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The Eucalyptus Tree:



Christopher Nyerges

Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” and an outdoor instructor.  For more information, contact him at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com or at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041

The Eucalypti are the most dominant tree of the Australian landscape, with approximately 550 species known as ironwoods, gumwoods, and mallees.  They are also one of the most common introduced trees in Southern California and Arizona.

Eucalyptus leaves

They were originally brought into Southern California about 150 years ago, in the belief that this quick-growing tree would be a good timber tree for railroads and other building applications.  This proved not to be the case, as the twisting grain of eucalyptus made it unsuitable for most building projects.  Nevertheless, this beautiful, fragrant, and largely pest-resistant tree caught on as a garden, park, and street tree in California, Arizona, and throughout the southern U.S. all the way to Florida where the climate is moderate.

Eucalyptus is generally thought of as a medicinal tree rather than a food-source, though there are a few foods available from the plant.  Perhaps the most interesting is a common bug that is seen on the leaves, appearing as small white bumps.  This is actually a psyllid, a small scale-like creature that Aboriginal children in Australia would scrape off the leaves with their teeth to get a good sugar source.

At my field trips, we have participants pick off the leaves and chew the white sweet bugs.  A few people refuse to do so, but this is really one of the most pleasant ways to “eat bugs.”  You can also put a psyllid-infested eucalyptus leaf into a cup of hot water, and end up with sweetened eucalyptus tea.

A view of the psyllids, or lerps, that are often found on eucalyptus leaves. Aboriginal people ate these because they are sweet.

In fact, a tea from the leaves of any eucalyptus species (with or without the psyllids) can be infused and used as a pleasant beverage.

The roots of several Eucalyptus species were dried, powdered, and used as food in Australia.  The best are said to be E. caesia, E. dumosa, and E. gracilis.     The finely powdered seeds of one mallee, E. microtheca, have been reportedly used for food.

In Australia, the eucalyptus provides nectar and pollen to bees, who in turn provide honey and beeswax.  Beehives that I’ve kept near a Eucalyptus grove in my Los Angeles back yard have produced a honey as dark as molasses and extremely fragrant.  I use this honey as a medicine as much as a sweetener, and find that if I have a cold or sore throat, I feel much better after using this honey in my drinks.

The young fruits can be sucked for sore throats.  According to Alma R. Hutchens, author of Indian Herbology of North America, “Among the diseases in which it is employed are croup, diphtheria, bronchitis, asthma, piles, neuralgia, malarial diseases, catarrh, in subacute or chronic inflammation of the urinary organs, ulcers and sores.  It has proven an effective remedy in some cases of rheumatism.  For some, the mode of using it in asthma is to smoke the dried leaves.”  (I’ve never tried this last use).

            The tea of eucalyptus leaves, well known for its efficacy in dealing with sinus congestion, also has sufficient antiseptic properties that it can be used to clean wounds.  In fact, though there are many species of eucalyptus with many distinct uses throughout Australia, the two primary uses for eucalyptus are the tea from the leaves for all breathing-related problems, and a tea from the bark used to wash and disinfect wounds.

            I have boiled eucalyptus leaves on many occasions and inhaled the steam to help with sinus congestion.  I usually drink a little of the strong broth as well.

Army Veteran Mark Tsunokai tries some lerps

Eucalyptus oil (obtained from the leaves by distillation) is rich in the therapeutic agent cineole.  Cineole is used as an active ingredient in inhalants, gargles, lozenges, etc., because it has a pleasant odor and is efficient in killing bacteria.  Rutin, used medicinally for diabetes and high blood pressure, occurs in the leaves of some eucalyptus. You have consumed this anytime you’ve had eucalyptus cough drops (by whatever name).

We have taken the caps off some of the smaller capsules, and used the powdered insides (which consisted mostly of stamens) as a first aid remedy for cuts.  In all cases, this resulted in rapid healing and very little scarring.  We suggest that the smaller, unopened capsules be included in first aid kits.

The variously scented eucalyptus leaves (peppermint, lemon, medicinal, etc.) tend to repel insects.  A necklace of young fruits is used as a safe flea repellent for cats and dogs.

A view of eucalyptus leaves.

Whole books have been written on the many uses of this valuable plant.  We’ve only scratched the surface here.  One good book for further information is Bush Food: Aboriginal Food and Herbal Medicine by Jennifer Isaacs Lansdowne Publishing Pty. Ltd., Sydney, 1987).

It is also more difficult to garden or farm under the areas where eucalypti are growing.  Your garden plants will produce smaller fruit or tubers, and the plants will require more fertilizer.  This is the result of the dispersion of the various eucalyptus oils into the soil.

Native to Australia, there are about 90 varieties which have naturalized in California and Arizona, and beyond those areas.

SOURCE OF LEAVES FOR TEA:  Urban farmer Julie Balaa of WTI Farms sells packages of the dried eucalyptus leaves which can be used for tea. It comes with instructions.  One package is $10, from WTI, 5835 Burwood Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90042.

Or email Balaa at juliebalaa@gmail.com.

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