The scent of eucalyptus essential oil is enough to clear the sinuses. Many people recognize it as a very popular fragrance. Chances are you’ve inhaled eucalyptus oil in the form of a decongestant salve or other homemade remedy. So, how can this scent be so popular when the tree is native only to Australia?
The wide range of uses of the eucalyptus tree means people exported it widely around the globe. Ancient aborigines have been using the bark, leaves, and other parts of the eucalyptus tree to trees various ailments for hundreds of years. Eucalyptus traditionally healed wounds, alleviated respiratory issues, and fought off fatigue.
Nowadays, eucalyptus essential oil is widely available. This powerful oil has antibacterial and antiviral properties that make it a popular choice for fighting off symptoms of the flu and common cold.
What Does the Eucalyptus Tree Look Like?
Eucalyptus trees are one of the fastest growing trees in the world, with some species growing up to 480 feet tall. Eucalyptus leaves are covered with oil glands, and nearly all species are evergreen. The leaves are long and slender, with both sides of the leaf being identical. Species of eucalyptus trees have various types of bark. Some are very smooth, with bark that sheds and leaves a smooth mottled surface. Others are rough-barked, with the dead bark remaining on the tree and drying out. 1 In a unique species of eucalyptus known as E. deglupta, the bark is a beautiful rainbow of purple, blue, orange and maroon tones.
Eucalyptus trees have very distinct flowers that come in a wide range of colors from vibrant pink to lime green to bright red. Interestingly enough, eucalyptus flowers do not have any petals. What from afar looks like petals are actually hundreds of stamens. The woody fruits of eucalyptus trees are also known as gum nuts. The shape and size vary depending on the particular species. 2
History of the Eucalyptus Tree
Eucalyptus refers to over 700 different species of trees, most native to Australia yet some native to New Guinea and Indonesia. Eucalyptus trees are members of the Myrtaceae family, which also includes tea tree . They are sometimes referred to as gum trees, due to a gum-like substance that exudes from the injured bark.
Up until 1770, no botanical collections of eucalyptus trees occurred. Then James Cook led an expedition that traveled to Botany Bay. Botanists collected specimens of E. gummifera and E. platyphylla . In 1777, the botanist David Nelson collected a specimen of eucalyptus in southern Tasmania. He sent this specimen to the British Museum in London, where the French botanist Charles Louis L’Héritier named it Eucalyptus obliqua .
The name Eucalyptus comes from the Greek roots eu (well), and calyptos (cover), meaning well-covered. This refers to the distinct ‘cap’ that initially conceals the flower, called the operculum.
Between 1788 and the early 1800s, more species of Eucalyptus were discovered around the Sydney area by English botanist James Edward Smith. The excessive exploration during the rest of the 19th century led to the discovery of many new eucalyptus trees all across Australia. 3
Eucalyptus trees can be found in almost every part of the Australian continent. They have adapted to all of its different climates. This is an impressive feat, considering the country ranges from dry desert to lush rainforest.
Medicinal Use of the Eucalyptus Tree
Ancient aborigines knew the eucalyptus as a cure-all. They processed different parts of the tree to make oils, pastes, salves, and other natural medicines. The German botanist and explorer Baron Ferdinand von Muller discovered the first major medicinal use of eucalyptus, its use for antiseptic purposes. Later, he encouraged commercial distillation of essential oil for medicinal use. During World War I, eucalyptus oil was in huge demand to help fight off meningitis and control the influenza outbreak of 1919.
Nowadays, government officials plant eucalyptus in places all around the world for its ability to dry up swamps. This can help control the spread of malaria by getting rid of breeding places of mosquitoes. Eucalyptus trees grow on plantations in Spain, Portugal, China, South Africa, Chile, and Russia. Pulpwood for paper making and eucalyptus essential oil are two of the most prevalent products. 4
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus essential oil is made up of over 100 different terpenes. Depending on whether or not eucalyptus oil is single or double distilled, it can contain between 60% and 80% cineole. Other terpenes include a-Pinene, b-Pinene, d- Limonene, camphor, sabinene, and a-Phellandrene. Almost all species of eucalyptus can produce eucalyptus essential oil, with all having similar therapeutic properties.
People can use eucalyptus essential oil both topically and aromatically to treat a wide range of symptoms. This powerful oil can treat minor wounds, reduce the chance of infections, alleviate respiratory issues, reduce stress, ease muscle pain, and remedy symptoms of the common cold. People can take Cineole, also known as eucalyptol, internally for up to 12 weeks. If you do plan on ingesting the oil, you should first consult with a qualified health professional.
Some Ideas for Using Eucalyptus Essential Oil:
- Mix eucalyptus essential oil with beeswax and olive oil to make an easy decongestant salve to rub under your nose and on your chest
- Sniff this essential oil directly from the bottle when you are feeling congested
- Diffuse eucalyptus essential oil throughout your room when you are feeling fatigued
- Mix this oil in a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil and apply to cuts, scrapes, bruises, and other minor wounds
- Mix a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil with a carrier oil and massage onto sore muscles
- Diffuse this oil throughout your room when you feel the beginnings of a cold
- Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a bowl of steaming water, cover your head with a towel, and breathe in the steam to ease congestion
Eucalyptus trees are both beautiful and powerfully medicinal. For example, you can chew the leaves in moderation. You can also make it into a decongestant tea. The essential oil concentrates these potent medicinal properties and you can use it when you are feeling fatigued, congested, or simply a bit under the weather.
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