Coughs, colds, and sore throats have plagued humanity since there was cold weather and viruses – so, forever basically! Luckily there are some incredibly effective natural remedies that were discovered by our ancient ancestors and have been passed down through the centuries, are a still popular today – often even more so than pharmaceutical interventions.
It will surely come of no surprise to discover that, when it comes to essential oils, our biggest ally in the eternal battle against coughs and colds is the menthol family, encompassing eucalyptus to peppermint and spearmint oil. This group of essential oils contain the menthol compound, which helps to thin and loosen mucus, a common, and often the most troublesome, symptom of coughs and colds. These miraculous essential oils have incredible abilities to clear the airways, decongest, and generally make life a bit more bearable when the inevitable happens and you get struck down by a cough or cold virus.
A lot of over the counter medicinal products for relief from cold symptoms, and particularly coughs, contain eucalyptus, the use of which can be traced back to at least the aboriginal Australia, where natives treated it as a general ‘cure all’ treatment for all manner of ailments, such was its efficacy and wide ranging benefits. Due to its similarity in use and scent, it was known by some as ‘Sydney Peppermint’. Throughout the centuries it has come to be known as a herb of purification, due to its ability to help rid the body of unwanted viral and bacterial infections, and to keep illness at bay. In Ancient Chinese medicine, eucalyptus was classified as a tonic for the ‘lung Qi’ and was used to help clear lung-phlegm and enhance breathing function, particularly in the onset of flu, sore throats, common colds, and other respiratory conditions. It was first distilled in the 18th century, and quickly became widely used to treat chest infections and respiratory problems. In the early 20th century it was used to control the influenza epidemic in England, with 2-3 drops being dissolved into sugar in a teaspoon.
With coughs and colds, a build up of mucus, often leading to blocked airways, can be one of the most frustrating and difficult to overcome symptoms. Pharmaceutical decongestants are often not very effective, and those that are tend to be those containing menthols – we think you’re best off turning straight to natural treatments, as essential oils in the menthol family are extremely effective expectorants, and can provide rapid relief. There is a reason why generations of mothers and grandmothers swear by natural cough remedies – they tend to do the trick! A menthol essential oil, any of those listed above, can be used in a number of different ways, although for blocked airways direct inhalation can provide excellent and instant relief. They can also be added to a bath oil; this is particularly effective, as the warm and moist steam will help to loosen any chest congestion and mucus underlying a stubborn cough. They can be included in salves or balms and rubbed onto the chest; this is excellent for relieving cough symptoms at night to ensure you get a good night’s rest. Peppermint tea may be beneficial – you can make your own by pouring hot water over fresh peppermint leaves.
It is important to note that pure menthol is poisonous and should not be consumed. In addition, rubbing a pure menthol onto the skin can provoke a reaction in some people, and should not be used on sensitive skin – it’s best to do a patch test first if you intend to use a menthol essential oil in a salve to be applied topically to the skin.
How do they work?
All of the above essential oils are natural analgesics (painkiller), antiseptics (infection fighting), and expectorants (clears the airways of mucus), making them absolutely ideal for treating coughs and colds as all of these functions and properties are things that modern medicine seeks to provide in treating the same condition – in this case, Mother Nature has all you need! Of course, if you have a long-term cough that isn’t going away, or suspect you have a more serious infection, it is best to consult a doctor, but in terms of seeking relief from the symptoms of coughs and colds, you may find that natural remedies provide equal, if not greater relief, than pharmaceutical products – and they smell nicer, too!
If you’d like to read more about how essential oils, and menthols in particular, can help you to overcome coughs and colds, visit our recipe and info page at Cough and Sore Throat Recipes.