5 Best Essential Oils for Respiratory Health

Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to the current Covid-19 pandemic and was meant to address the usual cold & flu that we’re all familiar with. Please be advised that there is no available research to suggest that the essential oils discussed in this article are effective against the coronavirus.

Few things are as uncomfortable as the pain from blocked sinuses associated with a sinus infection. And how about the incessant coughing from bronchitis? While a stuffed-up nose and a hacking cough are not life-threatening conditions for most people, they sure can make you feel downright miserable.

But what if there was an essential oil for sinus and colds that could help ease that misery? And, not only that, could help kill the very bug causing the problems and shorten the duration span of the illness in the process? If you’ve ever suffered from a cold, cough, stuffed up nose, sinus congestion, allergies, or other breathing conditions, you’ll want to read on to discover more about the best essential oils for respiratory health.

The Best Essential Oils for Breathing

Woman Sitting in Bed with a cold Suing Tissues

Actually, it isn’t just one oil we’re discussing here but five (5) different essential oils for colds and sinus that work synergistically to support a healthy, well-functioning respiratory system.

As a quick anatomy reminder, the respiratory system is made up of the organs such as your lungs and other parts of your body (e.g., nose and sinuses) involved in breathing.

5 Top Essential Oils for Supporting Respiratory Health

  1. Eucalyptus
  2. Peppermint
  3. Thyme
  4. Rosemary
  5. Bergamot

Let’s examine what makes these five essential oils so good for fighting nasty respiratory issues such as coughs and sinus congestion.

1. Eucalyptus Oil for Colds & Respiratory Ailments

Leaves from the eucalyptus tree have been used for tens of thousands of years by the native people of Australia. Aboriginal healers still use eucalyptus for wound healing, respiratory ailments, and cough suppression, for fevers and headaches, sore muscles and joint pain, and even for repelling insects.

Eucalyptus Essential Oil and eucalyptus leaves

Modern research confirms that Aboriginal healers were absolutely right to use eucalyptus in these ways. We now have a number of scientific studies that demonstrate eucalyptus has all of these healing properties, and more.

First off, eucalyptus is vigorously anti-bacterial, including against some of the more nasty and hard-to-eradicate, multi-drug resistant strains of bacteria [1-7].

Eucalyptus essential oil also has anti-fungal and anti-viral activity [8-12] and is strongly anti-inflammatory [13-16]. In addition, eucalyptus has pain-relieving benefits [17-19], can reduce a fever [20], and at least two studies show that eucalyptus may even help to support the immune system [21, 22].

2. Peppermint Oil Helps You Breathe Easier

Peppermint is a well-known and beloved herb with a long tradition of culinary and healing uses dating back to Roman times.

The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD) was known to favor the use of peppermint for medicinal uses. Peppermint was also used by Greeks and Romans to flavor sweets, food, and wine. The ancient philosopher Aristotle even discussed the use of peppermint as an aphrodisiac! During the 1700s, peppermint was popular in Europe for relieving digestive difficulties and treating colds, flu, and headaches.

Mint Essential Oil and fresh mint leaves

To this day, peppermint is still being used and researched for many of these same medical issues. Studies indicate that peppermint essential oil is wonderful for the digestive system [23], helps to relieve nausea [24], and is potently anti-microbial, including against some difficult-to-eradicate pathogens [25-27].

In addition, peppermint is anti-fungal and has been found to work as well as aspirin or paracetamol (Tylenol) for headaches and migraines [28, 29], and is impressive for its ability to ease respiratory problems.

One study found that peppermint acts as a decongestant and dissolves mucus, has antihistamine effects, and acts as a bronchodilator, opening airways and relaxing the muscles of the respiratory tract [30].

3. Thyme Oil for Cough

A beautifully spicy and aromatic herb, thyme is not only valuable for its culinary use but also for its therapeutic benefits. The revered medical text of the ancient Egyptians, the Ebers Papyrus (1550 BC), mentions the healing properties of thyme.

Thyme has been used traditionally as a diuretic (increases the expulsion of urine), for increasing circulation, for improved wound healing, for respiratory problems, treating coughs and bronchitis, for hair loss, and as an anti-fungal.


The latest research on thyme backs up many of these long-held traditional uses. Thyme oil has been found to have an extremely high level of antioxidants [31, 32], is strongly anti-bacterial and anti-fungal [33, 34], and anti-inflammatory [35-37].

Thyme makes our list of essential oils for respiratory health because it has been found to be beneficial for easing bronchitis and coughing.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial using a combination of thyme with ivy leaf extract [38], the trial participants receiving the thyme oil combination had reduced coughing fits (68.7% versus 47.6% amongst those only receiving placebo).

In another double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial using a combination of thyme with primrose root [39], trial participants suffering from acute bronchitis and given the thyme and primrose combination derived a 50% reduction in coughing fits from baseline about two days earlier than the placebo group.

Furthermore, a 2018 test-tube study [40] found that thyme oil was effective against eight very nasty bugs, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). All of the pathogens tested were associated with rhinosinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses and nasal cavity).

