Ode to Essential Oil of Eucalyptus Aromatherapy

I got a puppy shortly after settling in San Diego and the high point of our walks together was a patch of fragrant forest in Balboa Park.  The scent from the trees was so delightful, that we would stop for a few minutes every day and just inhale. We had found a patch of trees and were getting eucalyptus aromatherapy directly from mother nature.

As wonderful as that first introduction to the fragrance was, about a year later, I signed up for a eucalyptus based spa treatment that at times felt like a near death experience. Read about it here.

This was the beginning of a complicated romance with the essential oil of Eucalyptus Aromatherapy.

It seems to me that eucalyptus is not as straightforward as other plants that are popular in healing and aromatherapy.

Essential Oil used for Eucalyptus Aromatherapy

For example, a principle of knowing which plants are toxic and which are not is to watch animal behavior.  If however people follow the lead of the Koala bear and eat the bark, there will be mass deaths and comas*.  However, dismissing the plant as being bad for human health would be a mistake too, because it is one of the most readily available, economical and useful for healing. In comparison to other popular aromatherapy products, eucalyptus essential oil does not smell nearly as lovely as fresh leaves.  Distillation develops terpenoids and subdues the refreshing floral qualities.  Compare this to peppermint, lavender and rose which smell identical to the live plant. Contributing to mixed feelings toward eucalyptus is that getting the smell out of fabrics is no easy task. On the other hand, to stop using it is not something I’m willing to entertain.  Ironic indeed considering that it’s early history in manufacturing was for cleaning products.

San Diego has a love-hate relationship with Eucalyptus too.  

That patch of trees I discovered in Balboa Park were a result of a short courtship businessmen had with the blue gum, a type of eucalyptus from Tasmania.  In the late 1800’s it was grown for ship timber and railroad ties.  The relationship was off to a great start because it thrived in the dry southern California climate.   Unfortunately, they should have extended the courtship period a little longer before importing it, because the wood is unsuitable for milling. In addition to being soft – the trunks are crooked, flammable and shrink too much.

Foresting eucalyptus unprofitable, some of the land it was grown on was subdivided and sold for residential development. Take a drive through the exclusive neighborhood of Rancho Santa Fe and it is obvious that the lovely scents and shade contribute to the pleasure of being there.

Eucalyptus is a magnet for pests such as the whitefly, which destroys other plants.

Additionally, the longevity and height of the tree can cause encroachment disputes between otherwise civil neighbors.  An acquaintance confessed that after a year of unsuccessful pleadings with a neighbor to trim a view blocking tree, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Using the cover of darkness to avoid detection, she poured poison on the roots nightly,  Six months later the Eucalyptus was thriving and she retains a grudging respect for the plant.

Just like San Diego, English settlers of Australia embraced the plant without doing their homework.  

Unfortunately it cost them lives instead of of just losing money. Mistaking a toxic species for medicine, early settlers died. Fortunately, they eventually learned proper medical use from the Aboriginals.

Stories of its miraculous properties spread and prompted Joseph Bosisto to move from England to Australia. He began the first commercial manufacturing of eucalyptus based products in the 1850’s.

More than 150 years later, essential oil of Eucalyptus is still a wise staple for the medicine cabinet.   Common uses include treating respiratory problems, sore muscles and to speed the healing of wounds.

It’s also cost effective.   The same volatility that makes eucalyptus wood useless for timber, makes extracting essential oil easy.  As a result, a good quality product is easily found for under ten dollars.

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San Diego Union Tribune
Australian Plants Online
Wikipedia-Joseph Bosisto