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Health Benefits of Eucalyptus

Smita Dongre

Eucalyptus is an Australian evergreen tree. The therapeutic effect of eucalyptus leaves was first realized by the aboriginal people of Australia. It became a traditional remedy that cured diseases. It is used by people throughout the world in the form of pills, inhalers, ointments and salves for a variety of ailments. Eucalyptus aids in the treatment of colds, flu, bronchitis, chest congestion, respiratory infections and pneumonia. Eucalyptus leaves are a potent antiseptic and anti-bacterial agent and often used externally in the treatment of small cuts, wounds, burns, sores and ulcers.

Oil from the eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus globulus) is used today in many over-the-counter cough and cold products, to relieve congestion. Eucalyptus oil is also found in creams and ointments used to relieve muscle and joint pain, and in some mouthwashes.

The eucalyptus tree is native to Australia and serves as the main food for koalas. The oil was used in traditional Aboriginal medicines to heal wounds and fungal infections. Teas made of eucalyptus leaves were also used to reduce fevers. Eucalyptus soon spread to other traditional medicine systems, including Chinese, Indian (Ayurvedic), and Greek and European.

In 19th-century England, eucalyptus oil was used in hospitals to clean urinary catheters. Laboratory studies later showed that eucalyptus oil contains substances that kill bacteria. It also may kill some viruses and fungi. Studies in animals and test tubes also found that eucalyptus oil acts as an expectorant, meaning it loosens phlegm.

Plant Description

There are many species of eucalyptus. Some are the size of an ornamental shrub, and some grow to be giant trees. The type of eucalyptus that is most often used as medicine is called blue gum or Australian fever tree. It can grow as high as 230 feet. Its 4 - 12 inch leaves are dark green and shiny. Its blue-gray bark peels to reveal a cream-colored inner bark.

What’s It Made Of

The leaves and oil of the eucalyptus plant are used as medicine. Eucalyptus oil consists of the volatile oil made from the fresh leaves and branch tops of the eucalyptus plant. Eucalyptus leaves contain tannins, which are believed to help reduce inflammation; flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants; and volatile oils.

Available Forms

Eucalyptus oil is available in many products, including liquids and ointments. The leaves of the eucalyptus plant are available fresh, dried (to be used in teas), and in liquid extracts. Commercial cough drops, syrups, vaporizer fluids, liniments, toothpastes, and mouthwashes may contain eucalyptus oil or its active ingredient, cineole. Some of the familiar over-the-counter remedies that contain eucalyptus oil include Listerine, Mentholatum Cherry Chest Rub, and Vicks VapoRub.

Medicinal Uses and Indications

Although eucalyptus oil has been used orally to treat some conditions, the oil is toxic when taken by mouth and must be diluted. You should not take eucalyptus oil by mouth unless your doctor tells you to.

For internal use, Eucalyptus can be made into a tea or tincture.  See How to Make Herbal Teas for complete instructions on teas.  Teas can also be used as a gargle for relief of sore throat. 

To make a tincture, place 200 grams of dried or 300 grams of fresh Eucalyptus leaves in a large sterilized jar.  Cover completely with rum or vodka, seal,  and let sit 10-14 days, shaking the jar every few days.  After two weeks, place a cheesecloth or muslin cloth over the mouth of the jar and strain the contents into a new sterilized jar.  Squeeze the soaked herb to get as much of the mixture as possible.  Store in a dark place and take 1 teaspoon mixed with juice or water 2-3 times per day.

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