The therapeutic action of the Eucalyptus oil is much praised and wide-ranging; among its medicinal qualities, one can mention its inflammatory, antispasmodic, decongestant, deodorant, antiseptic, antibacterial, and stimulating properties.
However, unlike other aromatic substances that have been used for centuries, it was for a long time not very popular in aromatherapy and folk medicine since its therapeutic effects have not been scientifically investigated until past decades.
What Is Eucalyptus Oil?
This is the generic name for a variety of extracted oils (that come in various concentrations) obtained by steam distillation from the leaves of around 15 Eucalyptus species. Eucalyptus trees belong to the plant family Myrtaceae and, even if native to Australia, they are nowadays cultivated worldwide. Eucalyptus oil can be used for many different kinds of medicinal and non-medicinal purposes, thanks to its fragrance, flavor, and antiseptic properties.
There are three main types of Eucalyptus oil, according to their chemical composition and their use. Of course, there is a medicinal one, one used in food processing for flavoring and another employed in perfume, cosmetic, and detergents industries.
What Does Eucalyptus Oil Look Like?
Essential Eucalyptus oil is a volatile liquid of a colorless, transparent, and dense consistency, having a strong, distinctive taste and odor. It gets yellow shades with aging and it has a penetrating, camphor-like, woody, and sweet scent.
Eucalyptus Oil Production
Global production of Eucalyptus oil – estimated at 3 000 tonnes – is dominated by the most common species of the genus, Eucalyptus globulus. Yet, higher concentrations of the active principles are to be found in another variety, namely in Eucalyptus polybractea (up to 80-90%). Even if China is the world’s main producer of this oil, (about 75% of the world trade), it is chemically derived from camphor oil and not from natural Eucalyptus leaves. True Eucalyptus oil is produced in South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Australia, Chile, and Swaziland.
Pharmacology and Eucalyptol Content
Eucalyptus oil is rich (up to 90%) in a natural organic compound called “eucalyptol” or “cineole”, which is toxic if ingested above standard doses. Paradoxical, the oil owes most of its beneficial properties to this potentially dangerous chemical – for example, in order to be pharmacologically active, a product must contain at least 70% eucalyptol. This explains why all eucalyptus oil-based products must be taken in very small dosages to avoid side effects.
This oil contains other therapeutic substances as well: tannins with astringent properties, and caffeic acids and gallic acids (which are also found in green tea) with strong antioxidant effects. The antioxidant compounds (to name but a few, hyperin, eucalyptin, quecetin, rutin, limonene, alpha-pinene, and alpha-termineol) help eliminate free radicals, thus preventing the damage of blood vessels and skin tissues.
Eucalyptus oil is rich in chemicals that lower blood sugar in diabetes. Some other substances in their composition have antibacterial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal action.
Medicinal Use and Benefits
The most important compound with physiological action to be found in Eucalyptus oil is the eucalyptol (cineole) which, besides its powerful antibacterial action, also affects the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, leading to decongestion and phlegm release.
In addition, it is a great antimicrobial and antiviral agent, which makes it a valuable ingredient in many pharmaceutical products. Dentists, for example, use products made of Eucalyptus oil as sealers and solvents for root canal fillings.
The oily eucalyptus extract is particularly effective in reducing cough, sore throat, sinus infections, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma symptoms. As an expectorant agent, it loosens coughs, reduces fever, and vaporizes fluids, which strongly recommends the use of Eucalyptus oil to fight against the flu or the common cold.
Moreover, Eucalyptus oil‘s antibacterial effects kill pathogenic bacteria in the respiratory system and also stimulate your immunity, improving your body’s response to the harmful action of viruses, microbes, and bacteria.
Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Action
Eucalyptus oil is also an efficient analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent; if applied in diluted solutions directly on the skin, it will alleviate pain and reduce inflammations in cases of burns, wounds, ulcers, and skin cancer. It is particularly useful in skin level cuts, genital herpes, and insect bites and stings as well.
If you are sick of feeling joint and muscle pain or you are suffering from rheumatism, lumbago, sprained ligaments, and tendons, you will feel better after massaging the affected area in a circular motion with diluted Eucalyptus oil. Stiff muscles, backaches, fibrosis, and even painful nerves can also be treated this way, due to the analgesic effects of this volatile oil.
Ingested, low concentration Eucalyptus oil products reduce the blood sugar levels. It increases the capacity of your blood vessels, meaning that your entire body will benefit from improved blood circulation, which is needed in the case of most diabetic patients. Massaging this oil onto the skin and inhaling its volatile vapors will ease the constriction of your vessels, will have a relaxing effect, and decrease your hyperglycemia.
Stress and Mental Exhaustion
Eucalyptus oil is famous for having cooling and refreshing effects, acting upon your mind in a stimulating way. Increasing your blood flow to the brain stimulates intellectual activities, removes exhaustion and fatigue, and, last but not least, makes you feel fresh and rejuvenated.
Cautions Concerning Safety and Toxicity
It has been proven that consumed internally in low dosages at the pharmaceutically recommended rate, Eucalyptus oil use is safe for adults. However, when ingested or applied on the skin at higher than recommended doses, it becomes so toxic that it is likely to produce headaches, contact dermatitis, convulsions, or even death.
Other signs of poisoning are stomach pain and burns, nausea, muscle weakness, suffocation, vomiting, small eye pupils, and diarrhea. Eucalyptus oil is harmful in doses as small as 3.5 ml. The lethal dose of pure volatile oil varies between 0.05 and 0.5 ml per kilogram of body weight. Obviously, children are more vulnerable, so avoid administering these products without previous medical advice.
Not enough is known yet about using this oil during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so you should better stay on the safe side and avoid it. Diabetics should pay special attention not to lowering their blood sugar levels too much, which can happen if they associate standard medication with Eucalyptus oil. For the same reason, the extract is unrecommended at least 2 weeks before and after any surgery.
Keep in mind that, although therapeutical, not all-natural products are necessarily safe under any circumstances. Dosages are very important, as are instructions on product labels and your physician’s advice and monitoring.