Parts used and where grown: Eucalyptus is an evergreen tree native to Australia but is cultivated worldwide. The plant’s leaves—and the oil that is steam-distilled from them—are used medicinally.1
Eucalyptus has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
|Insect repellant (topical)|
Athletic performance (topical)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Genital herpes (topical)
Low back pain
Rheumatism (topical use)
Rheumatoid arthritis (oil, topical)
Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
An herb is primarily supported by traditional use, or the herb or supplement has little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies): Eucalyptus was first used by Australian aborigines, who not only chewed the roots for water in the dry outback but used the leaves as a remedy for fevers. In the 1800s, crew members of an Australian freighter developed high fevers, but were able to successfully cure their condition using eucalyptus tea. Thus, eucalyptus became well known throughout Europe and the Mediterranean as the Australian fever tree. Early 19th century Eclectic physicians in the United States not only used eucalyptus oil to sterilize instruments and wounds, but recommended a steam inhalation of the vapor of its oil to help treat asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, and emphysema.2
Active constituents: The major constituent in eucalyptus leaves is a volatile oil known as eucalyptol (1,8-cineol). In order to provide an effective expectorant and antiseptic action, the leaf oil should contain approximately 70–85% eucalyptol.3 Eucalyptus oil is said to function in a fashion similar to that of menthol by acting on receptors in the nasal mucosa, leading to a reduction in symptoms such as nasal congestion.4 In test tube studies, eucalyptus species have been shown to possess antibacterial actions against such organisms as Bacillus subtilis,5 as well as several strains of Streptococcus.6 These actions have not been researched in human clinical trials.
Peppermint (10 grams) and eucalyptus oil (5 grams) in combination, applied topically to the forehead and temples for three minutes with a small sponge, have been shown to be helpful as a muscle relaxant (but not for pain relief) in people with tension headaches.7 A eucalyptus oil extract containing 50% p-methane-3,8-diol (PMD) as the active ingredient has been shown to be effective in protecting human volunteers from various types of biting insects.8 On human forearms, it was determined that the eucalyptus extract was nearly as effective as a 20% solution of diethyltoluamine (used in many insect repellents) in repelling bites of the Anopheles mosquito (the insect that spreads malaria) for up to five hours. The eucalyptus extract was also effective at repelling flies (94%) and midges (100%) for up to six hours.
A preliminary study suggests the combination of eucalyptus and menthol as a nasal inhalant is helpful in cases of mild to moderate snoring.9 Also, in a double-blind trial, a eucalyptus-based rub was found helpful for warming muscles in athletes.10 This further suggests eucalyptus may help relieve minor muscle soreness when applied topically, though studies are needed to confirm this possibility.
How much is usually taken? Eucalyptus oil (0.05–0.2 ml per day) can be taken internally by adults.11 It should always be diluted in warm water before consuming. For local applications, 30 ml of the oil can be mixed in 500 ml of lukewarm water and applied topically as an insect repellent or used over the temporal areas of the forehead for tension headaches. As an inhalant, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to hot water or a vaporizer. Deeply inhale the steam vapor. For eucalyptus leaf preparations, an infusion of 2–3 grams of the chopped leaves may be boiled in 150 ml of water and taken two times per day. Eucalyptus oil needs to be used very cautiously since as little as 3.5 ml of the oil taken internally has proven fatal.12 It is best for people to discuss internal use with a qualified healthcare professional.
Are there any side effects or interactions? Side effects from the internal use of eucalyptus can include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Eucalyptus oil should not be used by infants and children under the age of two, especially near the face and nose, due to the risk of airway spasm and possible cessation of breathing.13 The oil may aggravate bronchial spasms in people with asthma and should not be taken internally by those with severe liver diseases and inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and kidney.14 15 Whole-body application of eucalyptus oil (double-distilled, containing 80–85% cineole oil) resulted in severe nervous system toxicity in a six year old girl.16 Parents are advised to use topical eucalyptus oil in moderation with children.
Although there are no known reports of drug interactions, the German Commission E monograph suggests that because eucalyptus oil may activate certain enzyme systems in the liver, it may potentially weaken or shorten the action of some medications, including pentobarbital, aminopyrine, and amphetamine.17 18 Eucalyptus should not be used in large amounts by people with low blood pressure as it may cause a further drop in blood pressure.19 The safety of eucalyptus oil has not been established in pregnant or nursing women.
1. Wren RC. Potter’s New Cyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. Essex, England: C.W. Daniel Co., 1988, 110–1.
2. Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1991, 162–3.
3. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicines. New York: Haworth Press, 1999, 123.
4. Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy, 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag, 1998, 146–7.
5. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 232–3.
6. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 108.
7. Gobel H, Schmidt G, Dowarski M, et al. Essential plant oils and headache mechanisms. Phytomed 1995;2:93–102.
8. Trigg JK, Hill N. Laboratory evaluation of a eucalyptus-based insect repellent against four biting arthropods. Phytother Res 1996;10:313–6. Reviewed by Yarnell E. Selected herbal research summaries QRNM 1997;116.
9. Ishizuka Y, Imamura Y, Tereshima K, et al. Effects of nasal inhalation capsule. Oto-Rhino-Laryngology Tokyo 1997;40:9–13.
10. Hong CZ, Shellock FG. Effects of a topically applied counter irritant (Eucalyptamint) on cutaneous blood flow and on skin and muscle temperature: A placebo controlled study. Am J Phys Med Rehab 1991;70:29–33.
11. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 108.
12. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 232–3.
13. Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy, 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag, 1998, 146–7.
14. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 127–8.
15. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Institute Publishers, 1997, 46–7.
16. Darben T, Cominos B, Lee CT. Topical eucalyptus oil poisoning. Australas J Dermatol 1998;39:265–7.
17. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 127–8.
18. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Institute Publishers, 1997, 46–7.
19. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Institute Publishers, 1997, 46–7.
Copyright © 2002 VitaminLore, Inc. All rights reserved. www.VitaminLore.com
The information presented in VitaminLore Online is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over-the-counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2006.