‘Tis the season! You know, of cozily wrapping yourself up in winter-gear, bundled in layers of sweaters and scarves and mittens until you’ve become a practical cloth onion. Of turning up your face and sticking out your tongue to taste the ephemeral scraps of snow drifting from the skies. Of continuous grown-up responsibilities that have you rushing to work between clients and buildings and wind-swept roads. Of sore throats, which aren’t exclusive to the wintry months but sure seem to favor them as a setting.
That said, this article is just as relevant if you’re reading it in high summer with the solstice sun beating down on you.
The only requisite, really, is having a sore throat.
More often than not, a sore throat is the precursor symptom of the cold or flu—both being quite contagious and extremely common this time of year. It may also be the result of allergies, and can also come with the bonus treats of coughing fits and congestion. While it’s very rare that a sore throat becomes something more dangerous in and of itself, it’s an undeniable irritant that you’d understandably be happier to live without. You’ve probably tried to wrestle it out of your system by gargling with salt water and stuffing yourself with drugs that your body would rather do without. If only there was another alternative, right? Something more healthy, preferably, and more pleasant.
Oh, but there is. Six of them, to be exact.
For thousands of years, hundreds of cultures have cherished essential oils as medicinal and aesthetic alchemies alike. With practical uses ranging from aromatherapy to household cleaning to making homemade peppermint patties, essential oils also encompass multifold therapeutic characteristics.
In combatting a sore throat, here are the top six essential oils ideal for the job.
1 - Lemon
Renowned for its capability to cleanse toxins from any part of the body, lemons have long been the epitome of cleanliness, with an amazing spectrum of benefits that ranges from stimulating lymph drainage to purifying the skin. The fruit’s fragrance itself, intensely fresh and uplifting with its crisp zest, can be used to eliminate odors or simply spruce up your space—and even your mood, particularly regarding optimism and productivity.
Lemon oil, derived from the skin of the lemon, exhibits these same intensely anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, easily rising the challenge of a sore throat by infusing the body with antioxidants such as Vitamin C. Researchers have known for years that lemon essential oils further inhibit the growth of bacteria by boosting the body’s immune system.
- For a particularly soothing alchemy before bed, just add a few drops of lemon essential oil to honeyed hot water. Relaxation guaranteed.
2 - Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus trees grow to respectable heights, but they naturally command respect in the botanical kingdom by being allelopathic; this means that they release compounds which inhibit the growth of other nearby plant species, ensuring their own exclusive reign. Ironically enough, those very compounds found within eucalyptus oil—particularly cineole—can be extremely healthful. The tree’s medicinal properties have been shown to reduce inflammation and even kill leukemia cells, with other benefits including respiratory relief. A scientific study published in Respiratory Research revealed that when participants with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were given either a placebo or 200mg of cineole thrice daily for six months, the cineole improved lung functionality and reduced exacerbations, furthermore relieving airway inflammation and greatly alleviating throat aches.
Eucalyptus oil works wonders on a sore throat by stimulating the body’s immunity, instilling antioxidants and thereby reducing respiratory inflammation. Since a number of scientific studies have proven eucalyptus’ inhibitory effects on respiratory tract infections and throat inflammations at large, it’s little wonder that eucalyptus appears as an ingredient in many over-the-counter cold medicines. As a natural remedy, you can use it through aromatherapy, in a tea, or as a gargling mix; take care to never consume it undiluted, however, as the oil itself is extremely potent and can have severe repercussions. Leave the leaf-chewing to the koalas.
- Add to 2 teaspoons milk or cream: 2 drops eucalyptus + 2 drops lavender + 2 drops rosemary;
- Pour into warm bath and soak or place into diffusor and diffuse into your room.
3 - Peppermint
The mere rejuvenating scent of peppermint has been scientifically proven to soothe us and boost our wellbeing—imagine what a good dose of peppermint oil could provide! Studied and documented for its “anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-infectious, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, digestive, carminative, fungicidal effects, nervine stimulant, vasoconstrictor, decongestant, and stomachic properties,” peppermint oil has long been celebrated as an all-natural remedy.
Prestigiously cited as one of the world’s oldest medicines, peppermint has been favored for treating everything from indigestion to dental issues and from urinary tract infections to blood clots. Its primary compound—menthol—is an effective expectorant and “therefore provides instantaneous, though temporary, relief for numerous respiratory problems”. When facing off a cold—with all the throat-ache, congestion, and coughing entailed—peppermint oil is optimal for dissolving coughs, thinning mucus and decongesting the sinuses, and serving as a soothing, delicious balm for the throat.
- Apply a drop of edible-grade peppermint essential oil at the bottom of your tongue;
- Repeat every 2-3 hours until symptoms disappear;
- Contact a health care professional if pain persists or worsens.
