(Part II): The therapeutic properties of essential oils

4 (Part II) The therapeutic properties of essential oils

There are many reasons why essential oils need to be included in the armoury of the fight against disease. They have many positive properties and effects which are desirable and have few drawbacks. They are capable of being anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, appetite stimulating, carminative, choleretic, circulation stimulating, deodorizing, expectorant, granulation stimulating, hyperaemic, insecticidal, insect repelling and sedative (Schilcher 1985 p. 217). They are natural antimicrobial agents able to act on bacteria, viruses and fungi, and many trials have been performed in this field (see below).

Essential oils are applied to the skin, ingested or inhaled, and all are harmless unless used incorrectly. They are much used in products for the home (obvious examples are lemon and lavender) and are well accepted, and the aroma can have beneficial effects on the person using them (see Ch. 7).

The aromatherapist determines the therapeutic materials to be used so that the treatment is tailored to the individual patient. Generally speaking there is an absence of unwanted side effects from the use of essential oils (see Synergism in Ch. 3 Part I); also, plant extracts are ecologically sound, causing no pollution, unlike antibiotics, which are flushed down the drain and pollute the land (Verdet 1989).

Antiseptic, antibacterial

Essential oils have multiple actions and effects, e.g. when used for a respiratory infection an oil may be not only antiseptic but also mucolytic and anti-inflammatory (Duraffourd 1987 p. 17). In the digestive system, the oils are antiseptic in action but do not act unfavourably on flora and the digestive secretions, in contrast to some unwelcome effects of antibiotics. The molecules of essential oils are not inimical to the human body: they support the immune system and can be considered as pro– and eubiotic as opposed to synthetic antibiotics.

Essential oils are especially valuable as antiseptics because their aggression towards microbial germs is matched by their total harmlessness to tissue; one of the chief drawbacks of some antiseptics used today is that they are likely to be as harmful to the cells of the organism as to the cause of the disease. It is very important to remember that antiseptics can destroy not only the microorganisms but also the surrounding cells (Valnet 1980 p. 44).

The use of essential oils is a sure way of avoiding the phenomenon of developed resistance in microbes as experienced with antibiotics, because the aromatic essences are able to destroy even resistant strains

selectively (Pellecuer, Allegrini & De Buochberg 1974). Germs resistant to synthetic antibiotics are susceptible in certain cases to some essences in high dilution, e.g. 1 in 16,000 for Satureia montana (Belaiche 1979 p. 31) (Table 4.1).

Acquired resistance on the part of a germ can be avoided by prescribing three or four essential oils in combination. The editors strongly advise using a synergistic mix of oils in any treatment: it is unlikely that bacteria will be resistant to all oils in the mix.

Testing for antiseptic and antibacterial activity

Tests have been carried out on the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of essential oils for more than a century, and now there is a reasonably good knowledge base on this aspect of the effects of essential oils Koch’s 1881 investigation of turpentine with respect to the anthrax bacillus and Chamberland’s 1887 investigation into the activity of cinnamon oils, angelica and geranium. Since then the antiseptic and bactericidal powers of many essential oils have been tested many times in laboratories across the world using the aromatogram technique, a recognized standard test; the results obtained are repeatable and universally accepted: it is virtually the same as the antibiogram test.

Antibiogram and aromatogram

An antibiogram can test the validity of an antibiotic agent for the treatment of, say, a chest infection. A sample of sputum is taken and a culture grown in a dish. The antibiotic is introduced into the centre of the culture and its activity against the offending microorganism measured by the diameter of a clear ‘killing zone’, which indicates the power of the antibiotic: the greater the diameter, the greater the effectiveness of the antibiotic agent. An aromatogram is carried out in exactly the same way except that essential oil is used instead of an antibiotic. Both methods are subject to the proviso that in vitro activity is not always echoed in vivo, which is modified by absorption, metabolism, bioavailability etc. Finding the most effective essential oil to counteract a specific germ can be a lengthy undertaking: if there were no previous experience to draw on it would be necessary to test all the oils available to the therapist. This testing procedure has confirmed the antiseptic powers of many oils and at the same time has revealed previously unsuspected antiseptic powers in other oils. Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce [fennel] was known only for being an appetite stimulant, Myristica fragrans [nutmeg] as a stomachic and Artemisia dracunculus [tarragon] as an antispasmodic, but now the antiseptic qualities of these oils are also recognized. A huge number of aromatogram results have now been published, making it possible to list the major essential oils by their antimicrobial properties (Table 4.2).

Essential oils provide a very pleasant and effective means of disinfecting the air in an enclosed area (Kellner & Kober 1954, 1955, 1956) and are therefore ideal for use in sick rooms, burns units, reception areas, waiting rooms etc. A test describing the use of a blend of pine, thyme, peppermint, lavender, rosemary, clove and cinnamon essential oils for the bacteriological purification of the air concluded that ‘the atmospheric dispersion of the prepared liquid brought about a very marked disinfection of the air, as demonstrated by the considerable reduction in the number of pre-existing micro-organisms, some types being destroyed completely’ (Valnet 1980 pp. 36–38).

Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

Hospital-acquired infections and antibiotic-resistant bacteria continue to be major health concerns worldwide. Particularly problematic is MRSA and its ability to cause severe soft tissue, bone or implant infections, but recent experience has indicated that essential oils have an important part to play in dealing with this resistant bacterium. At a presentation to the Royal Society of Medicine, Michael Smith, pathologist, stated that several essential oils (including Ormenis multicaulis, Origanum vulgare, Thymus vulgaris ct. thymol, Lavandula intermedia ‘Super’, Cupressus sempervirens, Mentha x piperita, Ravensara aromatica, Juniperus communis (unspecified), Citrus limon, Cymbopogon martinii, Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus smithii) were effective against MRSA (cited in Buckle 1997 p. 125). Sherry et al. (2001) successfully used a blend of phytochemicals (Eucalyptus globulus, Melaleuca alternifolia, Thymus sp., Syzygium aromaticum, citrus extracts and bioethanol) to treat two cases of MRSA infection with no reported recurrence. More recently several common and hospital-acquired bacterial and yeast isolates (six Staphylococcus strains including MRSA, four Streptococcus strains and three Candida strains, including Candida krusei) were tested by Warnke et al. (2009) for their susceptibility to eucalyptus, tea tree, white thyme, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, cinnamon, grapefruit, clove bud, sandalwood, peppermint, kunzea and sage oil with the agar diffusion test. Large zones of inhibition were observed for white thyme, lemon, lemongrass and cinnamon oil, and other oils also showed considerable efficacy. Almost all the tested oils demonstrated efficacy against hospital-acquired isolates and reference strains.


Many essential oils have analgesic properties and there seems to be no single reason. It is thought that the effect is partly due to the anti-inflammatory, circulatory and detoxifying effects of some oils and to the anaesthetic effect of others. The phenol eugenol found in the oil of clove is well known for its use in calming dental pain, wintergreen oil (containing methyl salicylate, an ester) has traditionally been used in rubs for muscle pain, and menthol has been used specifically for headaches. On the skin, oils rich in terpenes have an analgesic effect, especially those containing p-cymene (Franchomme & Pénoël 2001 p. 99); many aromatherapists report that the oil of Melaleuca alternifolia [tea tree] has this effect, as have azulene and chamazulene (found in the chamomiles). Some essential oils have a universal sedative or soporific action leading to an easing of pain, e.g. Chamaemelum nobile, Cananga odorata, Citrus reticulata (fol.) (Rossi et al. 1988), Citrus bergamia per., fol. (Franchomme & Pénoël 2001 p. 99). According to Roulier (1990), the analgesic and antalgic essential oils are white birch, chamomile, frankincense, wintergreen, clove, lavender and mint (common names only given).

At Monklands Hospital in Scotland more than 75% of patients suffering from chronic complaints (e.g. back or shoulder pain, long-term problems, premenstrual tension, depression, anxiety or mood swings) referred by local GPs found that complementary therapies helped to provide short-term relief of their symptoms. The patients were treated with essential oils, reflexology or acupuncture during an 8-week trial (Anderson 1998) (see Appendix B.9 on the CD-ROM for a list of effective oils).


Many essential oils have been reported as having an antifungal effect (Table 4.3) and many investigations have taken place, some more than half a century ago (Schmidt 1936), showing the fungicidal and fungistatic effects of cinnamon, clove, fennel and thyme; these were active against Candida albicans, Sporotrichon and Trichophyton species (Gildemeister & Hoffmann 1956 p. 140). The fungicidal activity of the oil of Chamomilla recutita and its components, including chamazulene and (–)-α-bisabolol, has been well investigated and shown to

Case 4.3 Antifungal (Candida albicans)


The couple’s normal diet plan for an average week was looked at and gradual changes over a period of time were arranged.

A colonic massage with essential oils was decided upon for Mrs F, to benefit the swelling, pain and infection. Equal quantities of the following oils were used in a 15 min massage and at 50% dilution with grapeseed oil:

Mr F was taught how to perform a simple, clockwise abdominal massage, to be carried out once daily to aid Mrs F’s constipation. This was a good morale booster for him, as he had previously felt helpless – he now became part of her recovery process. The 3% mix for him to use contained the following essential oils:

Treatment with live yogurt and essential oils was also given; the client?s vagina was too swollen to use a tampon soaked in this mix, so the yogurt mixture was poured into the vagina (the client was propped up with raised legs to allow the mix to penetrate). Although messy and difficult, the swelling had reduced enough after several days to insert a tampon, changing it morning and night.

