In this article I’m looking for scientific evidence that essential oils can help with colds, headaches, migraines, and sinus problems.
Do you remember the last time you had a cold? Experts are predicting a rise in the number of colds and flu in Canada this winter with the relaxing of Covid restrictions (well, maybe not here in Alberta…sigh).
A head cold, or common cold, is a viral infection of the nose and throat. Healthy adults can expect to have 2-3 per year. The common cold can have a variety of symptoms, including runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, and fever as well as coughing, congestion and body aches.
When it comes to colds and flu, most scientific studies focus on the antiviral properties of essential oils (I covered this in Are Essential Oils Antimicrobial?). I could not find any studies on cold symptoms, however these essential oils are recommended: basil, bergamot, ginger, frankincense, peppermint, cinnamon, citronella, grapefruit, juniper berry, lavender, lemon, oregano, patchouli, rosemary, sage, tea tree, thyme, black pepper, and ylang ylang.
There wasn’t much to find on headache studies with essential oils. What I found were two studies from the 1990s. One study tested the results of eucalyptus and peppermint in different amounts and found a significant analgesic effect with peppermint. Eucalyptus didn’t seem to have any analgesic effect, but it’s not indicated as to which eucalyptus oil was used. The other double blind and randomized crossover study tested topically applied peppermint oil against acetaminophen and a placebo tablet on tension headaches. The peppermint oil was found to significantly reduce the headache intensity within 15 minutes. The peppermint oil and acetaminophen showed similar results, however when peppermint oil and acetaminophen were both used there was only a slight increase in efficacy.
Recommended oils include basil, chamomile roman, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, litsea cubeba (May Chang), patchouli, peppermint, rosemary, sandalwood, turmeric, ylang ylang, black pepper, and marjoram.
A 2012 placebo controlled clinical trial of lavender essential oil on the treatment of migraines found that inhaling lavender significantly reduced headache severity compared to the placebo.
Other recommended oils include basil, chamomile roman, clary sage, eucalyptus, ginger, lavender, lemon, marjoram, peppermint, and oregano.
Peace Health references a double-blind study using eucalyptus oil on patients with acute sinusitis. These patients recovered significantly faster than those who received a placebo.
Recommended oils include basil, cedarwood, cinnamon, eucalyptus, ginger, lavender, marjoram, peppermint, rosemary, sage, tea tree, ylang ylang, and oregano.
So, unfortunately there’s not a lot of research out there, at least that I could find. But did you notice a pattern? Basil, ginger, peppermint, oregano and lemon are recommended for almost every head condition. We’re all familiar with using these in some form when we’re not feeling well (i.e., ginger tea, peppermint tea, oil of oregano, lemon in tea). So, when you don’t feel well enough to look up what you need for your symptoms, add two or more of these essential oils to your diffuser and get well soon!