Is there such a thing as antiviral essential oils? With growing concerns about catching the flu, or even worse the coronavirus, many people are searching the internet for ways to stay healthy. Unfortunately, many internet articles about this topic offer unsafe or unsubstantiated advice.
While essential oils are known for their antimicrobial activities, there is not currently enough scientific information to identify the safe and effective ways to use them as an antiviral treatment. However, they could be a helpful adjunct option to help reduce certain microbes.
This article will provide links to get the latest updates on flu season and the coronavirus. Plus, it will identify the scientific research on the antiviral activities of certain essential oils.
Should I be more worried about catching the flu or the coronavirus?
This is a timely question many people are wondering. According to the CDC, flu season in the United States is from October – March, and peaks in February. This flu season, the US has seen over 26 million cases so far, with about 1% requiring hospitalization, and over 14,000 deaths (1). Click here for the latest statics about this year’s flu season: 2019/2020 Flu Season Update.
On February 17th, The World Health Organization reported that globally, there were 71,429 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV (1). Most of the cases (70,635) were in China, and 1,769 of the 1,772 deaths were also in China (2). While these numbers are significantly small compared to statistics for the flu and confined mostly to China, the coronavirus is being closely watched worldwide.
Find below the reliable updates about the coronavirus:
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Can essential oils offer antiviral activities?
Most available scientific research on the antiviral activities of essential oils has been done in vitro (in a test tube). Thus, in vivo, and then human studies are needed to determine a safe and effective way for people to use essential oils to help fight viral infections like the flu or coronavirus (3).
While more research is needed, it could be beneficial to diffuse certain essential oils into the air to help reduce airborne microbes. In addition, including key oils in cleaning spray recipes could help fight microbes on household surfaces. This would be an adjunct activity to support a Doctor’s advice for staying healthy and avoiding viral infections.
Which essential oils have shown to offer potential antiviral action against the flu virus?
Below is a list of promising research about the anti-flu activities of specific essential oils and essential oil blends. While virus fighting action may have been demonstrated in these studies, human studies are still needed to determine a safe amount to use with people and the possible side effects or contraindications.
Please also note that there are many strains of the flu, and many other types of viruses. Therefore, just because a botanical may have demonstrated action against one particular virus strain, it does not show it would be active against differing virus types.
Some Studies Demonstrating Possible Anti-Flu Activities in Essential Oils
- Nebulizing eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils reduced airborne influenza droplets (4).
- Vapors from essential oils of bergamot, eucalyptus, geranium, cinnamon, and lemongrass were active against the influenza virus. Further, cinnamon, bergamot, lemongrass, and thyme essential oils in liquid form showed inhibitory activity against the virus (5).
- Blends containing carrot seed, cinnamon bark, clove bud, sweet orange, eucalyptus, rosemary, and orange essential oils contributed in reducing flu virus activity in vitro (6).
- A blend with cinnamon bark, clove bud, sweet orange, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils was protective against flu virus activity in vitro (7).
- An essential oil blend including Greek hyssop, sage, and marjoram essential oils was antiviral against influenza viruses and a rhinovirus in vitro (8).
- Cinnamaldehyde, the key constituent of cinnamon, showed in vitro and in vivo antiviral activity against influenza growth (9).
- Clove bud essential oil and its key eugenol constituent inhibited the autophagy induction of tested flu strains (10).
- Melissa essential oil was virucidal against avian influenza in vitro (11).
- Lavender essential oil vapors showed in vitro antiviral activity against influenza H1N1 (12).
- Patchouli alcohol was antiviral against the flu in vitro and in vivo (13, 14).
- Tea tree essential oil and its terpinen-4-ol constituent showed antiviral activities against the influenza virus (15,16).
- A review of research on the antiviral activities of star anise indicates this botanical is the source for the precursor molecule shikimic acid, used to make Tamiflu® (17).
List of Essential Oils that may have Anti-viral Activities Against Flu Viruses
- Carrot Seed
- Star Anise
- Sweet Orange
- Tea Tree
Essential Oil Blends vs a Single Essential Oil
Essential oil blends may offer an improved aroma and combined action against a variety of microbes. Plus, some of the potent essential oils can be made less intense by blending them with gentler oils. Here are a few blends to try in a diffuser.
- Bergamot, lemongrass, and geranium
- Cinnamon, sweet orange, and patchouli
- Clove, lavender, and eucalyptus
- Rosemary, lavender, and thyme
Avoid excessive use of essential oils
While botanicals can have beneficial antimicrobial activities, used excessively, they can cause harm. Avoid ingesting essential oils, applying them undiluted to the skin, and diffusing them in excessive amounts or for prolonged periods indoors. Note that several essential oils may not be appropriate around young children, pregnant women, pets, and those with certain medical conditions. Consult a Doctor with questions about using essential oils and possible contraindications.
