Ointments called vapor rubs are designed to be rubbed directly on the chest and throat. They rely on essential oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus to produce a heating sensation that reduces constriction by stimulating blood circulation. The oils in a vapor balm are also absorbed through the skin to relieve congestion and kill infection. They serve double duty—the antibiotic scent is also inhaled into the lungs. Vapor balms sold in pharmacies still use compounds derived from antibiotic essential oils (or synthetic counterparts), such as thymol from thyme and menthol from mint.
- 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 10 drops peppermint essential oil
- 3 drops thyme essential oil
cup olive oil
- Combine the ingredients and rub on your chest and throat.
- To increase the warmth of the balm, rub the oil briskly onto the skin. A warm piece of flannel placed on the chest afterward will increase the warming sensation.
Kathi Keville is the author of eleven books, including Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (Crossing Press, 1995) and Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches herb and aromatherapy seminars throughout the United States and is director of the American Herb Association (
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Herbs for Cold and Flu.