Virus-Fighting Terpenes for Cold and Flu Season

The sick season has hit hard, and no place in America has proven immune to this year’s viruses. Searching “how to get rid of a cold or flu” will get you a million suggestions, but as we all know, Dr. Google hasn’t put these ideas to the test — so we decided to do a little research about what makes some of the most popular natural remedies actually work.

As we began taking a closer look at the most common suggestions out there such as lemon or ginger teas and Echinacea supplements, we realized that these plants all had something in common: they had terpenes with antiviral properties.  

As we learned from our Introducing Terpenes article, terpenes have therapeutic properties ranging all the way from anti-bacterial to anti-inflammatory and more. Turns out, there are also many terpenes with virus-fighting properties, including three of the four we focus on here at Hempsley: limonene, pinene, and linalool.

Infographic reference chart for antiviral terpenes for cold and flu season

But antiviral terpenes aren’t the only ones we should be seeking out during the sick season.

Oregano and thyme are commonly cited as great home remedies for colds. When we took a closer look, we noticed that both of these herbs have the terpene carvacrol. Carvacrol has expectorant properties, meaning that it helps calm coughs by thinning mucus and allowing it to drain from the lungs, soothing your respiratory system in the process.

Bronchodilators, or compounds that relax the muscles in your airways to help clear and expand them, can also be of benefit when we are sick. Terpenes that act as bronchodilators include pinene, linalool, and menthol — a terpene found in mint that acts as the key ingredient of Vicks vapor rub.

Oregano herb and essential oil with virus fighting terpene carvacrol

Other Natural Helpers

Beyond terpenes, there are many other nutrients that can help fight off infection and help you get back to your normal self. Below are four that we've been using this sick season.

Vitamin C

  • Protects the immune system and helps fight off infections. Studies show that taking Vitamin C at the onset of a cold can reduce the length of your cold.

  • Natural sources of Vitamin C include lemons, strawberries, oranges, raspberries, pineapple, kiwi, grapefruit, kale, spinach, and lots more.


  • Studies have shown that zinc can help reduce the length of a cold, but some sources warn that zinc tablets or lozenges can have negative side effects such as vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and even losing your sense of smell.

  • To get a little extra zinc without the risk of these negative effects, we prefer to avoid zinc supplements and instead eat foods high in zinc such as beef, chicken (chicken noodle soup, yum!), oatmeal, almonds, cashews, chickpeas, and kidney beans.



  • Water helps regulate our body temperature, carry nutrients to their proper places, and aid in digestion, circulation, and lots more, so it's important that we get enough to allow our body to do those jobs. When we’re sick, it also keeps mucus from becoming too thick and uncomfortably clogging our airways.

How to Use your Natural Tools

If you're not familiar with the four major Methods of Herbal Consumption, take a peek at this article to learn about some of the ways that you can use herbs as medicine. There you'll learn how teas, tinctures, and capsules all work in the body as medicine.

Below are some of our personal favorite ways to use these herbs.

For Sore Throats

Sore throats tend to be our longest lasting symptom of a cold, so we've found that the following work well for us: 

  • Mix 1/8 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda with 1 c warm water. Gargle and swish every 3 hours (as recommended by the American Cancer Society) to kill bacteria and viruses in the throat 

  • Add 3 drops peppermint essential oil to 1 oz carrier oil of choice (we like olive oil for this use) in a small spray bottle, and spritz the back of the throat 

  • Tea with honey and lemon (see recipes below)

Aromatic Uses

Diffusers allow essential oils and all their therapeutic properties to be dispersed into the air. You can also use a mister bottle to spray into the air, in the shower, or onto your pillow before bed. Just be sure to be mindful of your use; everyone who comes into contact with that area will be dosed with the essential oil, so make sure it's safe for everyone. These are our favorite essential oils to fight cold & flu: 

kills bacteria and virus in the air
thyme (or oregano):
kills bacteria and calms coughs
 can help soothe the chest and calm coughs

