Diffusing the hype on essential oils

How this “wellness trend” may be the answer to deadly antibiotic resistance

I often write about how simple solutions like eating right, washing your hands regularly, and using herbal remedies can boost your immune system and prevent infections and other diseases.

But there’s another natural approach I don’t discuss as much. I was reminded of this a few months ago when I read an article about the therapeutic value of essential oils, which are gaining some serious traction in the alternative health market.

If you’ve yet to use them, essential oils capture the scent and flavor of an herb or other botanical (otherwise known as its “essence”). They’re usually made by distilling the plant’s leaves, stems, or flowers in water or steam.

Because of their attractive fragrances, essential oils are typically used in aromatherapy or during massages.

Studies show these fragrant oils can lower your stress levels, help with sleep, alleviate cold symptoms, and even reduce pain.

But that’s not all. They also help prevent infections and disease.

Natural, sweet-smelling air purifiers

French physicians have a theory about building the body’s reserves and defenses. This medical theory also emphasizes that an infection can’t grow in an “inhospitable” host. And nothing makes a human host more inhospitable to germs than a healthy immune system.

But environmental factors can come into play—and sometimes, your immune system falls prey to them. Disease microbes are all around us, just waiting to invade our bodies.

Like the flu viruses—for instance. These microbes are airborne—meaning you can get the flu simply by standing near someone who’s contagious and breathing the same air.

So disinfecting the air you breathe can play an important part in preventing infections. And that’s where essential oils come in.

In a 2016 Daily Dispatch, I described how releasing the smoke of certain herbs into the air effectively reduces airborne microbes (“Nature’s controversial ‘new’ secret weapon in the war against superbugs”).

Specifically, researchers found that smoke from burning wood and a mixture of medicinal herbs reduced bacteria counts in the air by 94 percent. Just one hour of this smoke purified the air for a full 24 hours, and many strains of bacteria were still gone, or present in only very small amounts up to 30 days later.

Many essential oils are naturally antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal. So it makes sense that releasing them into the air through candles or diffusers can have an effect on the air quality around you.

Boost food safety with a different kind of cooking oil

Essential oils don’t just purify the air, though. Just like spices, they can be used as tasty, natural preservatives for foods.

For example, adding a couple drops of oregano, thyme, rosemary, or citrus essential oil to raw meat can help prevent listeria and other foodborne diseases—and work as a natural burst of flavor in marinades.

You can also use these oils in salad dressings to protect yourself from
e. coli which is prevalent in leafy greens these days. Simply juice one lemon, combine it with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and add one or two drops of the herbal essential oil you think is tastiest.

Thirsty? For a flavorful and natural tonic, add a drop or two of an essential oil to tea, seltzer, or mineral water.

But whichever oil you choose, be sure not to overdo it, and always consult with a naturopathic doctor or aromatherapist first. Essential oils are highly concentrated—one drop is equivalent to about two tablespoons of fresh herbs.

Using essential oils safely

Of course, due to their potency, there are a few precautions you should take when using essential oils:

1) If you do choose to cook with essential oils, there is one very important point I want to stress: Make sure the essential oils you want to cook with are listed as safe for human consumption on the bottle.

Many essential oils are only meant to be used externally, and can be toxic if ingested. See the sidebar to the right for a run-down of which essential oils you can and cannot ingest.

2) Do not drink the oils directly from the bottle. They are therapeutic grade and very strong. Too much of certain oils can cause respiratory problems, nausea, GI issues, seizures, and even death. Like the old Brylcream hair ads used to say, “A little dab’ll do ya!”

3) Make sure your specific oils are safe to use around pets, children, or pregnant women. This will oftentimes be present on the label, or you can ask a naturopath or aromatherapist.

4) Be sure you’re using certain essential oils as intended. Some are only meant to be used either topically, inhaled, diffused, or ingested. Each method has its own precautions. Be sure to carefully follow all labels and medical advice.1

5) For topical essential oils, always perform a skin patch first. Apply a small amount to a clean, dry patch of skin on your forearm and wait 24 hours. If no burning or irritation occurs, you should be fine.1

6) Don’t use topical essential oils before spending time in the sun. These can cause the skin to burn (which could result in even second- or third-degree burns).7

7) Keep essential oils away from your eyes or mucous membranes.

Choosing the best essential oils

You can find high-quality essential oil formulations at your local natural food store, along with natural aromatherapy candles and diffusers.

But unfortunately, there’s no standard definition for the purity or therapeutic benefit of essential oils. So you may have to do a little sleuthing to find the most effective products.

Look for labels that list the Latin botanical name (to make sure you’re not getting a generic “sandalwood” for instance), country of origin, and expiration date.

To help ensure purity, choose organic or wild-crafted oils, which usually don’t contain pesticides. And check to see that the formula is 100 percent pure essential oil. Some manufacturers dilute pricey oils, like rose, with vegetable oils to create more volume.

Essential oils should also be sold in dark glass bottles. This helps prevent light from entering, which can cause the oil to spoil. And be sure to avoid plastic containers, which can degrade and contaminate the oil.

Your at-a-glance guide to essential oil safety

The Food and Drug Administration recognizes the following common essential oils as safe to ingest:

Generally, it’s safe to consume any oils that are to be used as a flavoring agent or preservative.

But any essential oils that are used for their aroma should not be ingested. Particularly:2

* Do not apply to skin.

Why even the toughest “superbugs” are no match for essential oils

All of this research shows that essential oils can be effective at fighting infections and disease in both humans and animals.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this story, essential oils have been shown to effectively prevent illness and infection. But what about the possibility that bacteria may become resistant to plant oils, as has happened with antibiotics?

My colleague Dr. C. Norman Shealy (whom I first met at a conference on faith healers in the Philippines in September 1976) has said that bacteria may become resistant to a single kind of chemical in plant oils.

But in my view, that’s highly unlikely, because plants and their essential oils contain many different kinds of chemical compounds.

It’s like the concept of synergy for herbal treatments, where multiple related compounds work together against the infection. Since no single compound is responsible for the effect, there can’t be resistance to the overall treatment.

So the verdict is in—and this is one wellness trend that certainly lives up to the hype. I encourage you to consider adding essential oils to your natural medicine chest, your pantry, and the air throughout your home.

From anxiety to toothaches—essential oils can soothe what ails you

Essential oils have a wide variety of uses. Aside from creating delicious aromas, flavors, or inducing relaxation, they can also be used to treat an array of medical issues.

Here are a list of some common ailments soothed by essential oils3:

Cedarwood and Sandalwood: Brain fog or trouble focusing

Clove: Toothaches

Eucalyptus: Nasal decongestant and disinfectant. (Do not ingest, inhale vapors only.)

Ginger: Pain relief, mental clarity

Lavender: Anxiety or insomnia. (Do not ingest, inhale vapors only.)

Lemon: Depression

Oregano: Immune system support

Peppermint: Digestive disorders

Rosemary: Stimulates circulation and blood flow (especially in people with Raynaud’s syndrome)

Tea tree oil: Skin infections. (Do not ingest, use topically only.)






5“Effect of Origanum chemotypes on broiler intestinal bacteria.” Poultry Science, Volume 93, Issue 10, 1 October 2014, Pages 2526–2535,

6“Effects of dietary plant-derived phytonutrients on the genome-wide profiles and coccidiosis resistance in the broiler chickens.” BMC Proceedings20115 (Suppl 4) :S34.


8 healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Essential-oils

9 therestfulhome.com/10-of-the-most-toxic-essential-oils/