Years ago, I picked up a bottle of eucalyptus essential oil to add to some homemade bath bombs I was making for Holiday gifts. My interest in DIY products was in full swing, and I was trying my hand at a number of recipes for the first time. I’d heard that eucalyptus was a good oil to add to hot showers and baths, because the cooling, minty steam was a good decongestant.

The bath bombs were the least successful of the many trials that December, so that recipe and the eucalyptus oil were packed away and forgotten. Then, when I was fighting a cold this past winter, a friend suggested trying a eucalyptus facial steam to get some relief. I found the oil in a box in the attic, surrounded by empty spray bottles and jars, shea butter, beeswax, and vitamin E oil.

I brought it down to the kitchen for an experiment, one that I did not have right the first time. My friend had told me to boil some water, put the eucalyptus oil in, then lean over the water with a towel over my head. In my lazy, rather apathetic sick state, I brought some water to a boil in a big pot, left it on high, added the drops of oil, and stood over top of it with a small dish towel laying over the back of my head, and too-hot steam pouring upwards at my face. If you knew me, you’d know that this is just the kind of silly and ridiculous thing I would do.

Later my partner corrected my technique. You boil the water, pour it into a glass mixing bowl, then add a few drops of eucalyptus oil. Cover it with a bath town for a minute to let the steam build, then duck your head under the towel and breath deeply. It works wonders.

That same friend — apparently the goddess of eucalyptus — has the excellent habit of keeping eucalyptus branches in vases around her apartment. The branches of the tree are sold as a “filler” flower at most flower shops and go for about $4 a bunch at Trader Joe’s. But in my opinion, they don’t need a centerpiece flower to be complete. The pale green, round leaves look chic and minimal on their own, and they stay good for a couple of weeks. Plus, there’s the crisp, minty scent, which adds a fresh feel to any room. You can even hang a bundle in your shower to get the same congestion-easing effect as the facial steam.

I like to pick up some branches every few weeks, but I want to revisit the oil more too. In addition to its respiratory benefits, it’s good for dental hygiene, hair, and skin. You’ll find it in perfumes, bath salts, candles, and balms. The plant is anti-inflammatory and proved to increase ceramide levels, which is good for the skin. You can get the benefits by mixing it into your favorite lotion or make your own body butter. It’s also antibacterial, so its a good ingredient to have on hand for DIY cleaning products.

There’s a lot of potential in the eucalyptus genus and its seven hundred species — although just a couple species of the evergreen are most often used for essential oils. Still, in a vase or in a vial, this is a good plant to add to your library of natural tools.

By Katrina Eresman

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