The eucalyptus tree is native to Australia and has over 700 species. Although eucalyptus is often thought of as a food for koala bears, its use extends well beyond being a food source for local wildlife and it has been appreciated for its many health benefits. Native aborigines used eucalyptus leaf infusions for a variety of ailments, including sinus congestion, cold, and fever. In the 19th-century, eucalyptus oil was used in English hospitals to clean urinary catheters. Other medicinal systems, such as Ayurvedic, Greek, and Chinese have provisions for eucalyptus as well.
How Does Eucalyptus Work?
Eucalyptus contains a number of compounds with antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, antiseptic, expectorant, and decongestant properties. This powerhouse combination of benefits is due in part to a compound called cineole. Cineole is typically cited as the active ingredient in eucalyptus because it is an expectorant, can ease a cough, and fight upper respiratory problems.
Research Supports Eucalyptus Benefits
A 2010 article in Alternative Medicine Review examined the antimicrobial effects of cineole and noted that, “Surprisingly for an antimicrobial substance, there are also immune-stimulatory, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, and spasmolytic effects. Of the white blood cells, monocytes and macrophages are most affected, especially with increased phagocytic activity. Application by either vapor inhalation or oral route provides benefit for both purulent and non-purulent respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). ”
A 2008 study reported by NYU Langone Medical Center also found that a 200 mg dose of cineole, taken three times a day, helped improve viral sinusitis symptoms.
Eucalyptus oil is an anti-inflammatory. Researchers at The Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain note this action may be due to the ability of eucalyptus oil to inhibit nitric oxide production .
Eucalyptus and Respiratory Ailments
Because eucalyptus contains antioxidants, it may strengthen the immune system during a cold, flu, or other illness, and help fight infection. A study in Brazil examined the anti-inflammatory effect of eucalyptus oils and concluded that they possess analgesic effects and independent, anti-inflammatory activities . In support, in an article in the June 28, 2012 edition of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Chinese researchers analyzed different eucalyptus oils and found them to contain high amounts of phenolic compounds, which are plant based antioxidants .
The German Government’s Commission E has approved eucalyptus tea in Germany as a medicinal tea for bronchitis and inflammation of the throat. In the United States, it is mainly used as a decongestant and found in many oral cough and cold remedies such as lozenges and syrups.
Eucalyptus is sold as both a supplement and is an ingredient in over-the-counter products. Eucalyptus supplements have been promoted for cough/bronchitis and rheumatism, temporary relief of nasal congestion and coughs associated with a cold. Although eucalyptus has been used orally to support some conditions, the oil is unsafe when it is taken by mouth or applied directly to the skin without first being diluted.
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM
- Sadlon AE, Lamson DW. Immune-modifying and antimicrobial effects of Eucalyptus oil and simple inhalation devices. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):33-47. Review.
- Vigo E, Cepeda A, Gualillo O, Perez-Fernandez R. In-vitro anti-inflammatory effect of Eucalyptus globulus and Thymus vulgaris: nitric oxide inhibition in J774A.1 murine macrophages. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2004 Feb;56(2):257-63.
- Silva J, Abebe W, Sousa SM, Duarte VG, Machado MI, Matos FJ. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of essential oils of Eucalyptus. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 Dec;89(2-3):277-83.
- Elaissi A, Rouis Z, Salem NA, Mabrouk S, ben Salem Y, Salah KB, Aouni M, Farhat F, Chemli R, Harzallah-Skhiri F, Khouja ML. Chemical composition of 8 eucalyptus species’ essential oils and the evaluation of their antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activities. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Jun 28;12:81. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-12-81.