Treatment at home involved:

be effective against Trichophyton rubrum, T. mentagrophytes, T. tonsurans, T. quinckeanum and Microsporum canis in concentrations of 200 mg/mL (Janssen et al. 1984, 1986, Szalontai, Verzar-Petri & Florian 1976, 1977, Szalontai et al. 1975a,b). Satureia montana has been found to be active against Candida sp. (Pellecuer et al. 1975). A general review of some essential oils with antifungal properties was carried out by Pellecuer et al. (1976) and in other trials a number of compounds found in essential oils, especially the aldehydes and esters, were effective against various fungi, including candida infection (Larrondo & Calvo 1991, Maruzella 1961, Thompson & Cannon 1986). Melaleuca alternifolia has been investigated in vaginal infection with candida and found to be effective (Belaiche 1985, Pena 1962, Shemesh & Mayo 1991). Rosemary, savory and thyme also have antifungal properties (Pellecuer, Roussel & Andary 1973) and Ocimum basilicum has both antifungal and insect-repellant properties (Dube, Upadhyay & Tripath 1989).


Chamomile oil has been found to be capable of inactivating toxins produced by bacteria. The amount of oil obtained by distilling 0.1 g of chamomile is sufficient to destroy, within 2 hours, three times that amount of staphylococcal toxins – the highest concentration of toxin so far found in the human organism; streptococcal toxins proved even more sensitive (Weiss 1988 p. 26).

Case 4.4 Anti-inflammatory (gangrene)


Most people practising aromatherapy have reported success in the control of viruses causing herpes simplex type I, but there is no consistency in the choice of oils used (as can be seen from Table 4.5). Speaking from personal experience, the editors have found the oils Melissa officinalis, Pelargonium graveolens and Eucalyptus smithii to be helpful for herpes simplex I (cold sore). The use of melissa agrees with tests showing this plant to be antiviral (Cohen, Kucera & Herrman 1964, Herrman & Kucera 1967, Kucera & Herrman 1967). For herpes zoster (shingles) the oil of Pelargonium graveolens [geranium] is specifically recommended; it is best applied at the first sign of an attack to prevent virus replication. Used early it prevents blisters from forming and damps down the pain. For herpes simplex II (genital herpes) the many oils suggested include Melaleuca alternifolia [tea tree] and M. viridiflora [niaouli] (Franchomme & Pénoël 2001 pp. 397, 398), but little success has been reported. Despite the lack of

Case 4.5 Antiviral


A toxin-free diet was established for Clément to help the detoxification process that accompanies any infectious disease.

Because of the extreme cutaneous condition, the hydrolat of Melissa officinalis [melissa] (undiluted) – antiviral, anti-inflammatory, calming – was selected first and sprayed around the little boy, who felt relief for the first time in many days of intense suffering.

The following essential oils were then chosen and blended:

These were made up in three ways:

A second blend of essential oil was made with equal quantities of:

This was to be applied without dilution to the sole of the each foot six times a day.

After the first treatment at the clinic, the blends and suppositories were given to the parents to continue treatment at home; the spraying equipment was lent to them for the period of intensive care.

The parents were asked to telephone every day to report Clément’s progress and to return to the clinic after 9 days.

scientific support, many aromatherapists find that herpes simplex type II and other viral infections such as glandular fever and influenza do respond to essential oil treatment, and there is research to support the use of Piper nigrum [black pepper] (Lembke & Deininger 1988). Cymbopogon flexuosus [lemongrass], Mentha arvensis [cornmint] and Vetiveria zizanioides [vetiver] (Pandey et al. 1988), and Eucalyptus viminalis, E. macarthurii [woolly-butt] and E. dalrympleana appear to be effective both in vitro and in ovo on two strains of influenza virus (Vichkanova, Dzhanashiya & Goryunova 1973). There have been other papers published on this topic in India, Russia and China, and a Swiss patent was filed in 1979 for an antiviral preparation using essential oils.

Table 4.5 shows the essential oils that have been recommended for antiviral use. The information has been culled from many sources, which often use only the plant’s common name. Many other oils have been mentioned anecdotally as having antiviral properties, but without specific indications.

Several constituents found naturally in a wide range of essential oils (anethole, β-caryophyllene, carvone, cinnamic aldehyde, citral, citronellol, eugenol, limonene, linalool, linalyl acetate, α-sabinene, γ-terpinene) were found to be active against herpes simplex (Lembke & Deininger 1985, 1988). If the oils are effective it could well be because of some property common to all of them – perhaps lipid solubility. The in vitro studies conducted so far indicate that many essential oils have antiviral properties but that they affect only enveloped viruses and only when they are in a free state, before the virus has entered or is attached to the host cell (e.g. Schnitzler et al. 2008). This is in contrast to the majority of synthetic agents, which either stop complete penetration of viral particles into the host cell or interfere with replication once the virus is inside the cell (Harris 2010 p. 319).

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue

Dec 12, 2016 | Posted by in GENERAL & FAMILY MEDICINE | Comments Off on (Part II): The therapeutic properties of essential oils
Premium Wordpress Themes by UFO Themes
%d bloggers like this: