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Aromatherapy Suggestions for Dealing with Asthma

Safety First

Be aware that there is NO WAY to predict what oils can or will trigger an attack in an individual. Quite obviously, if you know you are allergic to, let's say pine and spruce trees, then avoid the use of the various conifer (needle) oils. If most flowers bring on an attack, avoid the floral oils, and so on.

Any oil you intend to try should first be "tested." Put a drop of the essential oil on a tissue or cotton ball and hold it at arms length from the sufferer. If it seems well tolerated, gradually bring it closer until the tissue or cotton ball is right under the nose. If it can be inhaled with no negative effects it is safe to try.

Do not try testing more than two essential oils per day, separated by several hours.

Warning: Please don't use any of the essential oils in a steam inhalation during an asthma attack. The use of steam almost always worsens the attack.



There are two oils that are said to have "antihistamine-like" properties and are said to prevent asthma attacks.

There are authorities who state that Blue Tansy oil (Tanecetum anuum) can halt an asthma attack in its tracks (Jeanne Rose is one of them) and I have clients who say that diffusing a bit of this oil in an aromalamp each morning has allowed them to cut way down on allergy medications. Blue Tansy may prove useful both as an antihistamine to help prevent attacks, and as a treatment during an attack.

Ammi Visnaga (Khella) oil is supposed to have a similar effect, however it's only fair to say that most people enjoy the scent of Blue Tansy (sweet and apple scented) and find the scent of Ammi reminiscent of last years coffee grounds. The drug Intal (cromolyn sodium) has its origins from Ammi Visnaga. Khella oil must be used (by inhalation) on a daily basis, not just when an attack threatens.


Treating the Symptoms

One of my French mentors wrote, years ago: "Asthma is a tricky thing, different circumstances can trigger attacks in different people, so caution is important here. A large number of EOs have (or are reputed to have) effects on the respiratory system, which isn't very surprising considering that they are breathed in and that scents are often very pleasant things. A large number (many of the same ones as above) will also carry warnings that they may trigger an asthmatic attack. Also, not a surprise when you consider things." It is because of the oils' powerful effects on the respiratory tract that well tolerated essential oils can bring swift relief to asthma sufferers.


Essential Oils That Have Proven Helpful for Some Asthma Victims

The following oils are listed in order by both their ability to be tolerated without causing a reaction, and their effectiveness.

Blue Tansy (Tanecetuum anuum)
Jeanne Rose states that Blue Tansy is a natural source of theophylline, a bronchiodilator, which would explain its being recommended for asthma crisises. And many sources write ofthe links between childhood asthma and adult eczema and other dermatitis conditions. Although we do not recommend internal usage, she says she personally uses one drop of this oil on a sugar cube for bring her asthma attack to a halt.

Kurt Schaubelt extolls this magnificent deep indigo oil for its antihistaminic/anti-allergin properties. He suggests using it (applied to the solar plexus) in blends for asthma, or diffusing it in blends for emphasema ... blending Pine, Cypress and just a touch of this lovely Tansy. (Obviously it is first necessary to test all the oils before blending!)

Hyssop montana/canescens (ex decumbens)
My French mentor writes that in his experience this particular Hyssop (and no others!) is the safest essential oil to use with asthma sufferers. It appears that the pino-camphone content in this hyssop chemotype is very low. So I believe there is no toxicity, compared with the other hyssop types. I have years of experience with it, mainly with diffusers and really love the oil! Best results with asthma patients, little children and allergic people. He says it is the first oil he will reach for in cases of asthma. This hyssop ssp montana/canescens (ex decumbens) is only found in the Haute Provence, France.

Blue Tansy and this Hyssop are the first two essential oils I would test.

Myrtle (Myrtys communis)
Soft, gentle respiratory oil, very good for use with children, normally well tolerated. A very gentle expectorant that can ease coughing while loosening tight mucous.

Litsea cubeba
Litsea, sometimes called May Chang, has clear lemony scent that also has bronchio-dilator and antispasmodic effects. It is normally well tolerated, but should be tested. It also blends aromatically well with amni visnaga (see above) and makes inhalation of the Khella Oil a lot more palatable.

Cypress Oil (Cupressus sempervirens)
All of the conifers may help with respiratory problems. Cypress, in addition, is an antispasmodic which can help relieve bronchial spasms. However, any of the "Evergreen" oils can cause an allergic reaction to many people, so please be very sure to test this with your asthma patient. (See test method above.)

