Australian Aborigines traditionally used infusions of eucalyptus leaves to relieve respiratory congestion, coughs, and fevers, and as topical applications for sore muscles. Essential oil was distilled from eucalyptus trees not long after the first European settlers arrived in Australia. Commercial production commenced in the mid-1800s, and the oil soon came to be highly prized around the world for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties.
How Eucalyptus Oil Works
Eucalyptus oil contains several active constituents. The most important is 1,8-cineole (sometimes referred to as eucalyptol), which has an antimicrobial effect against a wide range of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
How to Use Eucalyptus Oil
For respiratory conditions such as asthma, sinusitis, bronchitis, colds and flu, eucalyptus oil is often used as an inhalation—commonly via a nebulizer or vaporizer in which the oil is diluted in steaming water. It is sometimes also used in a cream or ointment that is rubbed onto the chest, delivering the therapeutic actions through a combination of inhalation and the penetration of the oil through the skin. It is also sometimes included in throat lozenges or cough mixtures in minute quantities.
Topical applications of eucalyptus essential oil (usually in dilute concentrations) can also be used to treat infections of various kinds. For example, the essential oil and/or 1,8-cineole derived from it are often included in mouthwash products to help kill the bacteria that cause plaque, gingivitis, and bad breath. Eucalyptus oil can also be added to laundry to kill dust mites in sheets, disinfect clothes and leave the washing smelling fresh.
Research also suggests that an ointment containing eucalyptus oil and other antimicrobial substances may be beneficial in the treatment of fungal toenail infections.
Eucalyptus oil should not be taken internally. The topical use of the oil is not suitable for babies, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or people allergic to Eucalyptus spp. Caution is advised with eucalyptus inhalations as they can irritate the eyes, mucous membranes and skin.
Where to Find Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus essential oil is available in health food stores and pharmacies or from a qualified aromatherapist.
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