CTFA name: Eucalyptus Globulus Oil
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Photo © Steven Foster
Also known as blue gum tree, Eucalyptus globulus is a tall, evergreen tree that attains heights of up to 295 feet. The young trees have bluish-green oval leaves while the mature trees develop long, narrow, yellowish leaves, and creamy-white flowers.1 The name comes from the Greek eucalyptos, meaning well-covered, since the flower buds are enclosed with a cup-like membrane which is thrown off as the flower expands.2
Native to Tasmania and Australia, there are over 700 different species of eucalyptus, of which at least 500 produce an essential oil. E. globulus, the best-known variety, is one of the medicinal oils containing large amounts of cineol (or eucalyptol).1 Other species, which are chemically quite different, are used in perfumery.
History and Cultural Significance
E. globulus has long been a favorite household remedy in Australia. A German botanist and director of the botanical gardens in Melbourne introduced the eucalyptus tree to the rest of the world. Since then it has been cultivated in many sub-tropical areas, including Egypt, Algeria, Spain, South Africa, India, and California.2
Traditionally, the leaves and oil were used for respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, and the dried leaves were smoked like tobacco for asthma.1 Eucalyptus oil was also used in all types of fever for its cooling effect on the body. Historically, the eucalyptus plant was also widely used for skin problems, aching joints, and bacterial infections in both western and eastern medicine.1 The oil is sold in pharmacies and other retail outlets in the form of sprays, lozenges, cough drops, ointments and in formulation with other oils.
Used topically, eucalyptus has been investigated for potential anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.3
One study reported the successful treatment of chronic middle-ear infections with a compound alcoholic tincture that contained eucalyptus leaf.4 Antiseptic and cooling actions have been reported. Recent research has also indicated positive effects of the combination of peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil in headache treatments.5
E. globulus oil is the most important of the eucalyptus oils in terms of volume of production and trade.6 In the past twenty decades, the People’s Republic of China has dominated the world production and trade in eucalyptus oils. The total world production of medicinal type eucalyptus oil in 1991 was estimated at around 3000 tons, of which approximately 2000 tons were exported.
Although present prices of eucalyptus oils are the lowest they have been in recent years, this is not atypical of the fluctuations that occur in the essential oil market. The trees can be grown on a large, plantation scale or on an individual or communal woodlot system. Moreover, the advantage of Eucalyptus over most other essential oil-bearing tree crops is that it offers the possibility of genuine multipurpose utilization, as the rapid growth of the trees means that income can be derived from sales of the stems for poles, fuel wood, or other purposes within a fairly short time (7-10 years) during which period leaves can also be harvested for oil production.
Despite the large store of knowledge that is available on the cultivation of eucalypts for wood and pulp, further research is needed to maximize the returns on eucalypts planted (solely or partly) for the production of oil.6
1 Lawless J. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Dorset, UK: Element Books Inc.; 1992.
2 Tisserand R. The Art of Aromatherapy: The Healing and Beautifying Properties of the Essential Oils of Flowers and Herbs. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press; 1977.
3 Buckle J. Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice, 2nd Edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier Science; 2003.
4 Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
5 Göbel H, G. Schmidt, M. Dworshak, et al. Essential plant oils and headache mechanisms. Phytomedicine. 1995; 2(2): 93-102.
6 Coppen JJW. Flavors and Fragrances of Plant Origin. 1995. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/v5350e/v5350e07.htm. Accessed February 24, 2005.