or even ebola. Here I want to focus on protection from everyday cold and flu -- if you are suffering from extreme symptoms such as high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, stiffness in the neck, intense headache, etc it is advised that you see a doctor, head to urgent care or the emergency room.

Vaccines (whether you are pro or con) help us fight viruses by preparing our immune system for battle. A vaccine is made from a deactivated virus or viral protein and elicits a primary immune response in our bodies. When we come across the "real deal" our body is primed with antibodies to more quickly fight off the virus.

The drawback of vaccines is that there are a lot of viruses and it is not practical (or desirable) to create a vaccine against every virus. More than 200 types of viruses are thought to be able to cause colds and many people look to ways to fight germs and bolster their immune system.

Plants face a variety of challenges from viruses (and bacteria and fungi) daily but they don't have an immune system. Instead they create molecules that have anti-viral (and anti-microbial) properties. By using herbs, herbal extracts, and essential oils we can take advantage of these anti-viral molecules.

For example, in a study by Astani A. , Reichling J., and Schnitzler P. (1) they looked at the anti-viral properties of eucalptus, tea tree, and thyme essential oils against the herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV1) in vitro. They found the essential oils were able to reduce viral infectivity by 96%.

The oils appeared to work by inactivating free virus particles and were more effective against free viruses than in protecting cells from infection. Patchouli has demonstrated promising effectiveness during the replication phase of H2N2 infections. Aromatic compounds are believed to act in a variety of ways against viruses: disrupting viral envelopes or binding to viral proteins and often appear to work better in synergy than as isolated compounds.

There are a number of studies that investigate the anti-viral properties of essential oil components. Aromatic molecules such as cineole (found in eucalyptus and ravintsara), eugenol (found in clove bud and holy basil), terpinen-4-ol (found in tea tree, makrut lime, and marjoram), linalool (found in lavender and clary sage), patchoulol (found in patchouli), thymol (found in thyme), and alpha-pinene (found in frankincense and most pine oils) exhibit anti-viral activity. (see below for a selection of referrences)

Additionally some essential oil components appear to activate white blood cells (limonene, terpinen-4-ol, and carvone).(10)

Thus essential oils appear to help by deactivating viruses prior to infection and in some instances appear to work by preventing viral replication.(5) Essential oils also appear to the immune system. Inhalation of essential oils, topical use of essential oils (such as in a hand cleaner or soap), or cleaning with essential oils may help deactivate viruses before they can infect in addition to supporting the immune system.

So YES, many essential oils offer some level of anti-viral activity and even using more gentle oils such as lavender and orange can offer benefits. Choosing oils higher in components that have been shown to deactivate viruses and those that support immune health is the basis for many "protective" blends as well as traditional and successful use of the plants or essential oils as antivirals. Simply diffusing and using essential oils can be helpful. Below are two recipes that incorporate essential oils into an aloe based hand cleanser that can be used to fight viruses on the go. the ethanol in commercial hand sanitizers also deactivate viral particles and could be further enhanced by the addition of essential oils to support the body and immune system.

Sample Recipes:

Protective Hand Cleaner 1 (this one is pretty gentle):

Materials needed:

2 oz bottle

2 oz aloe gel (preferably organic)

5 drops lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) essential oil

5 drops orange (Citrus sinensis) essential oil

2 drops tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil

Add aloe gel and essential oils to the bottle. Cap and shake to mix. Apply a small amount to hands and rub together for 10-15 seconds to fight germs.

Protective Hand Cleaner 2 (this one is a bit stronger smelling and has clove bud must be used with care as it can be irritating):

Materials needed:

2 oz bottle

2 oz aloe gel (preferably organic)

5 drops lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) essential oil

5 drops orange (Citrus sinensis) essential oil

2 drops Clove bud (Eugenia caryophyllata) essential oil

Add aloe gel and essential oils to the bottle. Cap and shake to mix. Apply a small amount to hands and rub together for 10-15 seconds to fight germs.

Use the recipe templates above to create your own unique hand cleaner. Good oil choices include the ones mentioned above as well as pine oils, frankincense, patchouli, lemon, lime, grapefruit, rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus, and ravintsara -- just be sure to follow safety guidelines when using the oils. Additionally an aroma inhaler or aroma stick can be a great way to protect the body against viruses when you're out and about.

Additionally diffusing or steaming with essential oils may help protect and support the body as well. Many aromatherapists suggest using steam tents and diffuser blends at the very first sign of cold or flu.

If you have a quick question about essential oils or aromatherapy feel free to contact Tricia or set up an aromatherapy consult for more detailed inquiry. And if you'd like to learn more about anti-viral essential oils and create your own products sign up for the aromatherapy class offered on March 7th or March 14th.

Stay well my friends,


  1. Astani A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P (2010) Comparative study on the antiviral activity of selected monoterpenes derived from essential oils. Phytotherapy Research 24(5):673-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2955

  2. Loizzo MR, Saab A, Tundis R et al (2008) Phytochemical analysis and in vitro evaluation of the biological activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) of Cedrus libani A. Rich. Phytomedicine 15:79-8

  3. Benencia F, Courreges MC (2000) In vitro and in vivo activity of eugenol on human herpes virus. Phytotherapy Research 14:495-500

  4. Bourne KZ, Bourne N, Reising SF et al (1999) Plant products as topical microbicide candidates: assessment of in vitro and in vivo activity against herpes simplex virus type 2. Antiviral Research 42:219-226

  5. Wu H1, Li B, Wang X, Jin M, Wang G., Inhibitory effect and possible mechanism of action of patchouli alcohol against influenza A (H2N2) virus. Molecules. 2011 Aug 3;16(8):6489-501

  1. Chiang LC, Ng LT, Cheng PW et al (2005) Antiviral activities of extracts and selected pure constituents of Ocimum basilicum. Clinical & Experimental Pharmacology & Physiology 32:811-816

  2. Kiyohara H, Ichino C, Kawamura Y, Nagai T, Sato N, Yamada H (2012) Patchouli alcohol: in vitro direct anti-influenza virus sesquiterpene in Pogostemon cablin Benth. Journal of Natural Medicines.66(1):55–61

  3. Li YC, Peng SZ, Chen H-M et al (2012) Oral administration of patchouli alcohol isolated from Pogostemonis Herba augments protection against influenza viral infection in mice. International Immunopharmacology 12(1):294–301

  4. Garozzo A, Timpanaro R, Bisignano B (2009) In vitro antiviral activity of Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil. Letters in Applied Microbiology 49:806-808

  5. Del Toro-Arreola S, Flores-Torales E, Torres-Lozano (2005) Effect of d-limonene on immune response in BALB/c mice with lymphoma. International Immunopharmacology 5:829-838

  6. Hamada M, Uezu K, Matsushita J et al (2002) Distribution and immune responses resulting from oral administration of d-limonene in rats. Journal of Nutritional Science & Vitaminology (Tokyo) 48:155-160

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page