Natural therapies to fight the flu
â€œThe way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day.” Hippocrates, 40BC
Aromatherapy for fighting the flu
Aromatherapy, the use of oils extracted from aromatic plants to enhance health and beauty, has been practised for centuries. The actual word ‘perfume’ comes from the Latin per fumum, ‘through the smoke’, indicating the burning of wood and incense for various purposes. Theophrastus of Greece (377-287BC) is often called the first true aromatherapist, having written an essay on scent, Concerning Odours, containing an elaborate inventory of aromatics as well as their therapeutic uses. The discovery of distillation is credited to the Persian physician and alchemist Avicenna (981-1037CE). It is said his first successful distillation was made from Rosa Centifolia around the year 1000AD.
The crusaders brought perfumes and essences to Europe to enhance the quality of life as well as the chance of survival in the plague-stricken Medieval European countries. Pine, cypress and cedarwood were burnt in the streets, sick rooms and hospitals. The perfumers are said to be the only group of people not affected by the plague.
Modern, scientific study of the therapeutic use of essential oils was started by the French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse around 1928. He had an explosion in his lab, burned his arm badly and thrust it into what happened to be next to him — a container of lavender essential oil. He was amazed by the effect. The pain abated, he didn’t get the usual redness and blisters and the wound healed quickly without leaving a scar.
Essential oils are complex, highly fragrant and volatile substances. The actual oil is a concentrated extract from various parts of flowers, fruits, leaves, spices, roots and woods. Once extracted, the chemical constituents of a particular essential oil will determine its primary action. The primary functional groups of the essential oils used in aromatherapy are:
- Monoterpenes: anti-viral, antiseptic, bactericidal and can be highly irritating to the skin
- Esters: fungicidal and sedating
- Aldehydes: sedating and antiseptic
- Ketones: ease congestion and aid flow of mucus
- Alcohols: very antiseptic and anti-viral with uplifting qualities
- Phenols: bactericidal and strongly stimulating
- Oxides: expectorant and bactericidal.
If properly cared for, essential oils can have a shelf life of up to seven years. Direct sunlight and exposure to air are most damaging to essential oils, so keep your oils out of the sun and make sure the caps are tightly secured.
Most oils, unless specifically mentioned, should not be used on the skin without first diluting with a suitable carrier oil, such as sweet almond, apricot kernel, etc.
Some oils such as camphor, fennel, hyssop, sage and rosemary should not be used by people with epilepsy. Also women who are pregnant should avoid using aniseed, basil, clary sage, cypress, cinnamon, fennel, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, marjoram, myrrh, origanum, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sage or thyme, especially in the first three months unless used with an aromatherapist.
Natural therapies for cold and flu
As always, prevention is the best defence in the ‘Cold War’. Bugs are all around us all the time. Some are friendly and some are not, so our immune system tries to keep a healthy balance. To boost your immune system, add a few drops of the following oils to your bath or oil burner: tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), eucalyptus, basil (Ocimum basilicum), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) or frankincense (Boswellia carterii). If you work in an office, you may want to burn a few drops of lemon (Citrus limonum) as it is a great immune booster and has also been found to increase work productivity.
A potent chest rub includes thyme, frankincense and grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) mixed in a warming base oil such as olive, macadamia or avocado. The normal proportions for a massage oil is 2.5-3 per cent, that is you use 12-15 drops of essential oil in 25ml carrier oil.
The Australian native oil, lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), has extremely powerful germicidal qualities, making it a very effective essential oil for treating sinusitis, colds, flu, chest congestion and upper respiratory tract infections. Use the oil in a vaporiser or in your massage oil.
Tea tree oil is one of the simply amazing essential oils that you should always have at hand. For centuries the Bundjalung Aborigines used the crushed leaves for infected wounds and skin problems. Captain Cook brewed up the leaves to make a spicy, refreshing tea, hence the name. Tea tree essential oil has antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is five times more effective for killing germs than household disinfectant, without being irritating to the skin.
How to use natural therapies during flu season
If you have been hit by the dreaded flu, the first thing to do is stay in bed and rest. Don’t forget to drink lots of fluid and eat only light, small meals. If you develop a fever, take a warm bath with a few drops of eucalyptus. To release the heat, you can put on a wet/damp pair of socks and over them a pair of dry socks. The wet pair will dry and draw out your body heat at the same time.
To relieve blocked sinuses, steam inhalation works wonders. Put near-boiling water into a basin, add 3-4 drops of eucalyptus and/or peppermint (Mentha piperita) and cover your head. Eucalyptus is another of the great Australian essential oils. It has potent antiseptic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant and cleansing properties. A spray containing two per cent eucalyptus kills off approximately 70 per cent of airborne staphylococci.
Peppermint is a wonder cooling oil, with antispasmodic, antiseptic and expectorant qualities making it a valuable remedy for treating all sorts of respiratory complaints, fevers, flu, colds. (Don’t use when pregnant.)
If you can’t stop sneezing, try blending cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), niaouli (Melaleuca quinquinervia) and eucalyptus in a steam inhalation or vaporiser.
If you are suffering from a sore throat put five drops of Sandalwood essential oil (Santalum album/spicata) in 10ml of vegetable oil and massage onto the throat. A drink of honey and lemon in warm water will also give relief. A sage gargle is another good idea — add a teaspoon of sage to about 70ml of hot water and let stand. Remove the sage and gargle with the warm water. Or if it’s a really bad case, use an onion poultice. Finely chop onion and place in plastic wrap over your throat, cover with a towel to prevent the onion fumes getting into your eyes and nose.
Coughing and sneezing, shivering and sweating, muscles aching, head thumping, legs like spaghetti, nose dripping, eyes running can leave you feeling miserable. Sometimes you are susceptible to a bout of something because of a weakened immune system. Other times you may have stretched your time and energies too thinly and at a certain point it all becomes too much. If you don’t stop by yourself, you’ll be forced to stop and look after yourself. So get rid of the guilt for a start. If you need to rest, do it. Let someone get you a nice cup of tea and some nourishing soup. Listen to your favourite music or perhaps watch a comedy show on television as nothing cures like laughter. Burn a cheery blend of mandarin, bergamot and lavender. Run yourself a nurturing bath, using the essential oils of sandalwood (Santalum album), lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) and tangerine (Citrus nobilis) and relax.
Anna Dall runs Timeline Natural Therapies Clinic in Maleny, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Qld, together with her husband Les. She is also the IFA (International Federation of Aromatherapists, Australian Branch) Publicity Officer 2001/02. She can be contacted on (07) 5435 2332.