Having lived in Sydney for a while in my youth, the smell of eucalyptus is extremely nostalgic for me. Many memories of smelling that sweet, pungent eucalyptus smell while playing cricket at school, playing in our backyard, traveling through the Blue Mountains. I loved the smell of eucalyptus, and remember often breaking those silvery, green leaves just to inhale that pungent and unique scent. If you have been near one, you can not help but love gum trees, and most Australians do. They form a large part of the iconic landscape of the land of Oz, and are now part of the modern mythology of Australia after May Gibbs wrote about tiny fairy children that lived in them.
The Blue Mountains get their name from the blue haze that hangs over them from the trees releasing their oils in the air, and its possibly this oil that scatters the blue light waves . This oil is what makes these trees so fragrant, and so useful medicinally. Eucalyptus was historically used by the native Aboriginal peoples of Australia for as long as their history records, and they used it for many of the same complaints that we still use it for today. They used eucalyptus as a tea, or infusion, of the leaves for body pains, wound care, sinus congestion, colds and fevers. It was seen as a general “cure-all” by most of the different tribes.
After the discovery of Australia by Europe, the use of eucalyptus was quickly adopted by the Europeans, and even more so once it became a penal colony. Surgeons from the First Fleet used oil of eucalyptus that they distilled themselves, to treat convicts, and the military men of the fleet, during the difficult early years of the convict colonies. During the 19th century it was even used as a disinfectant and planted in “fever districts,” which encouraged more research into, and production of, this valuable oil. Though its reduction of fever in those areas is less likely from the trees releasing oils, and more comes from the tree’s ability to quickly absorb available ground water. Thus reducing habitats for fever, and malaria, causing mosquitoes. Eucalyptus trees can absorb vast amounts of water, making them ideal for planting in marshy areas rife with sickness. A famous instance of this is St Paul at the Three Fountains that was in Roman Compagna – which if you know anything about Italy’s history was an area that was abandoned and labeled as inhospitable in some eras, due to malaria. After the planting of a eucalyptus tree there in 1870, it was inhabitable year round.
Eucalyptus oil, once it hit the world market, was highly desired for medicinal uses and preparations. Soon it was being mass produced, and found its way into surgeries as an antiseptic, in cold remedies, to treat respiratory infections, and for general disinfecting. The person that can be credited with the spread of eucalyptus, and the knowledge of all its many uses, is Ferdinand von Mueller. It was his interest in botany, and his observations that started the western world on the path to using eucalyptus. He noticed the similarity in smell to Cajaput oil, which led him to speculate that the oil of these eucalyptus trees could be antiseptic, or fever reducing. This speculation, and desire to treat malaria, led to the Western interest in this new plant. Seeds were sent to France, and through France to Algeria, and eucalyptus trees helped to get rid of marshy, swampy areas of fever causing mosquitoes, making it much more inhabitable. Because of Ferdinand’s work eucalyptus oil, or sometimes called “Sydney Peppermint,” became fairly widely used in the medical community around the world. It was well known for its use as a catheter cleaner in 20th century medicine, but it also was used during World War I for fighting meningitis, and during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.
That multipurpose usefulness has kept eucalyptus in the modern medical repertoire, in fact most people have probably smelt eucalyptus in chest salves for colds, and in some throat and cold lozenges. There have been scientific studies into its effectiveness as an antibacterial, and is well known for being great for fighting staphylococcus aureus. It is great for clearing a stuffy head, and soothing the aches and pains of chest colds, but I find it also works great topically for muscle pain, and migraines as well. But before we get too deep into uses, like chamomile, there are a few different species of eucalyptus available…well more than a few really. There are about 300 species of eucalyptus, and even more if you count sub-varieties. So lets break it down.
Eucalyptus globulus – AKA Blue Gum, Tasmanian Blue Gum
This is one of the oils that has some of the highest cineole (or eucalyptol) content, about 80%-70% on average, and this is the chemical that gives eucalyptus its distinct smell, as well as camphor, rosemary, and other similar plants. This is a very common species in its native Australia, and it has spread around the world due to its rapid growth, and ease of cultivation. This species is virtually phellandrene free, which makes it a favorite for internal preparations (usually flavoring), but I would strongly suggest not taking any eucalyptus oil internally since it can rapidly become toxic, always better to be safe than sorry! Topically it is a great anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, decongestant and deodorant. I personally use it for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, and I find it is great for migraine pain and rheumatoid arthritis as well. All forms of eucalyptus are warming oils, so like peppermint and other warming oils, you want to avoid application to sensitive skin areas. This is the most powerful of the oils, and should really be diluted in a carrier oil if you are going to apply it topically.
