Protective Four Thieves Oil

plague mask
Copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel (ie, Dr Beak), a plague doctor in 17th century Rome, circa 1656

According to legend, in 1413 while large parts of France was being devastated by the Bubonic Plague (aka the Black Death), a group of four thieves were charged for stealing from the sick and dying.  In considering their sentence (death by burning), the judge was curious as to how come they never contracted the plague themselves. According to legend, the thieves disclosed that as they were actually unemployed perfume and spice merchants who had devised an essential oil concoction that when applied to their hands, ears, temples, feet and a mask over their mouths, kept them safe from infection. The judge apparently stayed true to his word and while the four thieves were not burned alive, they hanged for their crimes instead.

While the recipe tends to differ depending on source, some of the more common oils tend to be clove bud, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus and rosemary – all of which have various anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.

One recipe for Four Thieves oil is to mix together the following essential oils into a dark glass bottle:

  • 40 drops clove bud essential oil
  • 35 drops lemon essential oil
  • 20 drops cinnamon bark essential oil
  • 15 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops rosemary essential oil

This recipe will result in the base essential oil blend that must be diluted for safe use as the essential oil content should only account for 1 to 2% of the total formula. This means that when formulating homemade cleaning products or other creations, six to 12 drops of essential oil can be added per amount of carrier oil or other menstruum. 

esssential oil chart


To freshen the air in your home or workplace, add a few drops of the base essential oil blend to an essential oil diffuser (consult diffuser’s use guide for amount) or a pot of simmering water on the stove. Diffuse for approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

To make an all-purpose spray for cleaning your home or workplace fill a spray bottle with half water and half 91% isopropyl alcohol and add the base essential oil blend at a 1 to 2% dilution rate. Shake before using and then spray on countertops, desks, and other surfaces.

To make a massage oil for weary muscles and tired feet, mix the base essential oil blend at a 1 to 2% dilution rate with jojoba or olive oil. (Test on a small patch of skin first in case of personal skin sensitivity).

Place 1 to 2 drops of the base essential oil blend in a bowl of hot, steaming water and inhale the vapors under a towel to help relieve nasal congestion.

Safety Note: Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids that can be harmful if not used carefully and properly. Contrary to the advice some makers may offer these days, when I underwent my training in essential oils back in the 1990s, it was strongly advised NOT to ingest them and that the majority of oils (save for an extreme few) should ALWAYS be diluted in a base/carrier oil when being applied to the skin to prevent any possible irritation. Essential oils should also be kept out of reach of children.



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