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Virus Fighters: Essential Oils for Challenging Times

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In these coronavirus days, an essential oil mixture with legendary origins in the Bubonic Plague offers soothing scents for the homebound and might add some viral protection.

The mixture of five oils: eucalyptus, clove, cinnamon, lemon and rosemary, is known as Thieves. As the story goes, in the 1500s, as the Black Death decimated Europe, when four unemployed spice merchants that turned to robbing the bodies and homes of the dead were captured and threatened with being burned alive, they confessed to the judge their secret to avoiding infection—the spice blend that they rubbed on their hands, ears, feet and temples.

They were all hanged, but their formula survives as Thieves, and is today one of the most popular essential oil blends in the market, sold under that name and also as Five Guards, Health Shield and Fighting Five. Although shown to sharply reduce three kinds of airborne bacteria in 10 minutes, its antiviral properties have not been extensively studied. Its components, however, have proven antimicrobial, antiseptic and antiviral properties:

- Eucalyptus, long used for respiratory infections, has been proven effective against a number of viruses, particularly the swine flu and herpes type 1 viruses.

- Clove has exhibited strong antiviral activity against such viruses as the adenovirus type 3 respiratory virus, poliovirus and coxsackievirus.

- Cinnamon leaf shows antiviral activity and can prevent pneumonia due to influenza.

- Lemon oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and is often used in cleaning products.

- Rosemary eases stress and has antiviral, antimicrobial and antidepressant qualities. 

Thieves can be purchased in natural health stores or online. For a homemade blend, Jennifer Lane, an aromatherapist, registered nurse and founder of Loving Essential Oils, recommends combining these essential oils:

• 35 drops lemon
• 20 drops cinnamon leaf
• 15 drops clove bud
• 15 drops eucalyptus
• 10 drops rosemary

Adding five drops of the blend, along with water in a diffuser, can waft the scent throughout a room and diminish airborne odors and germs. For respiratory support, put a few drops into a cup of steaming, but not boiling, water, drape a towel around the cup and face, and breathe in the fumes. Add it to a carrier oil like jojoba oil or coconut oil at a 1:30 ratio (such as one-half ounce Thieves to 15 ounces jojoba) and rub it on pulse points in the wrist and neck. But do not ingest the blend. If a child under 10 is in the house, don’t diffuse it or use it topically on them, because rosemary and eucalyptus can be unsafe for a child, advises Christina Anthis, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started.
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