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Eucalyptus: A Favorite of the Koala, It May Become Your Favorite Herb, Too

Story at-a-glance

  • The eucalyptus is a family of trees native to Australia. It is a favorite of the koala, but did you know that the Australian indigenous populations used it for medicinal purposes as well
  • Discover how you can also benefit from eucalyptus here

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.) is an Australian tree species belonging to the Myrtaceae family. The species is wide-ranging, containing over 900 different variants, ranging from short, bushy plants to giant trees. Despite their differences, they are easily identified by their pungent aroma and exfoliating bark.1

In 1777, English botanist-explorer David Nelson collected a sample eucalypt from Bruny Island in southern Tasmania. It was taken to the British Museum in London, and was given the name Eucalyptus obliqua by Charles-Louis L'Héritier de Brutelle, a fellow botanist from France. The name was derived from the Greek root words "eu" and "calyptos," meaning "well" and "covered," which referred to the cover of the flower bud. "Obliqua," derived from the Latin word "obliquus," referred to the oblique appearance of the sample's leaf.2

In the following years, many other species of eucalyptus were discovered, as more settlers and explorers began to explore the Australian landscape. James Edward Smith, another English botanist, discovered three different species of eucalyptus in 1788 alone.3 You might be interested to know that the koala, an herbivore mammal native to Australia, is the only mammal that can survive on a diet consisting of eucalyptus alone. In fact, this plant species is their favorite food.

Other animals cannot digest eucalyptus leaves, because too much of it can be poisonous. The koala has the advantage of having a specialized caecum, which is a section in the digestive tract containing millions of beneficial bacteria that can break down the eucalyptus leaves safely.4

Rainbow Eucalyptus: A Unique Tree That Will Surely Grab Your Attention

The rainbow eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus deglupta) is a standout in the eucalyptus family. It can grow up to 250 feet tall, and as the name implies, has a rainbow-colored bark. This occurs when the tree sheds its bark in different places and sizes, at different intervals throughout the year. As a result, the pattern never stays the same.5

Another unique feature of rainbow eucalyptus is that it is the only eucalyptus variant that grows in the northern hemisphere, particularly in tropical forests. It is mainly found in New Guinea, Indonesia and the Mindanao region in the Philippines, where it is commonly called "Mindanao gum."6

Rainbow eucalyptus is mainly used for decorative and shade purposes, but it has various practical uses as well. It is prized for its wood and bark, which is used to make paper.7 If you're wondering if it's possible to grow rainbow eucalyptus in your home, you can — as long as you live in a frost-free area. However, this isn't recommended.

A fully-grown rainbow eucalyptus tree can grow quite tall and can quickly become a problem in your garden and your neighborhood, disrupting the soil and breaking up sidewalks. This tree is better suited to parks and fields that can be enjoyed by the public.8

The Health Benefits of Eucalyptus

The Australian aboriginal populations were the first to discover the health benefits of eucalyptus. Since then, more ways to use it medicinally have been discovered. Well-known benefits include:9

Eliminating Bacteria

Eucalyptus has been discovered to have antibacterial properties early on. Towards the end of the 19th century, it was used in English hospitals to disinfect urinary catheters, and recent research can support this claim. In a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine (APJTB), researchers discovered that essential oil extracted from Eucalyptus globulus leaves is particularly effective against common strains of bacteria, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.10

Helping Promote Oral Care

The compounds found in eucalyptus can help promote oral health. In one study, participants who regularly chewed on gum laced with eucalyptus extract had lowered levels of plaque accumulation, and had healthier gums overall.11

Helping Provide Respiratory Relief

Eucalyptus can help provide relief from runny noses, coughs and colds to help you breathe easier, as well as loosening phlegm, which is why you'll find it as an ingredient in many products such as cough syrups, rubs and vapor baths.12

Helping Relieve Pain

In one study, researchers applied eucalyptus ointment on participants and discovered that it was able to help provide temporary pain relief, making it useful for athletes after a game. Furthermore, the findings suggest that it can be used as a passive form of warm-up due to its ability to raise muscle temperature.13

Various Uses of Eucalyptus

Aside from using eucalyptus for its healing benefits, the Australian indigenous populations found other practical uses for it. The wood was used to make tools, weapons, transportation and instruments to fit their needs. Today, eucalyptus is mainly used to manufacture paper and furniture. Its leaves are also used to create essential oils for aromatherapy.14

When planted in your garden, eucalyptus offers several advantages. The strong aroma of its oils can help act as a natural insect, while the wood can serve as mulch to help improve soil conditions and control the growth of weeds. To make the mulch, simply distribute chopped eucalyptus wood or bark on the soil. The oils in the mulch can help repel plant-eating pests as well.15

Growing Eucalyptus in Your Home

Growing eucalyptus requires careful consideration. Do you have a backyard that can accommodate a eucalyptus tree once it has fully grown? If not, you may want to choose a species that can fit into containers, so that it can be grown on your patio or another location in your garden. The guide below focuses on how to cultivate smaller types of eucalyptus.

