Updated: May 11
With colds, flus and respiratory illnesses on the rise again this autumn, I've decided to discuss Eucalyptus as the next Ingredient of the Month.
History & origin
Originating in sunny Australia, there are many varieties of Eucalyptus trees and depending on whether it's a desert or a rainforest species, may need sunshine or plenty of moisture to flourish in other countries. Eucalyptus trees are thought to be one of the oldest species on the planet, with some encyclopaedias stating that eucalypts - trees similar to the modern Eucalyptus genus - originated about 35-50 million years ago. According to this theory, about 20 million years ago when the Australian continent begun to dry, perfect forest and soil conditions were created for the Eucalyptus to develop, grow and spread. When humans came onto the scene 50,000 years ago, fires became more frequent and the fire-loving and resistant Eucalyptus trees started spreading to cover approximately 70% of all Australian forests.
Having been exported to other countries in the recent centuries, Eucalyptus has now become a popular ingredient worldwide in beauty products, aromatherapy, cleaning products as well as home decoration and a greenhouse favourite. It was first brought to Kew in the UK in 1774, however the coastal Australian seed did not survive the cold British winters and it wasn't until the mid 1800s when the Tasmanian seed successfully survived in the UK. After WWII, Eucalyptus became more widely used as foliage and ornamental trees and they are now a common sight in the UK plantations also as firewood and biomass sources.
There are over 700 varieties of Eucalyptus, most of them growing like trees and some like shrubs. Approximately 500 of these varieties are used to produce essential oils, some with different qualities and slightly varying scents, however most of them consist of the same constituents and have a similar fragrance. The one most commonly used comes from the Eucalyptus globulus species, also know as Blue Gum. The tree grows quickly, up to about 2.5 meters a year, resulting in the well-known mottled trunk when it sheds its bark during the rapid growth.
While koalas love the Eucalyptus leaves as their primary diet, humans have been using the tree mainly as building material and to make paper. In the 18th century, surgeons begun using Eucalyptus oils in operations due to its antiseptic qualities and properties similar to the English Peppermint.
Starting with aromatherapy, Eucalyptus is a popular essential oil to use for relieving ailments such as sinus congestion as well as boosting and reviving the mind and spirit. Its fresh scent is not just great to provide a jolt of energy, but has also been shown to eliminate harmful airborne bacteria, viruses and moulds, therefore purifying the air and creating a cleansed, peaceful environment. Often used in saunas or diffusers, this oil is a popular choice in aromatherapy for its scent as well as the many benefits for body and mind. Burning Eucalyptus leaves is also believed to cleanse a living space - Aboriginal people believe that negative energy disappears in the place where you burn the Eucalyptus leaf.
In beauty products and when used topically, Eucalyptus oil can help fight dandruff and ease itchy scalp, provide a soothing and cooling sensation, as well as work as a natural insecticide to eliminate lice. Not only is the oil good for keeping insects away, if grown as a houseplant the Eucalyptus tree can keep flies and mosquitoes away from the home. Its antiseptic, anti-microbial and antibacterial qualities help ease the discomfort of rashes, eczema, scrapes and wounds, cuts, bites, stings and burns as it not only soothes the skin and reduces itching, but also protects wounds and openings from infections and promotes faster healing. If added to bath products such as salts or soaks or if used in massage oils, Eucalyptus oil can soothe and rejuvenate sore and stiff muscles. In toothpastes or mouthwashes, Eucalyptus soothes sore gums, promotes oral hygiene and works as a breath freshener.
IMPORTANT! Eucalyptus oil should always be used diluted in water or carrier oil if applied topically to the skin. It is not intended to be ingested and even when used topically, a patch test should be done as it may cause an allergic reaction or skin irritation in some people. Eucalyptus oil should not be used by pregnant or breast feeding women without prior consultation with a medical professional. As always, this article is not intended as medical advice and should not be used as such.
Some research has shown that eucalyptol - a chemical found in Eucalyptus oil - can help break up mucus in people with asthma, therefore allowing people with severe asthma to reduce the amount of medications they take. It is also used in aromatherapy such as diffusers, candles, nasal sprays or room fresheners to aid with sinus congestion and to ease stuffy nose and generally improve breathing as well as cough. You can also use the oil in a rub applied to your chest to release mucus and expel it through coughing to help clear the chest.
If used in mouthwash or toothpaste, Eucalyptus oil may improve gingivitis, reduce dental plaque and aid in improving bad breath in some people.
Many creams for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis contain Eucalyptus oil as it is shown to aid with pain relief of those types of arthritis. Eucalyptus oil helps reduce pain and inflammation associated with several conditions and can be used for joint and back pains and injuries, as well as soothing sore or stiff muscles.
Eucalyptus is mainly talked about for its benefits to the body and mind, however it is also a great addition to any kitchen. Eucalyptus oil removes grease and grime and is therefore a brilliant addition to any cleaning product. Also often used to clean toilet bowls, windows and as air or fabric freshener, the oil eliminates airborne bacteria and mould, not only leaving your home smelling fresh, but also contributing to cleaner air and eliminating respiratory issues.