My mentor suggests, if the above oils are all well-tolerated, a blend of one drop each of Hyssop, Litsea, and Cypress inhaled from a cotton ball when breathing first begins to feel constricted. If this blend, or any single oil proves effective you might want to look at making a personal inhaler for the patient to carry with him. 

My instinct says to start with the citrus oils...they are normally well tolerated...and wonderful mood lighteners...since there is normally an emotional component to asthma, they might be helpful...

IF they can tolerate the eucalyptus oils, they might help with breathing...other oils that can help with bronchial problems are frankincense, cedarwood...but test first.

If the patient can tolerate Lavender, it would help promote sleep at night, a general "relaxant"...and litsea cubeba is said to help with the bronchial spasms...but TEST first!!!! I'd want to very carefully check for possible reactions to any/all of them individually before blending. For asthma, with the same caveats, I look to hyssop, our Sweet Spanish Eucalyptus (another globulous, but gentler and softer, since most Eucalyptus globulous on the market is rectified to increase its cineole content. Frankincense (which either will be wonderful, or will really cause a problem) or Elemi. Atlas Cedarwood is a good addition to general chest congestion blends, as is Scotch Pine i>(Pinus sylvestris).


Oils that are Useful for General Support of the Respiratory System

Frankincense slows and deepens the breathing...our favorite is the Boswellia carterii.

Black Spruce and Atlas Cedarwood are both good for respiratory support, Atlas Cedarwood is very grounding, which might be helpful if the asthma has an emotional/anxiety component. Black Spruce is wonderful for immune system support, specifically for the adrenals!

Of the Eucalyptus oils, my choice for "chest stuff" is our unrectified Spanish Sweet Eucalyptus, although in all honesty most of the authorities recommend Eucalyptus radiata (but most of the authorities haven't sampled our spanish euc;)!

We might also look at relaxing oils if the asthma seems to be more emotionally caused rather than allergic; however most of the "relaxers" are I suspect also more apt to trigger allergies.


Antiseptic or Antibacterial

Dr. Valnet—one of the founders of the modern aromatherapy, describes the antiseptic effects of essential oils which by evaporation kill bacteria and other micro-organisms. Most of the essential oils are more or less antiseptic, but the following oils are of special value by the treatment of flu, common cold, sore throat, tonsillitis and other respiratory infections: Thyme, Eucalyptus, Salvia, Pine, Cajeput, Niaouli, Tea Tree, Lemon, and Angelica.



These essential oils have an effect in calming and soothing spasms in the smooth muscles tissues and are applied by the treatment of asthma, dry cough, and pertussis (whooping cough): Cedar, cajaput, clary sage, cypress, eucalyptus, sandalwood, and thyme.



An expectorant helps to promote the removal of mucous from the respiratory system by means of coughing and spitting. According to Boyd an expectorant can be pharmacologically defined as a substance that increases the production of moisture in the bronchial tubes. Expectorant oils are therefore applied to help this removal process and to soothing coughing: green anise, cajaput, fennel, helichrysum, eucalyptus, olibanum, spike lavender, myrrh, myrtle, pine, sandalwood, and thyme.


Immunity Stimulating

Essential oils can assist and improve an immunity reaction in two different manners: By means of counter-acting threatening micro orgasm or by stimulating the immunity system. Oils like cajaput, lavender, lemon, rosemary and Tea tree combat a large range of bacteria, whereby at the same time they increase the immunity reaction. In holistic aromatherapy the improvement of the immunity reaction is considered one of the major aims.

During a crisis the inhalation or breathing of antispasmodic oils or the application on specific parts of the body, quickly results in relief. If one prefers inhalation a few drops on a tissue or even smelling at the bottle, will be effective. The use of steam to which oils are added is not advisable. The heath of the steam will only increase the inflammation of the mucous membranes. Moisture however is beneficial, so a few drops essential oil added to an air moisturizer is an excellent treatment.

Between application of the oils to certain areas and veins of the chest and back, is also advisable. The choice of oil is determined by:

1. The presence of an infection
2. The presence of emotional factors
3. Possible allergic reactions.

By treating asthma by means of aromatherapy we have to distinguish two groups of patients.

First, the patient with a long history of asthmatic problems and in connection therewith the long dependency on conventional medicine. Second, the patient who has asthmatic complaints for a relative short period, with little or no dependency on conventional medicine. These two groups are the basis for different aromatherapeutic treatments.

