Aromatherapy on Respiratory Conditions in Children

by Jesscia North O’Connell

My very first experience with aromatherapy occurred even before I’d ever heard the term. I was a young mother with a houseful of kids (five in all, one of whom had asthma), and found myself dealing with upper respiratory ailments quite frequently. They were, after all, in school and daycare, and were exposed to “everything that was going around.”

On the advice of our family physician, I began diffusing Eucalyptus essential oil from our local pharmacy to help clear congestion and ease breathing. When I learned, years later, that Eucalyptus globulus was contraindicated for use with children under the age of three (in fact, all Eucalyptus types are, despite my having been originally taught that E. smithii was appropriate for children!), I was so grateful we had escaped any serious side effects.

As mothers tend to be the primary healthcare attendants in the lives of their children, I think it’s imperative that we be well-educated regarding the use of essential oils around children. While there are a number of essential oils that should not be used on young children, this article is limited to those commonly used for respiratory ailments.

Image by Barney Moss

The following are deemed unsuitable for use with infants and young children:

Peppermint (Mentha piperita): The menthol content in this essential oil may affect the breathing and interfere with the central nervous system, thus causing problems in children aged three and under. Between four and six years of age, you may use a 1% dilution[i] for massage (I recommend into the soles of the feet), or diffuse it into the air in very low amounts. Even though we may not be able to smell it, that doesn’t mean a diffused essential oil isn’t effective!

Eucalyptus (globulus, radiata): Components in Eucalyptus essential oil makes it unsuitable for topical use with young children under the age of three for the same reasons cited above. For children ages three to six, you can use this essential oil in a 1% dilution for topical application (again, I recommend massaging into the soles of the feet) or diffuse into the air in low amounts.

With regards to using Eucalyptus and Peppermint, I prefer to err on the side of caution and so avoid using these on children under the age of six.

As a safer alternative for use with children suffering from respiratory ailments, aromatherapist and researcher Robert Tisserand recommends Rosalina, aka Lavender Tea Tree (Melaleuca ericfolia), Spruce (Tsuga Canadensis) and Pine (Pinus sylvestris). However, do not use either Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) nor Huon Pine (Lagarostrobus franklinii, Dacrydium franklinii), as these are not suitable. In my own experience, I’ve found that Frankincense is a wonderful essential oil for the respiratory system, especially to relieve congestion.

Always bear in mind that any of these is to be used in low dilution (i.e., 1%) and low amounts in diffusion.

Do bear in mind, also, that essential oils are medicine. Overuse can result in ineffectiveness at least and sensitization at worst. Using essential oils when needed is a better way to proceed than using them constantly “for prevention,” as a child’s developing immune system is actually strengthened by exposure to elements in the environment.

As aromatherapists, parents turn to us to learn how to safely use this wonderful modality, especially when it comes to helping their children. I heartily urge you to share this information with all mothers, fathers, grandparents and other child guardians in your practice.

[i] Approximately 6 drops of essential oil into 30ml or 1 oz. of carrier oil

Jessica North-O’Connell is founding Priestess of Faerie Mound Mystery School and Great Goddess Alive! Alchemical Arts & Services. She has been a practicing aromatherapist for 20 years, a Reiki and Soul Realignment practitioner, as well as a Tarot and Rune reader. She offers classes and programs and has aspirations of opening a Retreat center for creative recovery. Find her at and