Eucalyptus, a member of the family Myrtaceae, originally comes from Australia and Tasmania, but has been introduced to many other countries in the past two centuries, now being cultivated in Brazil, China, Spain, California and India among others. There are more than four hundred varieties of eucalyptus, but Eucalyptus globulus, or Tasmanian blue gum as it is also known, is the one from which the essential oil used in aromatherapy is extracted. Its history as a herb used in folk medicine stretches back several hundred years -the aboriginal people of Australia used it a great deal, particularly in the treatment of fever. The trees are highly aromatic, and it is wonderful to stand amongst them breathing in their aroma, especially after rain. Their presence in planting schemes near buildings helps to deter insects. In some places the trees are planted as a preventative measure against malaria, and anywhere where eucalyptus trees grow will benefit from the fragrance and the healthy atmosphere that they give to the area.
Eucalyptus is widely used by the pharmaceutical and confectionery industries. It is a component in various cough medicines, throat sweets, ointments, sports liniments and toothpaste.
Eucalyptus oil is one of the most popular and commonly used essential oils. It is obtained from the leaves of the tree by the process of steam extraction. The uses of eucalyptus oil are many. Few people will respond negatively to its stimulating, clean aroma. Its effects are warming, invigorating and refreshing, and it has strong antiseptic, anaesthetic and healing properties. It can be used in steam inhalations, baths and massage, and it is particularly beneficial in the treatment of respiratory infections such as bronchitis, croup and tracheitis. When used in vaporizers and spray diff users it not only deodorizes the atmosphere but also acts as a bactericidal fumigating agent. A vaporizer or a bowl of hot water, with a few drops of eucalyptus oil added, placed in the room of a person suffering from a stuffy nose or a troublesome cough, will do much to aid a restful night’s sleep. A few drops of eucalyptus oil on a pillow will help to decongest a blocked nose and will be much appreciated by sufferers of sinusitis. During the day, a handkerchief to which eucalyptus oil has been applied can be used for inhalation purposes.
Used as an ingredient in massage oil, the warming effect of eucalyptus is therapeutic for muscular pain and stiffness. A couple of drops of eucalyptus oil in a sitz bath will help in the treatment of urinary tract infections. The bactericidal and antiseptic properties of the oil also make it suitable for treatment of skin lesions, but it must be used in dilution as it is very strong and can irritate the skin. It can be used to treat athlete’s foot, insect bites parasitic conditions such as ringworm and head lice, and it is soothing in the treatment of herpes and shingles.
Eucalyptus oil is an effective insect repellent, either used in a room spray or sprinkled on strips of ribbon hung from the ceiling (but keep these well away from light bulbs and heat sources).
Suitable methods of use
Eucalyptus oil is irritating to the skin. Always dilute well. Eucalyptus oil is potent and a little goes a long way. It does not have to be used in large quantities to have the desired effect: three drops will suffice for a bath. Use sparingly in blends to avoid the fragrance overpowering others. Some therapists recommend that eucalyptus oil is not used in early pregnancy. Warning: Eucalyptus oil is very toxic if taken internally.