Preparing to Plant Eucalyptus

Most species of eucalyptus require full sun to reach their maximum capacity, but certain species can tolerate partial shade, such as E. neglecta and E. crenulata. Another advantage of eucalyptus is that it can adapt to a wide range of soils, as long as the area has good drainage.16

Purchase seeds of your preferred eucalyptus species, then sow them in a shady area in your soil during spring, then cover them in plastic. Once the seeds grow, transplant each seedling into small pots. You may sow seeds directly into containers as well.17

Maintaining Eucalyptus

Once the seeds start to grow, little maintenance is needed. Watering should be moderate, and only done when the soil becomes dry. If your area is currently experiencing drought, you will have to increase the amount to compensate for the high temperatures. Fertilizers are not recommended when growing eucalyptus, as they can destroy the quality of the plants due to their phosphorus content.18

Pruning is important when maintaining your trees. You must control the top growth or else the plants will become too heavy and will not become stable. You will also need to clean the area around the trees for safety reasons, because the bark is considered flammable.19

Harvesting and Storing Eucalyptus

You may cut the branches and leaves as the plant grows.20 Gathered leaves can be grouped into a bunch and air-dried upside down or wrapped in a paper towel. Once they're dry, store them in an airtight glass jar.21

Eucalyptus Recipe: How to Make Eucalyptus Tea

One of the most common foods you can create from eucalyptus is tea. It allows you to enjoy all the nutrients in an efficient manner and is very easy to make. Just follow the steps below:22

Ingredients:

1 cup of water

1/2 tsp. of dried eucalyptus leaves per cup of water

Raw, organic honey to taste (optional)

Procedure:

1. Bring the water to a boil.

2. Place the leaves in the teapot.

3. Pour the boiling water and let the tea brew for five to 10 minutes.

4. Add honey to taste (optional).

5. Serve and enjoy.

Note: It’s advised that you limit drinking eucalyptus tea to a maximum of two to three cups a day only. Excess consumption can cause digestive problems, such as vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.23

Eucalyptus Essential Oil Allows You to Enjoy the Benefits Conveniently

Eucalyptus essential oil is well-loved in the field of aromatherapy. There are around 500 different species of eucalyptus essential oil produced around the world, but these four are the most commonly used:

Making Infused Eucalyptus Oil

The great thing about eucalyptus oil is that you can make it in your own home, especially if you have leftovers from making tea. Below are a few things you need to make infused eucalyptus oil:

Infused Eucalyptus Oil

Ingredients:

Kitchen weighing scale

2 ounces of eucalyptus leaves

Olive oil or a different carrier oil

Crock pot

Small-gauge mesh strainer

Airtight jar made of dark glass

Procedure:

1. Gently crush the eucalyptus leaves with your fist to release the oil. You may use more or less depending on the size of your crock pot.

2. Place the eucalyptus leaves in the crock pot.

3. Add 1 cup of olive oil for every 1/4 ounce of leaves in the crock pot.

4. Place the lid on the crock pot and turn it on at low heat. Let the mixture steep for 6 hours.

5. Strain the eucalyptus oil through the mesh strainer and into the jar.

6. Seal the jar and date it.

7. Store the eucalyptus oil in a cool, dry spot, where it will remain viable for 6 months. If needed longer, store the oil in the vegetable crisper drawer in your refrigerator, where it will last for about a year.

Benefits of Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus oil has diverse benefits when used in different ways. However, make sure you dilute this essential oil in a safe carrier oil before using. Areas it can benefit include:

Side Effects of Eucalyptus Oil

Before using eucalyptus oil (or any essential oil), it's important to be aware of the side effects. Eucalyptus oil has been known to cause:24

It's important to consult with a doctor first before using eucalyptus oil. In doing so, you can lower your risk of any of these side effects.

Sources and References

  • 1 Gardening Know How, “Eucalyptus Tree Types: Popular Varieties of Eucalyptus for Landscapes”
  • 2, 3 Australian National Botanic Gardens, “The History of Eucalyptus”
  • 4 Australian Koala Foundation, “The Koalas Diet & Digestion”
  • 5, 6 TreeHugger, “Nature Blows My Mind! Rainbow Colored Trees Grow Over 200 Feet Tall! (Video)” October 8, 2014
  • 7 Owlcation, June 8, 2017
  • 8 Gardening Know How, “Can You Grow a Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree?”
  • 9 Medical News Today, “Eucalyptus: What Are the Health Benefits?” February 17, 2017
  • 10 Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, “Antibacterial Activity of the Essential Oils From the Leaves of Eucalyptus Globulus Against Escherichi
  • 11 Journal of Periodontology, “Effect of Eucalyptus Extract Chewing Gum on Periodontal Health: A Double-Masked, Randomized Trial.” August 2008
  • 12 Fox News, January 30, 2012
  • 13 American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, “Effects of a Topically Applied Counterirritatnt (Eucalyptamint) on Cutaneous Blood Flow and o
  • 14 Woodland Trust, “Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.)”
  • 15 SFGate, “Eucalyptus Uses for Getting Rid of Pests”
  • 16, 19 Gardening Know How, “Eucalyptus Tree Care — Tips on Growing Eucalyptus”
  • 17, 18 Gardening Know How, “Propagating Eucalyptus: How to Grow Eucalyptus From Seed or Cuttings”
  • 20 The Spruce, “How to Grow and Use the Eucalyptus Plant”
  • 21 The Spruce, “How to Grow and Use the Eucalyptus Plant” January 25, 2017
  • 22, 23 The Right Tea, “Eucalyptus Tea”
  • 24 Livestrong.com, October 3, 2017
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