Eucalyptus was used for centuries by the Australian natives, the Aborigines. They used it to treat chest congestion, fevers and to heal wounds. Learning from the local Aborigines, a young boy who had his finger almost completely severed by an axwrapped his finger in Eucalyptus leaves after having it stitched. A surgeon who eventually treated the boy noted how remarkable the healing was and was amazed that there was no sign of infection.
No one else knew of the oil’s healing powers until 1788 when Surgeon-General John White arrived via the First Fleet in Australia. He wrote in his diary that the oil seemed to heal remarkably and used the oil to treat soldiers on his ship. The tree gets its name from French botanist L’Heritier. He was inspired by the Greek roots eu and calyptos, which mean well and covered. This referred to the flower bud on the tree. In 1789, a quart of the oil was sent back to England to be tested by local scientists and pharmacists. It was discovered that the oil was much more effective than English Peppermint, the more common oil at the time for disinfecting. Despite these findings, Eucalyptus was not introduced to the world until decades later for reasons unknown.
In 1848, a pharmacist named Joseph Bosisto moved to Victoria, Australia with the plans to search the landscape for gold. When he came up empty handed, he opened a pharmacy instead. Inside, he constructed a lab that was specifically designed to research Australian plants, including Eucalyptus. In 1852, after extensively researching and discovering Eucalyptus’ intense healing powers, he opened the first commercial distillery in Victoria and began to sell the oil locally. The company is still operating today and recently celebrated its 160th anniversary. The company is considered a staple in Australia’s business world.
A French chemist by the name of F.S. Cloez, also studied the essential oil and was the first to pinpoint the prominent ingredient, cineole. The chemical compound has been the focus of many studies involving Eucalyptus oil. The popularity of the oil grew substantially and by the 1870’s the oil was being traded around the globe. By the 1880s, surgeons were using the oil during surgery as an effective antiseptic.
Eucalyptus suddenly became high in demand during World War I. It was used to control a meningitis outbreak and the influenza of 1919, which killed as many as a hundred million people. The number could have been much higher without the use of Eucalyptus oil.
During the 1980s, the same company that first commercially produced the oil, began to sell home remedy products containing Eucalyptus. They started with Bosisto’s Eucalyptus rub, a muscle rub for arthritis and sport related sprains and aches. A water-soluble inhalant was introduced next that fueled the use of the oil in vaporizers and diffusers. They finished with a spray containing the oil for aromatherapy purposes. In 2001, they again introduced a new product containing Eucalyptus oil. The product was a laundry detergent that was clinically proven to kill almost all dust mites and remove allergens that they left behind when used in the washing machine. They quickly followed with a pre-wash product.
They continued to introduce new products that were all natural and contained Eucalyptus oil as a main ingredient with the last product hitting the market in 2015. These products include cleaning products, a dust mite spray, throat spray and a sore throat gargle. As more studies are completed, it can be assumed that more products will hit store shelves in the future.
Where Eucalyptus Has Been Grown
For over ninety years, Australia held the monopoly on the distribution of Eucalyptus oil. Bosisto only sold his oil locally until there was a global interest and then he began to export the oil to England, where it was further exported by local companies. During the 1950s, the financial burden of producing the oil outweighed the financial gain of sales. This was mostly due to labor costs. Australia drastically cut back on their production, as they could not keep up with the affordable prices of oil produced from Spain and Portugal at the time. The country prides itself though in producing high quality oil that cannot be met by other producers.
Today the trees are grown in China, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Russia and Chile. China produces the majority of Eucalyptus oil found on the market today but Australian Eucalyptus oil is considered to be the best quality. China tends to produce the oil from trees that are only used for timber in Australia. It is said that as much as 25% of the oil that China produces needs to be removed before the essential oil is bottled because of impurities.
Today one can find Eucalyptus easily as it has become one of the most popular essential oils. It is used to treat minor conditions such as dry scalp and dull hair and is also used for more serious ailments, like diabetes and asthma. It is also used to treat wounds, the common cold, insect bites and is a common ingredient in homemade cleaning products. Studies have been done to determine just how effective the oil is and in general, results are positive. As studies continue, we will only find more effective ways to use the oil and gain the most from its natural healing capabilities.
Eucalyptus has become the world’s most widely planted hardwood tree, as it grows faster than all other species. The future is bright for the tree and its oil, especially as it grows in popularity as the public searches for safer alternatives to treat medical conditions, clean their homes and keep their minds focused. As with all essential oils, remember to use Eucalyptus oil responsibly and to be on the lookout for allergic reactions or other side effects during usage.