Category: Medicines - plant based
Introduction and description
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Eucalyptus is a diverse genus of flowering trees and shrubs (including a distinct group with a multiple-stem mallee growth habit) in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae.
We treat them as a group for the purposes of description and explanation here because they have many common properties. The observations, however, will make reference to specific plants when medical uses and efficacy is described.
Many species in this family are known as gum trees because they exude copious amounts of dribbly gum from any break in the bark. The generic name is derived from the Greek words ευ (eu) "well" and καλύπτω (kalýpto) "to cover", referring to "the operculum on the calyx that initially conceals the flower".
The more than 700 species of eucalyptus are mostly native to Australia, and members of the genus dominate the tree flora of Australia.
A very small number are found in adjacent areas of New Guinea and Indonesia. One species, Eucalyptus deglupta, ranges as far north as the Philippines. Only 15 species occur outside Australia, with just nine of these not occurring in Australia. Species of eucalyptus are cultivated widely in the tropical and temperate world, including the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East, China, and the Indian subcontinent, though most species do not tolerate frost.
Eucalyptus species have attracted attention from horticulturists, global development researchers, and environmentalists both because of perceived desirable traits and perceived undesirable traits. They are, for example, thirsty plants and on the one hand are criticised for being "water-guzzling aliens", on the other are being to assessed to see if they can be used to drain swamps and thereby reduce the risk of malaria.
They produce an oil that can be used for cleaning and as a natural insecticide. On warm days, eucalyptus forests are sometimes shrouded in a smog-like mist of vaporised volatile organic compounds (terpenoids); the Australian Blue Mountains take their name from the haze. Eucalyptus oil finds many uses like in aromatherapy, and as a cure for joint pains.
Eucalyptus trees show allelopathic effects; they release compounds which inhibit other plant species from growing nearby.
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