(First published June 2008, updated May 2010)
There’s nothing quite like the scent of a eucalyptus forest after an extended dry spell is broken by rain – everything smells so clean and fresh!
Eucalyptus trees, more commonly known as gum trees locally, are the predominant genus of trees in Australia. Australia has over 600 species; comprising nearly 75% of our flora.
Some species of eucalyptus, such as mallee, can survive in incredibly dry and hot conditions; others are quite at home in below freezing temperatures.
While much loved here, unfortunately eucalyptus trees have become invasive species in other parts of the world, such as California; where they have been around since approximately 1853.
Eucalyptus forest in Australia
Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly useful tree; providing timber for building, cover and windbreaks in poor country, firewood, nectar for bees to produce honey, landscaping, pulp and even food; but probably one of the best known eucalyptus products is eucalyptus oil.
Eucalyptus oil production, active ingredients and buying tips
Eucalyptus oil is most commonly steam distilled from the leaves of certain species – not all eucalyptus trees are suitable for oil production due to their poor yield. Different species also have varying attributes medicinally speaking.
Eucalyptus oil is highly flammable and contains compounds that are natural disinfectants and pest deterrents.
The main active ingredient is cineole, also known as eucalyptol, which gives eucalyptus oil its distinct aroma and taste.
An aspect to compare when selecting a eucalyptus oil is the cineole/eucalyptol percentage. Pharmacy grade eucalyptus oil has a minimum of 70% cineole/eucalyptol content and some brands may have as little as 40%.
If two brands offer the same volume and one is more expensive, it may be due to it being a higher grade oil containing more cineole – which should be mentioned on the label.
Another indicator of a low cineole content brand will be the addition of a camphor extract, which should also be stated on the label.
While a very Australian product, it’s interesting to note that Australia only produces around five per cent of world eucalyptus oil requirements these days. The majority of the world’s commercial production occurs in China.
You can still buy fair dinkum, true-blue and ridgey-didge (Aussie slang terms for “the real thing”) 100% Australian Eucalyptus oil from companies such as FGB Natural Products and Emu Ridge. You just can’t beat eucalyptus oil made from trees grown and harvested in Australia, but I guess I might be biased being an Aussie :).
While eucalyptus oil is used in many medicines; always exercise caution and seek professional advice if you’re considering ingesting it as it can be toxic in high enough doses.
In Australia, products with over 25% eucalyptus oil content must be labelled as a poison; although a death from eucalyptus oil poisoning hasn’t happened in the country for around 50 years as far as I know. It’s my understanding the “poison” labelling isn’t a requirement in other countries. I make mention of this in case you’re in another country and import eucalyptus oil so you’re not put off by the labelling, but again – seek professional advice before ingesting or applying any brand, imported or local, to your skin.
Eucalyptus oil storage and shelf life
Like many essential oils, eucalyptus oil should be store in a dark glass bottle and kept in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Unlike many essential oils, eucalyptus oil is quite robust and if stored correctly, will keep well for 1 to 2 years from the date of production.
Uses for Eucalyptus oil around the house
Aside from medicinal uses, eucalyptus oil can be used around your home to replace many environmentally harsh synthetic chemicals.
Penny, a professional cleaner, wrote to me with these tips:
“I make a spray and wipe with water, eucalyptus oil and some washing up liquid. The idea comes from a hospital cleaner and works well. Proportions are not rocket science. Fill bottle mostly with water – add a slurp of dishwashing liquid and then a capful or thereabouts of 100% eucalyptus. Shake gently to mix. Works well on all surfaces. I use it diluted again in a little water in a bucket and it is great for all those finger marks that are hard to move from laminex finishes.”
– You can also make a general disinfectant for toilets etc and again, it’s a very simple recipe. mix 50 ml (1.6 oz) of eucalyptus oil with a litre (quart) of water. That’s it – you can store it as you would a normal disinfectant.
– Eucalyptus oil can be used neat in order to remove sticker/decal residue from glass
– Add 1-2 teaspoonfuls of eucalyptus oil to your load of washing for a fresh scent along with the anti-microbial benefits
– Use the oil neat to help remove paint, grease and ink from clothes
– If you have a hanging car air freshener that’s almost dead, reinvigorate it by adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil
– Half a teaspoon mixed with half a litre (half quart) of water makes for a good bug repellent for plants
– Use it as a stainless steel cleaner
– To use as a room air freshener, Mix a quarter of a teaspoon or 15 drops of eucalyptus oil with a half teaspoon of vodka, place in an atomizer/spray bottle and add 2 cups of water. This should be quite subtle, so you may need to add more.
Do you have some tips to share for using eucalyptus oil around the home? Please add them below!