Monday, June 22, 2009

Herbs: Eucalyptus


scientific name: Eucalyptus globulus

other common names: Australian fever tree, euca-lypto, eucalypt

growing areas: Native to Australia; also grows in the Mediterranean area and South America

physical description: It is a fast-growing tree that can reach 400 feet in some areas.

traditional uses: When the eucalyptus tree was first planted in the Mediterranean, it gained a reputation as an antimalarial plant—primarily, it seems, because it absorbed a great deal of water through its roots and effectively dried up swamps and waterways where mosquitoes bred. The oil of the leaves, which has a distinctive aroma similar to camphor, has been used in many cultures to treat colds, flu, bronchitis, and catarrh, mainly because of the way it can open up bronchial tubes and relieve congestion. It is considered to be an expectorant and weak antispasmodic, for which it has been reported to be used in Turkey. It is widely used in South America to treat respiratory infections and as a rubefacient, a substance that increases blood flow to the skin. Some herbalists say it is also an effective treatment for small cuts on the skin. Others report that a piece of cloth soaked in the oil can repel cockroaches.

Commission E has labeled eucalyptus as an expectorant, secretomotory, and mild antispasmodic. It is used in small amounts in over-the-counter cold and cough remedies.

availability and dosage: Available in botdnicas in the form of dried leaves and also as a volatile oil prepared from the leaves through a distillation process. Some herbalists recommend boiling a few leaves or a few drops of essential oil in water as an inhalant. For minor cuts, a drop or two of essential oil rubbed on the affected area is sometimes recommended by herbalists.

contraindications: Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, as well as anyone suffering from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Commission E says it is contraindicated for persons suffering from inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, and bile ducts, as well as severe liver disease.

special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.

Despite the fact that it is widely used to treat respiratory infections and catarrh, eucalyptus has to be treated with care. If taken internally, eucalyptus oil can cause nausea and vomiting and can even be fatal. It may on occasion cause skin irritation. Researchers have also noted that essential oil from eucalyptus can be a powerful convulsant and may prompt seizures. Commission E recommends that it not be used on the faces of babies and young children, probably because it might be ingested. Commission E also says eucalyptus stimulates the enzyme system of the liver involved in the detoxification process and as a result can weaken or alter the effects of other drugs.

medical research: Tests done in Guatemala of a number of plants used for the treatment of respiratory ailments examined their antibacterial activity on commercially prepared strains of bacteria, including those that cause pneumonia and staphylococcus infections. The test results showed that extracts of Eucalyptus globulus were among the plants shown to be highly active against the bacteria during the in vitro tests. However, further tests on humans were needed to examine the properties of the extract, according to the researchers.

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