WHAT IS EUCALYPTUS?
The eucalyptus plant (and it’s 700 variations) is native to Australia and the neighbouring island Tasmania. The trees range in size from less than 10 meters to almost 100 meters and make up around 75% of the trees of Australian forest.
It is fast-growing and evergreen which makes it easily sustainable and readily available throughout the year. It is also an extremely durable and hardy plant can survive high temperatures and periods of drought.
Eucalyptus is even adapted to survive the wildfires that frequent Australia and have fire resistant seeds that can quickly sprout and begin to regrow after a blaze.
Thanks to its hardy properties and adaptability, eucalyptus plants are now grown across the globe in southern Europe, South America and South East Asia.
They are in high demand thanks to their various uses and fast growth. Many plants need to be uprooted completely when they are harvested. Alternatively, the eucalyptus plant is cut at the base which allows it to regrow quickly.
The most popular type of eucalyptus variation is called eucalyptus globulus, known locally as blue gum, and is the source of eucalyptus oil. The trees and leaves of eucalyptus have a notable minty scent which is concentrated in the oil.
Both the dried leaves and the oil from eucalyptus plants are thought to have various uses and medicinal properties.
USES OF EUCALYPTUS
Every part of the eucalyptus plant has its uses and applications.
The leaves of the eucalyptus tree are often dried and used as tea. They are packed full of antioxidants and flavonoids which fight off free radicals in the body and protect against toxins.
Dried eucalyptus leaves are also often used as air fresheners thanks to their minty scent. They add a touch of freshness to any environment and are an attractive room accessory at the same time
Another popular use of eucalyptus leaf is to hang them up in the shower. The steam from the hot water mixes with the liberated oils from the plant creating a luxurious shower experience. The minty steam will also act as a decongestant and anti-inflammatory for any stuffy nose days.
Eucalyptus oil is obtained from the dried leaves of the plant. Eucalyptus leaves are crushed, and steam distilled, producing a clear oil. The oil contains the active ingredient 1-8 cineol, otherwise known as eucalyptol. It is very potent and must be diluted before use.
The majority of benefits and applications are from eucalyptus oil including aromatherapy, ointments, disinfectants, skin treatments and insect repellents.
The timber from eucalyptus trees is a popular material for construction. It is used as flooring, fencing, decking and more. It is a strong and dense material that has decent resistance to termites.
Eucalyptus is extremely versatile, partly to the large number of species variations. The bark of the tree of some species of eucalyptus is used in papermaking and tanning.
Perhaps surprisingly, the wood of eucalyptus trees can also be made into fabric. Eucalyptus wood is broken down and into wood pulp and wood cellulose is extracted and turned into fibres. The fibres are then woven into a fabric called Tencel™.
Tencel™ is a strong, soft and breathable fabric that is comparable to silk with regards to luxury. It is also one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly fabric options available.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF EUCALYPTUS
Eucalyptus has antimicrobial properties and can act against bacterial, viruses and fungi. As an essential oil, it can be burnt in an oil burner to kill airborne microbes. Otherwise, it is a common ingredient found in cleaning sprays and hand sanitizers.
The antimicrobial properties of eucalyptus have been known for many years. There is evidence of aborigines using eucalyptus to treat wounds and prevent infections. The application of eucalyptus as a disinfectant is still practiced today as many healing creams and ointments contain the essential oil.
Cold Symptom Relief
Eucalyptus is a trusted source of relief from many cold and flu symptoms. It is an active ingredient in symptom relievers like cough lozenges inhalants.
Eucalyptus oil can act as an expectorant to thin mucus in the lungs and is an active ingredient of popular ointments like Vicks Vaporub which can be applied to the chest.
Eucalyptus oil or an ointment containing it can be added to boiling water to form vapor which can loosen mucus when inhaled. Additionally, it is found in many inhalants where it acts as a decongestant to clear sinuses.
Sore throats and coughs can also benefit from eucalyptus. It has been used as a cough suppressant for many years and is in many over the counter medicines. Additionally, a sore throat can be relieved by gargling boiled eucalyptus tea.
The antibacterial properties of eucalyptus make it an effective ingredient in mouthwashes, toothpastes and dental preparations. Eucalyptus can fight bacteria in the mouth responsible for bad breath, plaque build-up and tooth decay.
Not only will this protect teeth and gums, the use of eucalyptus in dental products can result in fresh, minty breath.
Eucalyptus is officially recognised as successful insecticide. The oils of Eucalyptus Globulus and lemon eucalyptus in particular are found often in insect repellents and insecticides.
They are effective in killing mites, ticks and deterring mosquitoes and houseflies. Additionally, since eucalyptus is a natural product, it provides a safe, chemical free method of combatting insects.
There is some evidence that eucalyptus oil can be effective in pain relief. Many over the counter creams for pain contain extracts of eucalyptus.
One way it can reduce pain is by acting as an anti-inflammatory. When in a cream or ointment, eucalyptus oil can help with conditions such as arthritis by reducing inflammation of joints. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory properties are known to ease the pain of cold sores caused by herpes.
Its analgesic properties (ability to relieve pain) have been shown to help with muscle and joint pain as well as bruising, strains, sprains and aches.
Eucalyptus oil and leaf extract is frequently found in skin creams and treatments. It is effective in combatting dry skin by increasing the prevalence of fatty acids known as ceramides. This helps skin stay moisturised and reduces the likelihood of eczema and other skin disorders like psoriasis ad dermatitis.
IS EUCALYPTUS SAFE?
Despite its multitude if health benefits and applications, there is some caution that should be taken with eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus oil is highly toxic to humans when ingested orally. Even a small amount can cause symptoms such as dizziness, seizures, hypotension, nausea, vomiting, gastric pain and death.
In its pure form, eucalyptus oil can also cause irritation and burning when applied directly to the skin. To be safe, eucalyptus oils should only be applied to skin in pre-prepared ointments and creams.
Eucalyptus leaves are also completely safe to consume when dried and made into tea. Consumers should, however, be careful not to confuse eucalyptus leaves with eucalyptus oil when making tea.
Other forms of eucalyptus are also safe for human use. The wood used for building and creating fabrics like Tencel™ are in no way toxic.
IS EUCALYPTUS SUSTAINABLE?
Eucalyptus has many sustainable properties that makes it an exciting material for a eco-friendlier future. Firstly, it grows quickly and can easily be replenished. This means that less land is needed to keep planting more eucalyptus as the original land and plants can be reused.
Additionally, eucalyptus can grow into strong, healthy trees without the need for pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides are a huge problem for local environments as they contaminate ecosystems and cause substantial damage. Growing eucalyptus will not affect local ecosystems as pesticides are unnecessary.
WHAT IS TENCEL™ Fabric?
Eucalyptus fabric is called lyocell, but known as Tencel™. The eucalyptus trees are cut and then processed until the wood becomes a mushy pulp. Cellulose is then extracted from the pulp and pushed through a spinneret.
The spinneret has fine nozzles and when the cellulose is forced through, it forms a long fibre which can then be spun into a yarn and woven into Tencel™ fabric.
One of the upsides of Tencel™ production is that the process is a closed loop system and doesn’t use any toxic chemicals. It is therefore safe for fabric factory workers and for local environments.
Eucalyptus already has a seemingly endless range of useful benefits and applications. However, it’s fast and easy regrowth has made it a popular and promising choice in the move towards a more sustainable society.