4. Rosemary Oil for Colds & Allergies

Rosemary is another popular herb with centuries of use going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. This fragrant culinary herb also had great significance during the time of the bubonic plague, better known as the Black Death (circa the mid-1300s).

To defend homes from the ravages of this disease, branches of rosemary were scattered on the floors and in the doorways. For those fortunate enough to know about its protective properties, rosemary was also used in combination with other herbs mixed with vinegar, and this concoction helped shield them against the Black Death.

Rosemary herb and essential oil

There are several very good reasons why rosemary was protective against this terrible and often fatal disease. Modern science has discovered rosemary is highly anti-microbial, even against some of the worst bacteria we now commonly encounter, including MRSA and methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA) [41, 42].

Rosemary essential oil is also an excellent antioxidant [43], and anti-inflammatory [44-46]. One animal study found that rosemary could even partially prevent allergic airway inflammation brought on by house dust mites [47].

5. Bergamot Kills Bacteria & Viruses That Cause Infection and Influenza

Bergamot is thought to be a hybrid between a lemon tree and a bitter orange tree, which produces a small and bitter-tasting fruit. The oil is cold-pressed from the rind of this fruit. Bergamot is maybe best known for creating the distinctive flavor of Earl Grey tea. It is also utilized heavily by the perfume industry, being included in a large number of women’s perfumes.

Research shows us quite clearly that bergamot essential oil has all of the important “anti’s.” It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. So, no matter whether you have a bacterial infection, a fungal infection, or a viral infection, bergamot may be of benefit to you.

Bergamot Plant - fruit and leaves

Bergamot essential oil works strongly against various strains of bacteria. This includes Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph) and Escherichia coli (E. coli) [48], as well as some common pathogens of the digestive tract such as Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis [49].

Eterococcus species are increasingly resistant to antibiotics and are a common source of a variety of infections, including urinary tract infections, prostatitis, bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), and even endocarditis (an infection of the heart’s inner lining).

A 2012 study found that a combination of vaporized bergamot and orange oils were effective against MRSA and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus sp. (VRE) [50].

In addition, bergamot research shows that it has anti-fungal capabilities, including against Candida albicans [51] and some other nasty fungi [52, 53]. A 2014 study found that bergamot also actively inhibits the virus that causes influenza. Among several essential oils tested, bergamot was one of the most effective [54].

Best Essential Oils for Respiratory Support

Woman with the flu

So, whether seasonal allergies have got you down, or the discomfort of blocked sinuses from a cold or flu has you feeling rotten, or the kids have brought home a nasty cold bug that’s gone straight to your lungs and sinuses… an essential oil blend of eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme, rosemary, and bergamot (or any combination of the above) can help.

The combined healing properties of these five essential oils will make a blend extremely beneficial for helping with the symptoms caused by:

5 Ways to Use Essential Oils for Respiratory Health

Whether you decide to make your own blend of respiratory essential oils or simply use any of them individually, here are five ways to unclog stuffed sinuses, soothe coughs, and help ward off bacteria and viruses. (Note: Organixx used to sell Exxhale Essential Oil Blend that was a comination of the 5 oils discussed above. If you still have any Exxhale, you can use it in all of these ways.)

#1. Direct Inhalation

To reduce coughing, ease nasal congestion and inflamed sinuses, place a couple of drops of oil (or your own respiratory blend) into your palms. Rub your hands together and place them over your nose and mouth, getting a good tight seal while being careful to avoid your eyes which will be sensitive to the vapors. Breathe the aroma in deeply for a few moments, holding the vapor in your lungs for as long as you can. This is a very quick way of getting the essential oils into your lungs and bloodstream.

#2. Steam Inhalation


To minimize sinus pressure and a stuffed-up nose, fill a medium-size glass bowl or pan halfway with boiling water (about 2 or 3 cups) and place on a sturdy surface. Add 2-5 drops of essential oil to the hot water. Very carefully position yourself above the steam ensuring you don’t burn yourself. Drape a towel over your head and the bowl, forming a tent. Close your eyes and inhale the rising vapor with slow deep breaths for several minutes, taking breaks if needed.   

#3. In the Shower

No time for sitting over a bowl of hot water? Dab a few drops of oil on the walls of your shower (slightly above where the water normally hits) or to a washcloth and place it on your shower floor away from the direct spray. Then inhale deeply as you shower. The hot water will release the oil vapor. You can also add a few drops to a warm wet washcloth and use it for inhalation.

#4. Diffusion

Using a cool mist ultrasonic diffuser, diffuse your chosen oils to help guard your family against airborne bacteria, or to ease respiratory system symptoms like stuffy noses, coughing, and chest congestion.

#5. Direct Application

Apply topically to a congested chest or to the tip of your nose, diluting with an organic carrier oil like almond, coconut, or hempseed. Use a heavier dilution if you have sensitive skin or are using with older children. [Note: please consult with a qualified healthcare provider for guidance before using any essential oils with children.]

A Closing Note of Caution When Using Essential Oils for Respiratory Health

Never apply essential oils anywhere near your eyes, inside the ears, or to other sensitive regions of the body. Women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding should seek their doctor’s advice prior to using essential oils.

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