While the development of pharmaceutical drugs struggles to keep up with outbreaks of infectious illness around the world, natural plant medicines continue to show their efficacy in treatment of a great many diseases. In the 1970’s, European researchers discovered more than one hundred varieties of the Lamiacea plant family to exhibit antiviral activity. This research inspired further investigation into using plant’s volatile molecules – essential oils – for this important therapeutic purpose.
Essential oils from many plant families have now been demonstrated to have antiviral properties. Interestingly, different plant families exhibit varying degrees of effectiveness depending on the virus strain. This is due to the particular molecular structures found in each type of oil, which penetrate physical entities to varying degrees (different tissues, cell walls, mucous membranes, etc). The effect on each virus strain depends also on the virus structure (enveloped, non-enveloped, molecular symmetry, etc.)
Certainly, one of the reasons for oils’ effectiveness en vivo is their lipophillic character – essential oils are easily absorbed into mammalian tissues, where they may produce the greatest results. In fact, when studying the anti-viral effects of essential oils, researchers found that normal cells seemed to acquire a special resistance to viral penetration, though the mechanism for this effect is not yet known.
One of the Lamiaceae plants studied, Melissa (Melissa officinalis – also known as Lemon Balm), was shown particularly efficacious against the herpes virus (HSV). Doctor Dietrich Wabner, a professor at the Technical University of Munich, has even reported that a one-time application of Melissa oil led to a complete remission of HSV lesions. A cream medication for Herpes outbreaks, whose active ingredient is an extract of Melissa, is now sold in Germany under the name Lomaherpan. Use of pure, true Melissa can be just as useful; Melissa oil is applied direcctly to the affected area by many individuals whom find it greatly accelerating the healing process. Further occurrences can be prevented by applying oil to the area when sensations signal an eminent outbreak – repeating this protocol 3 or 4 times may cause total remission.
Other essential oils found effective against the Herpes virus include eucalyptus, lemongrass, rose otto and tea tree, though these do not have quite the same body of evidence as melissa. Further testing is necessary to ensure the same efficacy.
The list of essential oils exhibiting antiviral effects is extensive: Melissa (as above), tea tree, juniper, eucalyptus, thyme, palmarosa, lavender, rosemary, clove, laurel, cinnamon bark, anise, rose, lemongrass, geranium, neroli, bergamot, clary sage, and dill. The antiviral effect of an essential oil is due to particular components of the oil – some oils will work just as effectively on a particular infection as another, because they contain similar amounts of a certain component. The specific chemical structures in the oils known to exhibit antiviral action are (as noted by K. Schnaubelt, Ph.D. – Advanced Aromatherapy, p. 36):
Anethol – found in Anise.
Alpha-Sabines – found in Tea Tree, Laurel, and other oils.
Beta-Caryophyllene – found in Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme Linalool, and other oils.
Carvone – found in Dill.
Cinnamic aldehyde – found in Cinnamon Bark.
Citral – found in Melissa, Lemongrass and other oils.
Citronellol – found in Rose and Geranium.
Eugenol – found in Clove.
Gamma-Terpinene – Found in Juniper, Eucalyptus, Niaouli, Tea Tree and other oils.
Linalol – found in Lavender and Neroli.
Linalyl acetate – found in Clary Sage, Lavender, Bergamot and other oils.
Good studies of application of these essential oils in cases of illness are difficult to come by, as infecting people with viruses in the laboratory to subsequently be treated with aromatics would be a difficult process at best. The oils and components above have mostly shown effectivenessin-vitro, though tests also indicate that the anti-viral effect should occur in-vivo as well. As with Melissa, it has been HSV that has been most thoroughly examined, because of the relative simplicity of doing so. However, HSV is not unique in any way that would make it especially vulnerable to essential oils – properly applied (correct therapeutic selection of an oil depending on the infecting virus) should be similarly successful.
There also exists a number of documented cases from medical aromatherapists from Europe (these are difficult to find in English, but are slowly being translated). Of importance in these studies is the oil/symptom relationship. Essential oils from plants of the Myrtaceae family – notably Eucalyptus Radiata and Tea Tree – and Ravensara (also high in Eucalyptol) seem to have helped in cases with respiratory symptoms. For the lower respiratory tract, Hyssop decumbens (from the same plant family as Melissa) has been of interest. Essential oils for such cases may be used either in a diffuser, being taken at regular intervals, or through massage, diluted in a carrier oil.
Because of the difficulty in many cases of illness in determining the exact virus type involved, more specific application cannot be given. Certainly, in cases of HSV, Melissa has been shown effective in a number of studies. In cases of resperatory viral illness, several of the Eucalyptus varieties, along with Ravensara aromatica, Rosemary, Myrtle and other oils have been successfully employed. Aromatherapy can support healing in other ways as well; it is well-known that one’s emotional and psychological wellbeing is an important factor in overcoming illness. For such instances, one may simply find the essential oil or combination that one finds pleasant, calming, and/or uplifting. PLEASE NOTE: In no cases, however, should self-treatment with essential oils be used in place of professional medical care where signs/symptoms of infectious illness are present.