Most people know that koala bears eat eucalyptus, but did you know that its dried leaves and oil can offer health benefits to humans, too?
Eucalyptus oil is toxic and should not be consumed — except in very small doses. However, when added to substances it can offer benefits such as soothing skin rashes. This delightful smelling oil can even help you get rid of head lice.
Most species of eucalyptus are native to Australia and have adapted to survive the wildfires. Eucalyptus can easily be identified by its fragrance, which smells like camphor, wood, and citrus. The appearance of eucalyptus varies depending on species.
In Australia, Europe, and Asia, eucalyptus has long been used as an antiseptic and fever reducer. However, while modern science has lent some support to these and other traditional medicine claims about eucalyptus, more research is needed.
Eucalyptus contains eucalyptol, also called cineole, an organic compound that is toxic in high doses. Eucalyptus leaves are not safe for humans to eat, although eucalyptus tea contains a safe amount of eucalyptus oil.
Potential Health Benefits of Eucalyptus
The eucalyptol in eucalyptus is also a powerful antiseptic. However, the same properties that make eucalyptus so potent as a germ killer also make it irritating in higher-than-normal doses.
Research has found a number of potential health benefits of eucalyptus:
Cough and Common Cold
Eucalyptol is used in many cough and cold medications because it helps to loosen phlegm and clear your sinuses. It may be prepared as lozenges or inhaled as vapor.
The eucalyptol in eucalyptus oil is often added to toothpaste and mouthwash to combat plaque and gum disease. Eucalyptus oil can also be added to chewing gum for the same oral health benefits.
Eucalyptus chewing gum can also fight bad breath and has been shown to be an effective treatment for bad breath.
Eucalyptus oil has been reported effective in reducing pain, swelling, and inflammation. In a randomized clinical trial, people who inhaled eucalyptus oil as an aromatherapy treatment experienced reduced pain and blood pressure after knee replacement surgery.
The cooling effects of eucalyptus may make its extract a helpful part of treatment for atopic dermatitis (eczema) and other skin rashes. One clinical trial showed that the use of a moisturizing gel containing eucalyptus extract significantly improved the dryness, scaling, and itchiness associated with eczema.
Eucalyptus essential oil has been shown to be an effective treatment against head lice, without the adverse events associated with other chemical insecticides.
Potential Risks of Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus side effects can be dangerous. Because eucalyptus is so potent — even in small amounts — you should consult your doctor before taking it or any other supplement.
Consider the following risks before preparing or drinking eucalyptus:
The same properties that make eucalyptus such a powerful antiseptic and insecticide also make it a potential irritant for those with sensitive skin. Eucalyptus oil is a sensitizing ingredient and can cause rashes or allergic reactions.
Ingesting large amounts of eucalyptus extract can also be risky. If it’s eaten, potential negative side effects of eucalyptus include seizures and even organ failure.