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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Herb Of the Week - Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus Tree - Alternative names - Australian fever tree; Blue gum; Eucalyptus globulus; Red gum

Plant Description:
There are many species of eucalyptus. Some are the size of an ornamental shrub, and some grow to be giant trees. The type of eucalyptus that is most often used medicinally is called blue gum or Australian fever tree. It can grow as high as 230 feet. Its 4 - 12 inch leaves are dark green and shiny. Its blue-gray bark peels to reveal a cream-colored inner bark.

The eucalyptus tree is a native of Australia. The Aborigines used the leaves as a cough and cold treatment.It is used to treat seasonal rhinitis, hay fever, allergies, coughs, colds, recurrent coughs and colds, chronic respiratory mucous over- production and intermittant fevers. Eucalyptus oil is readily steam distilled from the leaves and can be used for cleaning, deodorising, and in very small quantities in food supplements, especially sweets, cough drops and decongestants. It also has insect repellent properties (Jahn 1991 a, b; 1992), and is an active ingredient in some commercial mosquito repellents

 The Aborigines also used limbs of the tree that had been hollowed out by termites to create a musical instrument known by many names but most commonly as a didgeridoo.
In addition to being prominent culturally to the aboriginal Australian, didgeridoos may also have been good for their health. A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practicing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea, as well as daytime sleepiness. This appears to work by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.There is some controversy about whether it is ok for women to play the didgeridoo as it is viewed by Aborigines as a male ceremonial instrument. Not only are women forbidden from playing it, but doing so could cause grave consequences, even infertility. Other sources say it was ok for women to play it but only in informal situations.

Another use of the eucalyptus tree is to drain marshy areas. Eucalypts draw a tremendous amount of water from the soil through the process of transpiration. They have been planted  in some places to lower the water table and reduce mosquito breeding grounds, thus preventing the spread of malaria.

Eucalyptus Oil - Eucalyptus oil consists of the volatile oil distilled from the fresh leaves and branch tops of the eucalyptus plant.

Available Forms:
Eucalyptus oil is available in many products, including liquids and ointments.Like eucalyptus oil, the leaves of the eucalyptus plant contain substances that have expectorant, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties, but the leaves are also believed to help reduce inflammation and reduce fevers The leaves of the eucalyptus plant are available fresh, dried (to be used in teas), and in liquid extracts (solution made from herb and alcohol or herb, alcohol, and water). Commercial cough drops, syrups, vaporizer fluids, liniments, toothpastes, and mouthwashes may contain eucalyptus oil or its active ingredient, cineole. Some of the familiar over-the-counter remedies that contain eucalyptus oil include Listerine, Mentholatum Cherry Chest Rub, and Vicks VapoRub.

Topical ointments containing eucalyptus oil have been used in traditional Aboriginal medicines to heal wounds and fungal infections. Herbalists recommend the use of fresh leaves in teas and gargles to soothe sore throats and treat bronchitis and sinusitis.Ointments containing eucalyptus leaves are also applied to the nose and chest to relieve congestion. Eucalyptus oil helps loosen phlegm, so many health care providers recommend inhaling eucalyptus vapors to help treat bronchitis, coughs, and the flu.On the skin, eucalyptus oil has been used to treat arthritis, boils, sores and wounds. The oil can also be rubbed on the skin as an insect repellent.Eucalyptus oil is also rich in cineole (a potent antiseptic that kills bacteria responsible for bad breath), so some professional herbalists may also recommend diluted eucalyptus tinctures to treat bad breath.

Eucalyptus Steam - I find when I am congested, that nothing relieves me faster than a eucalyptus steam. Add boiling water to a bowl and put in one or two drops of eucalyptus oil. Lean your head over the bowl and cover your head with a towel to trap in the steam vapours. Take slow deep breathes through your nose. You will be breathing fine in just a few minutes.

Side Effects and Cautions
Individuals with inflammation of the kidneys or gastrointestinal tract, bile duct inflammatory disease, liver disease, or low or high blood pressure should not use eucalyptus leaf extract. Tannins in the leaves may cause stomach upset or kidney and liver damage if leaf preparations are ingested in large amounts.

Children should not ingest eucalyptus leaves or oil. Only children older than 6 years of age should take cough drops containing eucalyptus.Use of eucalyptus as steam, salve, or chest rub may be appropriate for children. The doses for these uses are similar to those for adults. Eucalyptus oil should not be applied to the face or nose of children under age 2.

General Safety Advisory

The information in these documents do not replace medical advice.
Before taking an herb or a botanical, consult a doctor or other health care provider -- especially if you have a disease or medical condition, take any medications, are pregnant or nursing, or are planning to have an operation.
Before treating a child with an herb or a botanical, consult with a doctor or other health care provider.
Like drugs, herbal or botanical preparations have chemical and biological activity. They may have side effects. They may interact with certain medications. These interactions can cause problems and can even be dangerous.
If you have any unexpected reactions to an herbal or a botanical preparation, inform your doctor or other health care provider.

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