- 1 tsp. pure honey;
- 1 teabag tea, preferably chamomile;
- 1 drop of peppermint essential oil, added to tea bag before brewing.
4 – Hyssop
In Ancient Greece, physicians Hippocrates and Galen promoted hyssop as a remedy for bronchial aggravations, which included chest and throat congestion. Persians enjoyed this essential oil as a body lotion; Indians used it to soothe wounds, reduce body tissue fluids, and alleviate bruises. Hyssop’s aromatic properties have caused it to be strewn in temples and palaces; it has been cited that biblical leaders such as Moses and Jesus used it as a “purifying” herb. Historically, it is said that hyssop was even used by lepers, whose physicians bid them to cleanse their bodies with the herb prior to being allowed visits from relatives who did not suffer from leprosy.
Contemporary studies have proven that the plant’s leaves are capable of producing the same mould from which penicillin is produced, rendering it a useful antibiotic. Societies worldwide have also treasured hyssop oil for fighting infections and killing bacteria, making this essential oil an excellent elixir for both viral and bacterial sore throats. Due to its concentration of terpenes, volatile oils, hyssopin, tannins, resin, and flavonoids, including hyssop tea in your daily diet is surefire strategy to target respiratory infections, asthma, and bronchitis.
- Apply 1-2 drops of hyssop essential oil (optionally combined with eucalyptus or rosemary oil) in combination with massage oil as a respiratory salve or chest rub.
- Add 1-2 drops of hyssop essential oil to steaming water and inhale; or
- Inhale 1 drop of hyssop essential oil through direct-palm inhalation.
5 – Juniper Berry
Sensationally aromatic with sweet woodsy undertones, the juniper berry has historically been favored as a natural remedy for sore throat and infections. This essential oil has soothed injured soldiers, healed the injuries of mothers and newborns sustained during childbirth, relieved the muscle cramps of athletes, given gin its distinctive flavor (the Dutch predecessor—“jenever”—of the word being a loose derivative of juniper), and has been long known to reduce inflammations and infections of the respiratory system.
Even the Old Testament includes several references to the juniper tree, including a verse that refers to burning a deceitful person with the embers from the branches of a burning juniper shrub—hopefully metaphorically, but certainly alluding to the cleansing and purifying properties of the herb. With over 87 active constituent compounds, the essential oil made from this evergreen shrub’s juniper berry creates a powerful detox, practically turbocharged with antioxidants, antifungals, and antibacterial elements.
- Always dilute juniper oil with carrier oil, 1:1 ratio;
- Apply directly to skin after dilution and massage gently.
- Diffuse throughout home like a scented candle;
- Inhale directly from bottle.
6 – Tea Tree
If you’re planning to hit the town tonight, forgo your perfume for a bit of balsamic tea tree oil instead—just as aromatic and far more healthy, courtesy of the flowered, needle-leafed tea tree, another powerhouse of a plant, packing in a slew of antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
In oxymoronic contrast to its name, tea tree oil is not associated with the beverage of tea—and it is not meant to be digested, as its consumption is toxic. Please don’t confuse it with tea oil, either, which is extracted from the seed of the tea plant. Tea tree oil is taken instead from the twigs and leaves of the tea tree, native to Australia, where it has been celebrated as a cure-all natural medicine for centuries. It is frequently used to treat respiratory conditions including tuberculosis, coughs, bronchitis, whooping cough, asthma, and catarrh, as well to battle colds and fevers paired with nasty sore throats and rattling coughs. Applied topically—as with a few drops of tea tree oil on your neck and sinuses—it can work wonders, known to cure even some of the world’s most dangerous bacterial infections and inflammations.
- Boil pot of water and remove from stove;
- Add to 2 teaspoons milk or cream: 2 drops tea tree + 2 drops eucalyptus + 2 drops lavender;
- Cover head and bowl with towel and inhale for 2-3 minutes—keep eyes closed.
The Essence of Balance…
While essential oils can genuinely be characterized as natural alternatives that are beneficial for our physical and mental health in practically hundreds of ways, they are some of the most pure sources of compounds, serving as powerful medicine. While essential oils are generally considered a safe alternative medicine with minimal adverse effects, it is important to remember that overdosing on anything never bodes well. As with any sort of medicine, excessive consumption can ensue in sensitization and other side effects. Consult with an expert before usage. Ensure that you do not exceed recommended dosages or durations, especially if underage, pregnant, or consuming other forms of medicine. Some essential oils, such as the juniper berry, shouldn’t be for over four weeks at a time so as to avoid straining the kidneys or liver; others, such as tea tree oil, are meant to be topically applied and never ingested.