Cinnamon vs. Cold Season

Science is learning that essential oils offer more than just comforting scents. These plant-based oils may be able to kick colds and other bacteria to the curb.

Cinnamon bark, for example, has a compound known as cinnamaldehyde, which studies indicate can be effective against bacteria like E. coli. Lemongrass, which contains geraniol, may help when fighting pneumonia. Thyme contains compounds called thymol and carvacol, which fight disease-causing bacteria and fungi that can lead to ailments such as candida and S. aureus.

One study found that sweet basil displayed a “great potential of antibacterial activity” against a host of familiar enemies: Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, S. dysenteriae, and Salmonella typhi.[

Another study was even more comprehensive: Out of 21 essential oils tested in a lab, 19 showed antibacterial activity against one or more bacterial strains. “Cinnamon, clove, geranium, lemon, lime, orange, and rosemary oils exhibited significant inhibitory effect,” the study reported. “Cinnamon oil showed promising inhibitory activity even at low concentration . . . against the tested bacteria.”

Some scientists are hopeful that as bugs like MRSA become ever more resistant to drugs, essential oils could prove to be a secret weapon. How so?

How They Work
Essential oils are rich in chemicals like phenols and ketones—the same chemical molecules that the pharmaceutical industry targets.

Phenols in particular are helpful in bolstering the immune system and acting against virus and bacteria in ways that are nontoxic and without side effects.

And that’s the interesting part: Because the chemical constituents of pure essential oils are so variable—effected by everything from rainfall, daylight, soil conditions, and elevation—their make-up may be too elusive to adapt to. That variance might prevent viruses, fungi, and bacteria to develop the resistances they now have with well-known drugs, all of which have precisely measured chemical formulas.

More research still needs to be done, of course, and this thinking does not apply to anything but the best quality and properly distilled essential oils that have no chemical additives or base oils. (That leaves out, for example, perfume-grade oils, which are chemically modified.)

Still, this is great news for those looking for an alternative to toxic antibacterial agents. Essential oils should not be taken internally. Discuss how you plan to use essential oils with your healthcare practitioner.

Click to See Our Sources

“Antibacterial Activity of Essential Oils and Their Major Constituents Against Respiratory Tract Pathogens by Gaseous Contact” by S. Inouye et al., Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy,, 1/22/01

“The Antibacterial Properties of Essential Oils” by Owen Pearson,, 4/26/11

“In Vitro Antibacterial Activity of Some Plant Essential Oils” by S. Prabuseenivasan et al., BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine,, 11/30/06

Leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach are the top causes of food poisoning in this country.

Which makes recent research from the University of Maryland even more intriguing.

University researchers recently implanted E. coli and Salmonella on lettuce pieces. They then treated the lettuce with either a solution of chlorine or a solution of cinnamaldehyde (the natural compound that gives cinnamon its flavor and scent). They found the cinnamon essential oil worked just as well as chlorine in controlling the bacteria. They believe their work demonstrates the potential of someday using the cinnamaldehyde compound in a lettuce wash product. (Essential oils should not be taken internally.)


"Antimicrobial Activity of Plant Essential Oils Against Escherichia coli . . . and Salmonella on Lettuce" by N. Yossa et al., Foodborne Pathog Dis, 1/13


Lynn Tryba

Chief Content Officer

Lynn aims to empower people to make informed decisions about their health and wellness by presenting the latest research on exercise, nutrients, and supplements in reader-friendly ways. She has a deep respect for the power of food as preventive medicine and believes that small steps in the right direction make a big difference.