Thieves Oil & How it Works

Written by samantha volz
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Thieves Oil & How it Works
A mix of essential oils called thievesoil can help prevent the spread of bacteria. (Essential oils image by MAXFX from

The idea of modelling behaviour after a group of medieval thieves may seem like a foolish plan. However, thousands of people each day use thieves oil, a blend of essential oils named after its inventors. While you may not be gearing up to rob from the sick, thieves oil can help protect you and your family from a number of illnesses.


Thieves oil originates in the 1300s, when the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, was decimating the population of Europe. According to Boise State University, the plague was first documented in Europe in the fall of 1347, and had mostly run its course and passed out of the main area of Europe by 1350. In that span of approximately 2 1/2 years, the plague killed 1/3 of the population of Europe. The plague reappeared in the later 1300s and into the 1400s, killing even more people.

Among those most greatly affected by the plague were those whose profession brought them into direct contact with the infected: doctors and clergy. So it came as some surprise when thieves were seen stealing from the bodies of the infected and the dead, and yet avoiding death themselves.

When a group of thieves were caught in France in the 1400s, officials discovered they were perfumers who had found a combination of essential oils that protected them from the plague. They rubbed this oil all over their bodies while they robbed the dead and dying, and never caught the plague themselves.

Why it Works

Even before the discovery of thieves oil, Europeans had been using essential oils in their baths and homes. Each of the oils featured in a thieves oil mix provide antibacterial qualities that destroy germs and infections in the air and on the skin, and therefore prevent the spread of airborne or touch-spread diseases.


The original thieves most certainly used cloves, rosemary and cinnamon to protect themselves. Other common ingredients in today's thieves oil mixtures include lemon and eucalyptus, both of which include high levels of vitamins and fight bacteria and germs. The ingredients can also be mixed with a base oil, such as olive oil, which makes the mixture easier to spread over the body or over surfaces.

Usage Tips

Thieves oil may be an effective germ killer, but it must be used carefully, as some of the ingredients can cause burning and irritation.

A common way to use thieves oil is to distil it in a vaporiser or oil distiller. In general, this oil should be distilled for no more than 30 minutes at a time in an enclosed area, such as a home or office. If inhaled for too long, the strong aromas of cinnamon and clove can cause throat or chest irritation in some people.

The oil can also be used directly on the body, but it must first be diluted with a base oil such as olive oil. People who are especially susceptible to rashes or sunburn can experience burning or irritation from pure thieves oil.

Rub the oil into the bottom of the feet, nape of the neck, under the arms and on the chest. Keep it away from sensitive areas such as the eyes and lips.


Diffused oil in the air will help to kill airborne germs and bacteria, include those of the flu and common cold. On the skin, thieves oil can relax sore muscles and help break up the cough and congestion from a cold.

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