Eucalyptus tea is made from the smooth grey-green leaves of eucalyptus trees and shrubs, which are indigenous to Australia, Tasmania, Indonesia and the Philippines, but now commonly grown in many other subtropical countries. The aromatic oils found in eucalyptus leaves are strong antimicrobials and decongestants, which is why they have been traditionally used to combat colds and nasal congestion.
The pungent lance-shaped eucalyptus leaves are used to make herbal tea, or more accurately called a herbal infusion or tisane, although sometimes a little eucalyptus bark is added too. The leaves have a strong scent because they are rich in aromatic oils such as eucalyptol. The leaves are usually dried and lightly macerated before adding hot water and steeping for at least 15 minutes in order to draw all the beneficial compounds out of the plant fibers. However, don’t use boiling water because some of the compounds are destroyed with high heat.
Benefits of Eucalyptol
Eucalyptol comprises about 70 percent of the volatile oil in eucalyptus leaves. In addition to being a strong antibacterial, eucalyptol affects the mucus membranes that line the nose, sinuses and lungs, which leads to decongestion and the release of mucus and phlegm. Consequently, eucalyptus products such as oil extracts, teas and lozenges are safe and effective for reducing the symptoms of head colds, sore throats, sinus infections and bronchitis. Eucalyptus oil is toxic if consumed in large doses, which is why the leaves are typically heated and inhaled. Eucalyptus tea, which is much more dilute than oil extracts, has the dual benefit of being able to be inhaled and consumed.
Other Beneficial Compounds
Eucalyptus leaves also contain tannins, which are astringents, and caffeic and gallic acids, which are strong antioxidants also found in green tea. Antioxidants eliminate free radicals, which damage a variety of tissues, especially blood vessels and skin. Other strong antioxidants found in eucalyptus leaves include hyperin, eucalyptrin, quercetin, rutin, alpha-pinene, limonene and alpha-termineol. The combination of these compounds with the volatile oils in the leaves makes eucalyptus tea an effective breath freshener, mouthwash, deodorant and topical antibacterial.
Side effects from drinking eucalyptus tea are rare and mild, but eucalyptus oil is toxic and harmful in single doses as small as 3.5 milliliters. It’s virtually impossible for you to consume that much oil in one day from drinking eucalyptus tea, but to be on the safe side, it’s probably a good idea not to allow children to drink it. Consult with an herbalist or practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine before consuming large amounts of eucalyptus tea.
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
- PDR for Herbal Medicines; PDR Medical Staff
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.