With flu season on the way, you might be looking for ways to boost your immune system. Taking medicine or vitamin supplements are always encouraged this time of year, but maybe you are interested in natural immune system boosters. The practice of essential oils has gained popularity in recent years, but its history dates back to ancient India, Persia and Egypt. Today, essential oils are diffused or applied topically for relief during cold and flu season.

CNET wellness editors weigh in on their favorite essential oils for flu symptoms such as cough, stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea and insufficient sleep.

4 best essential oils for flu season


CNET Senior Editor Nasha Addarich Martínez says, “Peppermint oil works like a charm when I’m congested. I add a few drops to my diffuser and it almost instantly alleviates my congestion, allowing me to breathe better.” She adds that if you’re really congested, you can use it topically on your chest with a carrier oil. Nasha recommends coconut oil to dilute it before applying it on your skin. Research shows that menthol, a compound in peppermint, may help open airways and clear mucus.

Ginger root

Writer and sleep science coach Taylor Leamey turns to ginger root essential oil when she is battling an upset stomach or menstrual discomfort. She adds, “Its woodsy, natural smell isn’t too strong like other oils.” Ginger oil is great for easing nausea, vomiting and even morning sickness. It is similar to drinking ginger ale for an uneasy stomach.


McKenzie Dillion, sleep editor and sleep science coach, loves the floral smell of lavender oil. She explains, “It has a way of making me feel like I’m in a fancy spa.” Lavender can help relieve nausea from the flu or ease menstrual cramps. It can be used to promote relaxation and sleepiness and can even help ease anxiety.

Thieves oil

As a wellness editor and sleep science coach myself, I had a hard time choosing just one essential oil — so I chose a blend of five. Thieves is a blend from Young Living that’s made up of multiple purifying essential oils including clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus and rosemary. Thieves oil is known for its immune support and cleansing properties, and it smells amazing. Lemon can ease nausea, cinnamon bark essential oil may provide protection against viruses, eucalyptus and clove have some antimicrobial properties, and rosemary has been linked to anti-inflammation and may help break up mucus. 

Other useful essential oils

If our four top picks aren’t for you, turn to these other essential oil options for cold and flu season. 

Potential risks 

More research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of essential oils. When using essential oils, they need to be diffused, added to a hot shower or bath, or used topically with a carrier oil such as coconut oil. Adding essential oils topically may cause a rash to those with sensitive skin, so use caution when applying. Even though some essential oils are marketed as safe to ingest, some can potentially be poisonous if swallowed. Be sure to consult with your doctor before consuming essential oils.

While studies on these oils are still pending and most medical guidelines do not include essential oils in their treatment strategies, many swear on their effectiveness, especially during flu season. As always, it is always good to check in with your doctor to make sure that the oils are not interacting with your other medications. If you feel very sick, oils do not replace the need for proper medical evaluation. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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