Most people readily recognize the scent of eucalyptus, but many don’t realize that this evergreen tree also has a wide variety of uses. Koala bears typically come to mind when thinking about eucalyptus, although it is used by humans as well. The most common type of eucalyptus, known as the Blue Gum tree, grows primarily in Australia and Tasmania, although there are over 300 known variations of the plant. The leaves and leaf oil of the eucalyptus tree are typically utilized for medicinal purposes, and it is not uncommon to find eucalyptus in a number of over-the-counter drugs, cleaners and even air fresheners. Eucalyptus can be found in a number of forms.
Forms of Eucalyptus
Leaves – In both fresh and dried form, leaves of eucalyptus are used as air fresheners and in medicinal teas.
Oil – In this form, eucalyptus is added to cough and cold medicines, dental products, antiseptics and used directly to treat fevers. Oils are also used in industrial mining operations and as aromatherapy.
Ointment – Applied directly to the skin, the plant is used for treating minor aches and pains. It is also an ingredient in several over-the-counter rubs to be used as cold treatments.
Sprays – Some companies sell the plant in a spray form, allowing it to be used topically on humans and pets.
At one time, eucalyptus was thought to be a valuable treatment for diabetes. Although it does appear to cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, research continues regarding the exact benefits, if any, for diabetics. Other documented medicinal and healthy uses for eucalyptus include:
- Treatment of respiratory illnesses – Coughs, colds, sore throats, asthma, and congestion appear to respond to medicines containing eucalyptus. Relieve congestion and cough by rubbing eucalyptus oil or ointment into the chest. Another method for relieving congestion and other respiratory problems involves boiling eucalyptus leaves in a tightly covered pot filled with water then removing the pot from heat to inhale the vapors. The plant’s oil can be mixed with warm water to create a mouth rinse that helps alleviate sore throats. As an antibacterial, natural decongestant, eucalyptus often reduces the intensity and the duration of respiratory illnesses.
- Burns, cuts and insect bites – Topically, eucalyptus may be used as an antiseptic reducing the risk of infection and promoting healing.
- Muscle and joint pains – Rubbing oil from the leaves into the muscles and joints has been known to temporarily relieve pain. Below is a recipe for making your own relaxation massage oil that is great for a soothing massage:
Relaxation Massage Oil
4 drops Lavender
1 drop Petitgrain
1 drop Frankincense
All measurements are per 1 tablespoon of carrier, or base, oil. This blend may be added to a warm bath or used as massage oil.
- Reducing fevers - A small amount of the oil taken internally may temporarily reduce a fever.
- Stimulant and stress reliever – Eucalyptus leaves and oil provide an aroma that can be useful in dealing with stress and fatigue.
- Dental care - Eucalyptus oils may be found in mouthwashes and toothpastes because it’s a natural bacteria fighter.
- Bug repellant – In both Honduras and Venezuela, the plant is used to keep bugs away.
- Parasite deterrent – Guatemalans use eucalyptus to get rid of ringworm and topical parasites.
Soaps and cleansers – Commonly found in household cleaners, eucalyptus offers a healthy aroma and strong cleansing abilities. It is often used in spas and saunas for both refreshment and cleansing purposes.
- Spot and stain remover – There are companies that sell the oil for such purposes, claiming that it doesn’t leave a stain and removes tough stains such as gum and ink.
- Carpet cleaner – In a less concentrated form than the spot remover, eucalyptus spray can be used as a natural carpet cleaner without drenching the carpet.
- Doing laundry – Adding a teaspoon of oil to heavily soiled loads may clean and refresh them.
- Garden spray – You can use this spray directly on the base of plants to keep pets away.
In Australia, eucalyptus trees are often used as timber for building. They are ideal as a building material because they grow very quickly and use does not result in deforestation. In countries where the tree is not a part of the natural habitat, growing eucalyptus has not been as successful. It can have a negative affect on the native flowers and plants, and doesn’t appear to grow near as well out of its own habitat. California does have a form of eucalyptus that is now also marketed for medicinal and household use.
Eucalyptus branches can be used as bird perches providing antioxidants and other valuable minerals like calcium and magnesium. Some breeders use eucalyptus to line bird nests because mites and ticks will not live near the plant. Koalas and other animals eat from the eucalyptus plant in the wild.
Eucalyptus leaves include tannins which are used for treatment of inflammation. The oil derived from the leaves and branch tips contain cineole, which is a natural antiseptic.
Cautions and Concerns
Although the topical and aromatic use of eucalyptus is generally safe for anyone over the age of two, internal use should be considered carefully and only in small doses, particularly with young children and elderly people. Even used topically, eucalyptus may cause a rash or skin irritation if used in concentrated form. People have overdosed with only a few drops of the oil, so it is very important to follow guidelines and recipes carefully as well as consult a licensed medical professional. It should not be used by people who have high blood pressure, kidney, stomach or liver issues, diabetics, pregnant women or breast-feeding women without a doctor’s advice. As it has been known to affect blood sugar levels, insulin-dependent diabetics should be particularly cautious. It is not difficult for adults to overdose on eucalyptus oil, so medicinal recipes should be followed carefully.
For children between the ages of 2 and 6, ingestion through steam and rubs provide the least dangerous and most effective treatment, but again, the concentration should be kept low. Although approved for medical use in Germany, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stricter guidelines and has not approved the use of eucalyptus for medicinal purposes.
Often people view herbs as harmless and natural. While they are natural, they can be harmful. It is important to consider possible side effects, particularly when ingesting an herbal product. Consulting a professional herbalist or doctor is always recommended before administering any herb medicinally.