By the first group of people who have been suffering with these complaints for many years asthma has developed into a physical problem. Treatment will be carried out in different phases. By the second group, those with a short complaint history, the first two phases of aromatherapeutic treatment should suffice. This is because their complaints have not turned into a physical problem yet, the asthma so to speak hasn't given a physical imprint in their organs. In this case symptoms occur through emotional and physical stimulus and in general supporting and strengthening aromatherapy is usually sufficient, but equally often with amazing results.


This phase we could call the "introduction phase." Asthma patients can slowly and carefully be introduced to the use of essential oils. Especially is they are unfamiliar with these oils. A short explanation of what oils do, how they were used during many centuries, and with examples (think of the story of the three Kings visiting the manger after Jesus was born, carrying Myrrh, Olibanum and Gold) will give the patient confidence. Most people only know synthetic fragrances and that essential oils are natural with a high degree of purity, is something they never heard of. Let the patient smell the different oils and then apply a light relaxing massage, meanwhile observing the patients reactions carefully. The best oils to apply during this first introduction are pleasantly smelling oils or compositions. Take as an example one or more oils from the following spasmodic range:

  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
  • Roman Chamomille (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Jatamansi (Nardus jatamansi)
  • Petit Grain (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
  • Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris lanaloferum)
  • Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
  • Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
  • Benzoe (Stryrax benzoin)
  • Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum or Jasminum sambac)

In fact, all oils which the patient finds pleasant can be used. Asthma patients usually react well to either single oils or compositions and feel well after such a first introduction. This first phase can of course consist out of multiple sessions. Massage the chest and the back, apply oils to certain areas of the feet, on the arms and in the neck. Important is that the patient getting used to—and finding the oils pleasant.


This phase is aimed at the introduction of expectorant oils, which help to remove excessive mucous from the respiratory system. A good choice of oils here are Eucalyptus smithii, Eucalyptus radiata and/or Ravensara aromatica. Practically all oils with a 1,8-cineol are a good choice in this phase. Examples are:

  • All eucalyptus oils with the exception of Eucalyptus citriodora.
  • Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) especially the varieties with a high cineol content.
  • Niaouli (Melaleuca viridiflora = M quinquenervia viridiflora)
  • Spike Lavender (Lavandula spica)
  • Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
  • Myrtle (Myrtus communis)(Melaleuca leucadenra = M. cajeputi)

It is noticeable that especially members of the Myrtaceae botanical family are useful as expectorants. All kind of applications are useful. In a bath or shower oil, in a diffuser, in a massage oil and by applying the oil (diluted) to certain parts of the body and veins). The Ravensara or the Eucalyptus smithii show a remarkable effect by asthma patients, due to the presence of terpene alcohols.

It the patient shows positive results to this phase, a few weeks later a more intense treatment can be entered into.


Although there is a lot of similarity between the different symptoms, it is useful to distinguish between the nervous/allergic reactions and the patient who's asthma has been transformed into a combination of chronic bronchitis and asthma accompanied by strong physical weakness.

For the nervous and allergic asthma patient anti-spasmodic and anxiolitics (anxiety decreasing) oils are to be applied. A mixture of Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Verbenon chemotype, is excellent for inhalation. Inhalation should occur on a daily basis. These oils or mixture can also be applied to the soles of the feet, certain parts of the body and neck and added to a shower or bath oil or foam. To this mixture can further be added, to make an effective massage oil, Cypres-leaf (Cupressus sempervirens), Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata) or Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). For all these applications e dilution of 2–5% is advisable.

Patients whose complaints have turned into a combination of chronic bronchitis and asthma, should benefit from stimulating oils lik Oregano (Oreganum vulgare), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris thymol chemotype) and/or Savory (Satureja hortensis or Montana). The advantage of these oils is that they are a great stimulant to the immunity system.


Within aromatherapy there are a few oils known to have strong mucolytic (dissolving or breaking down mucous) and at the same time spasmolytic (prevents and eases spasms or convulsions) effects. Khella (Amni visnaga) and Sweet Inula (Inula graveolens). In France these oils are applied to the body by means of a suppository. But to those not familiar with this method it is advisable to apply these oils in diluted form or by inhalation or through massage. They can also be applied in diluted form to certain parts of the body and veins.

