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Hayfever and Allergies

April 2017

The joys of spring and summer are manifold. Here at Materia Aromatica we love watching the trees sprout new growth and humble garden plants transform into flowering beauties, providing nectar for happy bees and insects. Unfortunately though the pollen released by the season’s blooms and grasses spells misery for many of us.

There are so many pollen producing plants, trees and fungi that, without allergy testing, it’s often difficult to know which pollens cause you problems. Additionally people’s reactions to pollen and to the various hay fever remedies available vary widely. However there are several commonly experienced symptoms that you might relate to, including blocked sinuses, runny noses and itchy eyes.

An essential oil that can be useful in alleviating hayfever symptoms is Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis). This noble plant, named Laurel by our ancient ancestors, sports hardy, oval leaves commonly used to flavour soups, stews and even desserts. It can grow as tall as 20 metres and has historically been associated with success - think of statues and paintings depicting ancient Roman leaders, their heads garlanded with bay wreaths. According to Ancient Greek legend priestesses at Delphi chewed bay leaves to prepare themselves for reading oracles. Other uses through the ages have included popping a leaf in your mouth to guard against misfortune and adorning your head with a bay garland as protection from lighting strikes. Of particular interest to aromatherapists is that in Ancient Greece Bay Laurel was sacred to Apollo, a god of healing and medicine.

Health-wise the whole leaf has traditionally been used to aid digestion, fight infections and relieve rheumatic pain. These reflect some of its modern day aromatherapy uses where Laurel essential oil is often added to blends for painful joints and aching muscles. Aromatherapists also use the oil to ease flu symptoms, treat swollen lymph nodes and to support the immune system. It’s rich in the oxide 1.8 cineol making it useful for treating respiratory complaints, hence its recommendation as hay fever fighting weapon. In her book ‘Essential Oils’ Jennifer Peace-Rhind cites a 2003 study which demonstrated laurel’s impressive anti-inflammatory actions - another reason to include it in your hay fever toolkit.

There are some safety cautions to be aware of with Bay Laurel. Tisserand and Young list it as a potential carcinogen due to its methyleugenol content. It can irritate the mucous membrane and is a sensitisor, so it should only be used in low dilutions and not on damaged skin. Avoid if pregnant. Its high cineol content means it should not be directly inhaled by young children. Take care not to confuse Bay Laurel leaf essential oil with the one distilled from its berries, or with West Indian Bay which is a different plant entirely. A good reminder to check the botanical details on your bottles!


We have some suggestions for coping with pollen allergies. You might need to experiment with different combinations of essential oils and/or application methods, to find which work best for you. For acute hay fever sufferers we recommend a multi-action approach, at least to start with. If your hay fever symptoms are relatively mild you might want to try just one of our suggestions. We recommend that you use these remedies for a maximum of 2 weeks, then give yourself a week off. Vary the oils you use every few weeks – don’t stick to the same blends all summer.

Breath Easy Steam Inhalation

Try this 2-3 times daily for 5 days, then take a break for 5-7 days and repeat if needed.

  • Fill a bowl with very hot water. It doesn’t need to be boiling, but make sure it’s steaming nicely.
  • Add 1 drop each of True Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) & Eucalyptus Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oils.
  • Lean over the bowl, cover your head and the bowl with a towel and inhale through your nose. Take 3 deep breaths.
  • Come up for air & repeat 2-3 more times. Remember to keep your eyes tightly shut.
  • Change your inhalation oils regularly – try Bay Laurel, German Chamomile, Peppermint and Eucalyptus (globulus or radiata). Diffusing or vaporising 2-4 of these oils in the evening should also help calm and clear your sinuses.

Safety note: The inhalation steam might make you cough at first. Steam inhalations are for older young people and adults only, don’t use them with children or if you suffer from asthma.

Cooling Facial Massage Oil

Massage into the outside of your nose & your sinus areas 2-3 times daily, taking care to avoid the skin around your eyes.

  • Add 7 drops of German chamomile (Chamomilla recutita), 5 drops Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and 3 drops Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) essential oils to 30mls of Calendula phytol (or a high percentage aloe vera gel). Mix well – tooth picks make great mixing sticks. Store in a glass coloured glass jar.
  • You could also massage this oil into your upper back and chest to bring relief to your over-worked respiratory system.

Sleep Tight Duvet Spray

This is an alternative to vaporizing essential oils before bedtime. Keep your duvet spray in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks.

  • Fill a 60ml glass bottle with a spray top (atomiser) and fill with lavender hydrolat or filtered water.
  • Add 5 drops of Pine (Pinus sylvestris), 4 drops of True Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and 3 drops of Thyme linalool (Thymus vulgaris CT linalool)
    essential oils.
  • Shake the bottle well before spraying. Adding a little high proof vodka will help the essential oils & waters mix better (use as high a proof vodka as possible).
  • Spray a little on the top of your duvet cover before bed.

We wish you all the best for a happy and hay fever-free summer.


  • Brown D (2001) Herbal The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living, London: Barnes & Noble Books
  • Hensel W (2008) Medicinal Plants of Britain and Europe, London: A&C Black
  • Johnson AT & Smith HA (1972) Plant Names Simplified, Abingdon: The Hamlyn Publishing Group
  • Lawless J (1995) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Dorset, Massachusetts & Victoria: Element
  • Peace Rhind J (2012) Essential Oils (second edition), London & Philadelphia; Singing Dragon
  • Price L & Price S (2007) Aromatherapy for Health Professionals (3rd Edition), Churchill Livingstone Elsevier
  • Tisserand R & Young R (2014) Essential Oil Safety (second edition), Edinburgh, London, New York et al: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier