Eucalyptus Has a Surprising Amount of Health Benefits—Here's How to Reap Each and Every One

This plant and its extracted eucalyptus oil can help you relax, manage pain, and feel better when you have a cold.

Eucalyptus sprig in vase
Photo: emmaduckworth / Getty Images

Eucalyptus and its extracted essential oils—from the leaf and bark—have been extensively researched for their antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties, explains Erin Mewshaw, FNP-BC, the Clinical Director at the New York Center for Innovative Medicine. But that's not all they have to offer: According to Mewshaw, eucalyptus oils in particular are valued for their anesthetic, antiseptic, and bug-repellant qualities, as well. Ultimately, this fragrant plant is a must for those hoping to fight colds, alleviate pain, and even battle stress and anxiety homeopathically. Ahead, Mewshaw breaks down eucalyptus and eucalyptus oil's main benefits, so you can begin using these remedies, too.

Eucalyptus Reduces Cold Symptoms

According to Mewshaw, you can turn to this plant when you have a common cold or mild illness. A decoction or tea of eucalyptus leaves, for example, is a common remedy for sore throats and bacterial infections of the urinary and respiratory tracts. "Ancient Aboriginals used eucalyptus to treat everything from coughs and colds to sore throats and general asthma," she says. "Inhaling the steam of eucalyptus essential oils can also improve symptoms of colds, bronchitis, and asthma." In fact, Mewshaw notes that eucalyptus leaves play a large role in herbal medicine on the whole and have been used as a remedy for the lungs and all afflictions related to the pulmonary system, including the cold, flu, bronchitis, and general cough. "The leaves act as an expectorant and promote secretion," she explains.

Eucalyptus Can Help Manage Pain

If you have eucalyptus extracts or decoctions on hand, you may be able to leave your ibuprofen on the shelf. Mewshaw says that derivatives of this plant have analgesic, or pain-reducing, properties that are used in everything from general muscle and joint aches to toothaches. But using eucalyptus for pain doesn't require a DIY approach. "Over-the-counter formulas are also available to treat pain from strains, sprains, and arthritis," Mewshaw notes.

Eucalyptus Promotes Relaxation

Eucalyptol, an ingredient in eucalyptus oil, relaxes muscles—and it has been found to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, too, says Mewshaw. "Inhaling eucalyptus oil for just 20 minutes may lower blood pressure," she explains. "This was demonstrated by a study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which examined its effects on 62 pre-surgery patients."

How to Use Eucalyptus and Eucalyptus Oils

The most common ways to reap the benefits of eucalyptus are via topical or oral remedies. Take caution, however, if you decide to make a decoction: Because eucalyptus oil can lower blood sugar, Mewshaw notes that diabetics should refrain from ingesting a eucalyptus tea. "Children, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, are at greater risk of toxicity, so those groups should avoid eucalyptus oil and leaves," she adds of these by-mouth methods, noting that eucalyptus essential oil should never be taken orally. It's just as important to be careful with topical applications. "The oil should never be applied topically without being diluted in a carrier oil first."

And while eucalyptus oil can make an excellent bug repellant—especially when it comes to ticks—you should avoid using it anywhere near your cats and dogs. "Essential oils can be toxic to pets, so never diffuse them in an area where your furry friends are," Mewshaw says, adding that you should always wash your hands after handling the oil and before petting your cats and dogs, too.

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