Topical Uses

We have a couple different favorites for topical application: 

  • Chest rub: add 6 drops peppermint essential oil to 1 oz (30 ml/6 tsp) carrier oil of your choice (such as coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, etc) 

  • Oil roller for the bottoms of our feet: add 1 drop thyme or oregano essential oil to 1 tsp carrier oil of choice and roll or dab onto bottoms of feet. Our feet have bigger pores than other areas of the body, allowing more of the oil to be absorbed into our bodies more efficiently

Herbal Teas

Honey, lemon juice, ginger, and turmeric are all great additions to any herbal tea you make. Below we've given basic instructions to four of our favorite herbal teas.

Don't have a tea bag or ball? Click here to learn how to make your own teabag here.

Elderberry & Echinacea Tea

Elderberry & Echinacea Tea

  1. Place 1 tsp dried echinacea and 1 tsp dried elderberries in tea bag or ball

  2. Pour 1 cup boiling water over herbs and allow to steep 3-5 minutes

  3. Add honey (approximately 1 tsp) and lemon juice (from approximately 1/4 lemon) to taste

Ginger, Thyme & Elderberry Tea

Ginger, Thyme & Elderberry Tea

  1. Place 1 tsp dried or fresh ginger, 1 tsp thyme, and 1 tsp dried elderberries in tea bag or ball

  2. Pour 1 cup boiling water over herbs and allow to steep 5-7 minutes

  3. Add honey (approximately 1 tsp) and lemon juice (from approximately 1/4 lemon) to taste

Mint and mullein tea

Mint & Mullein Tea

  1. Place 1 tsp dried or fresh mint and 1 tsp dried mullein in tea bag or ball

  2. Pour 1 cup boiling water over herbs and allow to steep 5-10 minutes

  3. Add honey (approximately 1 tsp) to taste

Limonene tea with elderberry and lemon

Limonene (Elderberry & Lemon) Tea

  1. Place 1 tsp dried elderberries in tea bag or ball

  2. Pour 1 cup boiling water over herbs and allow to steep 3-5 minutes

  3. Add honey (approximately 1 tsp) and lemon juice (from approximately 1/4 lemon) to taste

Natural Remedy Toolboxes

The great thing about herbs is that they are incredibly versatile and can be used in tons of ways — but we know this can also be overwhelming! Below are a few consolidated lists of items that will cover your bases. And as always, be sure to check the safety precautions before using a new herb. 

Toolbox 1

  1. Lemons: add to teas for Vitamin C, limonene and zinc

  2. Honey: add to teas or other beverages for sore throats 

  3. Echinacea tablets: take with meals

  4. Peppermint essential oil: make a chest rub, sore throat spray, or diffuse

Toolbox 2

  1. Thyme essential oil: diffuse or roll onto bottoms of feet

  2. Dried elderberries: make into tea

  3. CBD tincture or capsules: take with meals

  4. Honey: add to teas or other beverages for sore throats 

Toolbox 3

  1. Vitamin C capsules: take with meals

  2. Lemon essential oil: diffuse to kill germs and bacteria in the air

  3. Honey: add to teas or other beverages for sore throats 

  4. Dried elderberries: make into tea

Did you learn something new? Please remember to share it with someone you care about! 

Echinacea herbal supplement with virus fighting terpenes

  1. Duke, J. A. (2003). Crc handbook of medicinal spices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

  2. Gladstar, R. (2014). Herbs for common ailments. Storey Publishing Llc.

  3. Johnson, R. L., Foster, S., & Weil, A. (2014). National Geographic guide to medicinal herbs: the worlds most effective healing plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

  4. Mander, L. N., & Liu, H.-W. (2010). Comprehensive Natural Products II: Chemistry and Biology. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

This article was written by Kristen Williams. and published on January 22, 2018. Copyright ©2019 Hempsley®, All Rights Reserved

Tags: herbs