December 11, 2008
This is the first post in series that explores essential oils and herbs. As its Winter and everyone seems to have a cold or flu at the moment, I decided to start with eucalyptus.
The Eucalyptus plant is very tall (80-160 ft tall) with blue grey leaves. There are 700 species each with different characteristics – flowers, fruits, bark, leaf shape, size and health/medicinal benefits.
Eucalyptus is a plant between 35-50 million years old and until 20 million years ago was only a minor part of the Australian forest. At which point, the soil started to dry out, and nutrients depleted making it difficult for other vegetation to grow. It was around this time that first humans arrived and started to use fire. Their fires actually helped spread eucalyptus. The plant has hidden sprouts underground and buds under it’s bark. When eucalyptus catches fire, it actually explodes because it is rich is flammable oil. This helps the buds hidden under the bark to spread. Once the fire has calmed down, the underground tubes open up and reveal the buds – which helps the plant to grow back very quickly after a fire.
Eucalyptus was imported from Australia in the 19th century, with the hope that it would provide lumber for the West. But wood from these trees turned out to be terrible lumber – very dense, hard to cut, and with a tendency to twist. It has since been introduced all over the world including North America, South America and Africa.
These trees have a wide range of uses (timber, teas, pulpwood, ornaments, plant dyes, essential oils and honey from some varieties) which makes it a very economically beneficial plant, especially for poorer countries.
However, it is also a plant which has can have a negative impact on the environment. One of the main drawbacks of this plant is that is draws a huge amount of water from the soil (it has been used in some areas to lower the water table) which can kill off other vegetation which has a knock on effect on wildlife. As well as drawing in a large amount of water, it also loses it very quickly again via transpiration – evaporation of water from leaves, flowers and stems.
Essential oil is obtained from steam distillation of the eucalyptus plant’s leaves and branch tips – not all species of eucalyptus can be used to make essential oil.
The oil from this plant is volatile and highly flammable – eucalyptus trees literally explode in forest fires and the oil in the air helps forest fires spread quickly.
- Powerful antiseptic
- Room fragrance: Using an oil burner or a fragrance ring instead of aerosol air fresheners
- To relieve symptoms of cold and flu: Add a couple of drops of eucalyptus oil to a tissue to relieve a blocked up nose
- Steam inhalation: Add a few drops to hot water and inhale the vapour. This is particularly good for colds and other respiratory infections
- Bath fragrance: Add a few drops to hot running water. A good alternative to SLS based bubble bath if you don’t mind a lack of bubbles
- Insect repellent: Mix eucalyptus oil with water, aloe vera gel or carrier oil. The water mix can either be sprayed directly onto your body or into linen and other fabrics like curtains
- Relieving arthritis and rheumatism: Mix with a carrier oil like almond or jojoba oil and apply to joints. If you want a salve, you can melt down beeswax and combine with almond oil and eucalyptus oil
- Removing sticky patches: You can use eucalyptus oil to remove sticky patches left by labels like price tags. Apply a small amount to a cloth and rub on the sticky patch
- Antiseptic for cuts: Mix 10 drops of eucalyptus oil in 100ml water for an antiseptic solution for cuts and scrapes
- Headlice treatment/prevention: Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to your shampoo or conditioner to keep the lice away
- General cleaner: Mix 10-15 drops of eucalyptus oil with 1 litre of water and use as a general disinfectant around the house
If you have health problems or skin sensitivities, it is always best to check with your doctor before using herbs or essential oils for medicinal purposes.
- Image source: Silver Dollar Eucalyptus, Miheco