These oils are used where an asthmatic crisis situation occurs and when these oils are applied, the patient will have had already a considerable experience with aromatherapy and is undergoing treatment from an aromatherapist knowing his or her profession. Oils like Khella with the active ingredients khelline and visnadine and Sweet Inula with the ingredient alantolactone, can loosen a large quantity of phlegm. When applied in diluted form to the skin, especially in the case of sweet Inula, always do a small allergy test before.

Asthma is a tricky thing, different circumstances can trigger attacks in different people, so caution is important here. A large number of EOs have (or are reputed to have) effects on the respiratory system, which isn't very surprising considering that they are breathed in and that scents are often very pleasant things. A large number (many of the same ones as above) will also carry warnings that they may trigger an asthmatic attack. Also, not a surprise when you consider things. The following is what I would do. I advise you to think about everyone's advice. My choices of EOs are based on some very good books but tempered by what I think you can actually do. Fancy recipes aren't worth much if you don't have the equipment or can't find the ingredients.

Essential Oils: Try them in this order: Hyssop, Myrtle, Cypress, Lavender, Litsea cubeba (if you can't find this one, skip it), Petitgrain (or Mandarine).

Mixtures: Hyssop EO and Cypress EO and Litsea cubeba EO (if you found it): One drop of each on a cotton ball to smell at will whenever breathing feels constricted. Try the combination and if the effect is positive, mix as follows. Get a couple of small amber (not clear or blue) bottles where you got your oils or from a pharmacist. Try to get the dropper goodie that goes in the top (called an orifice reducer) also. Mix equal amounts of the oils together. You might use a stainless steel 1/4 tsp to measure. Also, it will help if you can find a small funnel to keep from spilling stuff. Once you have made the mixture, be sure and label it! (Put tape over the label to keep the ink from running.) Then he can have the mixture to use whenever he wishes.

Myrtle EO and Lavender EO and Petitgrain EO (or Mandarine EO): This is a more complicated mixture. You will also need some Sweet Almond Oil or other carrier oil. The Swteet Almond is widely available and cheaper than some of the others. Either buy a 4 oz bottle or a larger bottle of oil and a 4 oz empty bottle. (You will find yourself saving nice bottles that you have emptied of other things. Glass bottles and plastic tops wash best.) For your trial of this mixture, take one tablespoon of Sweet Almond Oil, add 7 drops Myrtle EO, 3 drops Lavender EO, and 3 drops Petitgrain EO (or Mandarine EO). Use this as a massage oil on the young man's BACK, not chest. If the reaction is a good one, mix up some more as follows: 7 tablespoons Sweet Almond Oil (this should be what is left in your 4 oz bottle if that is what you bought). Add 1/2 tsp Myrtle EO, 1/4 tsp Lavender EO and 1/4 tsp Petitgrain EO (or Mandarine EO). If you have some, puncture and squeeze a couple of capsules of Vit E into the mixture as a preservative. This is a massage oil for his back. It can also be used on his wrists or ankles. It should be used every 15 minutes or oftener during an attack. It will not hurt him to use it once or twice a day as a regular thing if he thinks it makes his condition better. If he does decide to use it regularly, you may consider using castor oil instead of Sweet Almond sometime and seeing if that improves things. Castor Oil "packs" (kind of like compresses) are popular for removing congestion in the abdominal area and may also help with the respiratory system. It is something to try.

I don't know if these oils will help or not but as long as he has no negative reaction to them, they shouldn't hurt. Have you tried Cajuput, this opens the bronchi, so that you can breathe. You can inhale it by putting a drop on your hanky. This oil is very useful if you are suffering from an allergic reaction and you cannot breathe, I use it. 
Mike and Suzie Broderick: I've had success with a number of clients this winter with various degrees of chest congestion (none with pneumonia though), with a blend used in adiffuser and diluted in a massage oil, or in a hot castor oil pack, similar to what you describe. I used the following oils: helichrysum, 20 drops; tea tree, 30 drops; pine, 30 drops; frankincense, 23 drops; yarrow, 10 drops; red thyme, 10 drops. Instructions to clients were to add 4–6 drops to a humidifier, or in a steam inhalation. Or I used maximum 10 drops of this blend to 1 oz of massage oil, or castor oil in a hot pack.

Wanda Sellar's Directory of Essential Oils, lists Immortelle (helichrysum) as "a general aid to the respiratory system soothing feverish colds, influenza, bronchitis, coughs and asthma. Helps to remove mucous from the lungs and induces relaxation and sleep." —Danila at Nature's Gift


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