This is also great for burns, blisters, cold sores, bug bites cuts and abrasions. It helps in healing, and it helps to fight infection as an antibacterial, and as an antiviral. It works great as a decongestant and provides relief from coughs when applied to the chest.
Eucalyptus radiata – AKA Narrow-leaved Peppermint, Forth River Peppermint
This oil is the second highest cineole content, about 75%-60% on average, and is a much gentler oil than the E. globulus eucalyptus. It is slightly more floral and citrus in scent than E. globulus. You tend to find this more in mouthwash and dental preparations due to its more gentle nature. It is an excellent antibacterial, and a competent antiviral as well. Like E. globulus it is a great topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory, as well as a great for fighting colds and as a decongestant. This oil, while still warming, I find gentle enough for direct application for pain or sore muscles, but you do still want to avoid sensitive skin areas.
This is a great addition to any acne regimen, direct application or adding it to other oils in a skin cream is a great acne fighting solution. This is also a great addition to any hand sanitizers, disinfecting sprays or for cooling sprays.
Eucalyptus polybractea – AKA Blue Mallee, Australian Tea Tree
This has probably the highest cineole content ranging from 80-90%, and you will notice this has more of the camphor-like medicinal scent that most people associate with eucalyptus. This is like the other species, a great topical pain, anti-inflammatory and just all around good for sore, tired muscles. The downside is the more medicinal smell to this than the more plant like E. globulus or E. radiata species. You do want to dilute this with a carrier oil if you are going to apply it topically. This is a good addition to a lotion bar, or pain bar, for post-activity aches and pains. This is, like the others, a warming oil still and can bring warmth and relaxation to tense muscles with massage. With the high levels of cineole, this is the best antiseptic available of the different species, and works well as an antibacterial for wound care or general cleaning. Which means it is a great addition to sanitizing sprays, gels, and great for after illness cleaning. It is also lower in chemicals that irritate mucus membranes, and is a great option for inhaling to help with congestion or coughs.
This is also a great addition to a cleaning or laundry routine. It helps to remove grease stains, and it also can remove gum or other sticky things from clothing or glass and the like.
Eucalyptus dives – AKA Broad-leaved Peppermint, Peppermint Eucalyptus
This is a strong species, with 70-80% cineole, and should only be used topically and not be ingested. It can also be more irritating for people with very sensitive skin. It has higher phellandrene and piperitone than other species, which gives it that peppermint like smell. This means its best used for colds and coughs as an inhalant or part of a chest salve or plaster. It can be used topically, if diluted in a carrier oil, but it is better used as an insect repellent and cold aid, than for pain relief. This is still a great warming oil that works well to warm and soothe muscles after stretching or exercise. It a great antibacterial, and like other species can be added to cold and sanitizing preparations, external only though!
Eucalyptus bicostata – AKA Eucalyptus Blue
This is a topical only again, and is the best eucalyptus for respiratory issues. it contains high levels of alpha-pinene, which is also found in pine and rosemary. This can be added to a massage regimen if diluted in a carrier oil, and it has great muscle relaxing properties. You should though, combine this oil with other oils, for the most pain relieving ability. This is a bronchodilator and is great for chest cold preparations or even asthma sufferers can benefit from this being diffused in the air.
Combined with other oils like rosemary, lavender, or others this is a great addition to a massage oil blend. Otherwise, use this when you need your head cleared from a bad cold, or to just aid with breathing issues. This can be applied closer to sensitive areas like the eyes, without the eye watering effect of the others.
How To Use It
So now you know about the different types, time to discuss how to use it. Since most of these have similar properties, I am just going to list eucalyptus oil in the ingredients. You should select the oil you add to this based on the properties you need most. And remember, warming oil, never put this on sensitive skin areas!
First off, a massage oil blend.
