The name comes from the Greek eucalyptos, meaning well-covered, probably because the flower buds are covered with a membrane.

There are more than 500 species of eucalyptus plants ranging from shrubs to 480-foot giants, making eucalyptus some of the tallest trees in the world. Most are evergreen and all produce oils. Native to Australia, the eucalyptus constitutes much of the vegetation on that continent.

Aborigines play major role

The Australian aborigines deserve all the credit for the discovery of eucalyptus oil. Interestingly, the eucalyptus tree stores water in its roots. Many aborigines dig up a length of the root, blow into one end, and catch the water that comes out of the other end. The eucalyptus tree received one of its common names, “Australian fevertree,” from its ability to help fight malaria. Aborigines planted the trees in mosquito-infested marshes. Soon the trees dried the marshes through their heavy feeding, thereby killing the mosquitoes by denying the insects the moisture they need to breed.

The oil, made from the leaves, is considered a germicide, antiseptic, and astringent. The leaves can be used widely, but never use the oil at full strength.

It is wonderful to throw a handful of the leaves in your bath or use it in a facial steam. One teaspoon of the oil in one cup of water rubbed on the skin makes a perfect insect repellent for animals and humans.

Respiratory aid

Eucalyptus is most notably used for the relief of the symptoms of bronchitis, asthma, and croup. Steeping the leaves in hot water for twenty minutes and then breathing the vapors is highly therapeutic. Commercially made cough drops often contain eucalyptus for this reason.

The leaves are useful in astringents, shampoos, and bath products, to relieve aching joints and muscles, as well as in soaps and massage oils. The scent helps open respiratory paths. Jeanne Rose, author of Herbs & Things, recommends the leaves be used in sleep pillows for asthma and bronchial problems. [Jeanne Rose, Herbs & Things: Jeanne Rose’s Herbal, New York: Pergiee Books, 1972, pp. 59-6o.]

According to Mrs. M. Grieve, author of A Modern Herbal, “The medicinal Eucalyptus Oil is probably the most powerful antiseptic of its class, especially when it is old, as ozone is formed in it on exposure to the air. It has a decided disinfectant action, destroying the lower forms of life.” [Mrs. Maud Grieve, A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees With All Their Modern Scientific Uses, Vol. I, reprint, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1982, p. 289.] She further concludes that an ointment of eucalyptus is helpful for chapped hands, dandruff, and pains in the joints and muscles.

Chemical constituents include a terpene and a cymene. The oil also contains a crystallizable resin, derived from eucalyptol. One method for determining the eucalyptol depends on the conversion of the oil into a crystalline phosphate.

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