When it comes to the antiviral uses for essential oils, experts have not yet determined a safe and effective amount for specific essential oils and blends against viruses. However, these botanical extractions could still be a complement to a healthy lifestyle and help to reduce the chances of catching a virus like the flu.
For now, people can enjoy essential oil blends in an aroma diffuser to help freshen the air. And, in the near future, essential oils might just prove to be valuable in fighting drug resistant mutant microbes!
- CDC (2/14/2020). 2019-2020 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary Burden Estimates. Retrieved on 2/18/2020. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm
- World Health Organization (2/17/2019). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 28. Retrieved on 2/18/2019. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200217-sitrep-28-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=a19cf2ad_2
- Becker, Shannon, PhD. (2018). Essential Oils to Prevent the Spread of Flu. Retrieved on 2/18/2020. Retrieved from: https://tisserandinstitute.org/essential-oils-flu/
- Usachev, E. V., Pyankov, O. V., Usacheva, O. V., & Agranovski, I. E. (2013). Antiviral activity of tea tree and eucalyptus oil aerosol and vapour. Journal of aerosol science, 59, 22-30.
- Vimalanathan, S., & Hudson, J. (2014). Anti-influenza virus activity of essential oils and vapors. American Journal of Essential Oils and Natural Products, 2(1), 47-53.
- Brochot, A., Guilbot, A., Haddioui, L., & Roques, C. (2017). Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects of three essential oil blends. MicrobiologyOpen, 6(4), e00459.
- Wu, S., Patel, K. B., Booth, L. J., Metcalf, J. P., Lin, H. K., & Wu, W. (2010). Protective essential oil attenuates influenza virus infection: an in vitro study in MDCK cells. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 10(1), 69.
- Tseliou, M., Pirintsos, S. A., Lionis, C., Castanas, E., & Sourvinos, G. (2019). Antiviral effect of an essential oil combination derived from three aromatic plants (Coridothymus capitatus (L.) Rchb. f., Origanum dictamnus L. and Salvia fruticosa Mill.) against viruses causing infections of the upper respiratory tract. Journal of Herbal Medicine, 17, 100288.
- Hayashi, K., Imanishi, N., Kashiwayama, Y., Kawano, A., Terasawa, K., Shimada, Y., & Ochiai, H. (2007). Inhibitory effect of cinnamaldehyde, derived from Cinnamomi cortex, on the growth of influenza A/PR/8 virus in vitro and in vivo. Antiviral Research, 74(1), 1-8.
- Dai, J. P., Zhao, X. F., Zeng, J., Wan, Q. Y., Yang, J. C., Li, W. Z., … & Li, K. S. (2013). Drug screening for autophagy inhibitors based on the dissociation of Beclin1-Bcl2 complex using BiFC technique and mechanism of eugenol on anti-influenza A virus activity. PloS one, 8(4).
- Pourghanbari, G., Nili, H., Moattari, A., Mohammadi, A., & Iraji, A. (2016). Antiviral activity of the oseltamivir and Melissa officinalis L. essential oil against avian influenza A virus (H9N2). VirusDisease, 27(2), 170-178.
- Setzer, W. N. (2016). Essential oils as complementary and alternative medicines for the treatment of influenza. American Journal of Essential Oils and Natural Products, 4(4), 16-22.
- Li, Y. C., Peng, S. Z., Chen, H. M., Zhang, F. X., Xu, P. P., Xie, J. H., … & Su, Z. R. (2012). Oral administration of patchouli alcohol isolated from Pogostemonis Herba augments protection against influenza viral infection in mice. International Immunopharmacology, 12(1), 294-301.
- Liu, F., Cao, W., Deng, C., Wu, Z., Zeng, G., & Zhou, Y. (2016). Polyphenolic glycosides isolated from Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth. as novel influenza neuraminidase inhibitors. Chemistry Central Journal, 10(1), 51.
- Li, X., Duan, S., Chu, C., Xu, J., Zeng, G., Lam, A. K. Y., … & Gu, H. (2013). Melaleuca alternifolia concentrate inhibits in vitro entry of influenza virus into host cells. Molecules, 18(8), 9550-9566.
- Garozzo, A., Timpanaro, R., Stivala, A., Bisignano, G., & Castro, A. (2011). Activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil on Influenza virus A/PR/8: study on the mechanism of action. Antiviral research, 89(1), 83-88.
- Patra, J. K., Das, G., Bose, S., Banerjee, S., Vishnuprasad, C. N., del Pilar Rodriguez‐Torres, M., & Shin, H. S. (2020). Star anise (Illicium verum): Chemical compounds, antiviral properties, and clinical relevance. Phytotherapy Research.