Eucalyptus Massage Oil
- 1 oz Carrier oil
- 15-30 drops of Eucalyptus oil
- optional: add 10 drops of other eucalyptus oils, or add other oils (Lavender, Rosemary, Peppermint, Frankincense, etc) for additional pain relief or anti-inflammatory properties.
Mix well and store in a dark container, apply directly to painful areas, or sore muscles, and massage in. You can use just eucalyptus and massage this into the chest and neck area for chest cold relief. You can also rub this oil on exposed areas as insect repellent.
ProTip: If you do a test patch first to make sure that it won’t cause issues, you can use a drop or two of the essential oil of eucalyptus directly on your skin for insect repellent, and pain or cold relief.
Eucalyptus Salt Soak
- 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
- 5-15 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oils
- optional: any additional oils for any additional properties needed
Mix well and store in a water proof container, add about a cup of mixture to a hot bath and soak in delicious muscle relaxing bliss. This is a great soak for muscle pains, and helps with migraines from muscle tension or spasms.
“After Sports” Eucalyptus Soak
- 1/2 cup Citric Acid
- 1 cup Baking Soda
- 1 cup Epsom Salts
- 20-30 drops of Eucalyptus Oil
Mix well and store in airtight container (or it will lose its fizz), add a few tablespoons to a hot bath. It should be fizzy, and is a wonderful soak after a hard work out session. It helps relax and soothe both the skin and muscles. You can add an additional cup of sea salt to this as well.
Eucalyptus is fantastic in salves & balms, which if you would like to read a good explanation on what salves and balms are, with some good instructions on how to make a few types, go here.
Eucalyptus Salve “Cheater” Version
- 2 oz Coconut oil
- 10-20 drops of Eucalyptus oil
Use whisk attachment in a stand mixer, and whip coconut oil until soft and creamy. With machine still whisking add in a drop at a time the essential oil. Store in airtight jar, or clean reused jar lotion container, this will have the consistency more of a body butter but it gets the job done and is easy to make. This is a great for massaging into muscle pains, or applied to the chest for colds.
- 1/3 c Oil (Sunflower, Almond, Apricot, just should be of vegetable origin)
- 1/3 oz Bees Wax, granulated, or grated
- 5-10 drops of Eucalyptus oil
Heat oil in a double boiler, and slowly add bees wax. Stir until fully melted and combined. Remove from heat and stir in by hand the essential oils. Pour into small, preferably glass, seal-able containers and store in a cool dry place. You can test to see if your salve will set with the method listed on Whispering Earth, using a spoon to dip out a small amount to see if it sets correctly. If you find it does not, you can add more beeswax a few grains at a time until the right consistency is achieved.
This like the “cheater” salve is great for muscle pains, and for chest colds.
You can make a sanitizing spray and a sanitizer as well (like with rosemary). Below is a purse, or travel friendly, version of a sanitizing spray and gel, either can be used on the hands or on surfaces that you wish to disinfect.
Eucalyptus Sanitizing Spray
- 2 oz spray bottle
- 10-20 drops Eucalyptus essential oil (or oils if you would like to use more than one eucalyptus)
- 1 3/4 to 2 oz Witch Hazel
- optional: any additional oils you would like to add to boost its germ killing ability
Mix well and store in spray bottle, mist on to hands and rub in, or mist directly onto a surface to disinfect.
Eucalyptus Sanitizing Gel
- Pump or squeeze container
- 1 oz aloe gel
- 10-30 drops Eucalyptus oil
- 1 oz Witch Hazel
Mix well, I prefer to give this a spin in the blender to make sure it is of an even consistency, you can use a food processor too. Store in a squeeze container in purse, or carry on, for a quick squirt of hand sanitizer gel.
Of course there are a lot of sites, and stores, that offer pre-made blends of oils, or other preparations with eucalyptus in them, and those are a great way to easily use eucalyptus if you aren’t the DIY type. The down side is there are literally tons of them. So I would say, if you want to go this pre-made path, do some research on the ingredients, species used, and amounts, and see if this will work for your issues cold, pain or otherwise. Also I would also recommend trying a few brands before sticking with a specific one.
Remember these are all warming oils, and should not be used on sensitive skin. They also should not be used internally unless under the direct supervision of a healthcare expert. Always do your own research and trials to see what works best for you, since everyone is different! Check for interactions on WebMD. And like I always say, if you are in doubt, ask a professional!