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Chapter 5



Eucalyptus oils are obtained by distillation of the leaves of Eucalyptus and have aromas characteristic of the particular species used.

The oils are classified in the trade into three broad types according to their composition and main end-use: medicinal, perfumery and industrial. Of these, the most important in terms of volume of production and trade is the medicinal type, characterised by a high cineole content in the oil. This, and the perfumery type, are discussed below. The so-called industrial oil, produced from E. dives, now has a very small and diminishing market and is not discussed further.

The medicinal type of oil may be sold as such, neat, in pharmacies and other retail outlets or in the form of sprays, lozenges, cough sweets and ointments or in formulation with other oils. It is used as an inhalant or chest rub to ease breathing difficulties, as a mouthwash in water to refresh or ease the throat, and as a skin rub to provide relief from aches and pains. Anti-plaque solutions in dental hygiene are a recent application. Although employed for medicinal purposes, the pleasant flavour and fragrance properties of cineole-rich eucalyptus oils play an important role in their acceptance and utilization on such a large scale. Eucalyptus oil is also used as a general disinfectant, cleaner and deodorizer about the house.

Of the two principal perfumery oils, that from Eucalyptus citriodora is produced in the greatest volume. It differs from the medicinal oils in containing citrinellal, rather than cineole, as the major constituent. The oil is employed in whole form for fragrance purposes, usually in the lower cost soaps, perfumes and disinfectants, but also as a source of citrinellal for the chemical industry. The citrinellal obtained by fractionation of the crude oil may be used as such as an aroma chemical or converted to other derivatives intended for fragrance use.

The only other perfumery oil produced in any quantity is that from E. staigeriana. No single chemical predominates in the oil and it is used in whole form for perfumery purposes. It has a lemon-type character.



World production and trade in eucalyptus oils is dominated by the People's Republic of China, which is the largest producer of both cineole-rich medicinal oils (about 70 percent of world output and trade) and perfumery oil (from E. citriodora). It is not possible to quantify accurately total world demand for eucalyptus oils. The weakness of production statistics and of domestic consumption statistics in the producing country markets, especially for such a large producer and consumer as the People's Republic of China, makes published trade statistics of limited value for analytical purposes. Furthermore, several importing countries such as Portugal, Spain and Australia are also producers and processors of eucalyptus oils and re-export much of what they import.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, total world production of medicinal type eucalyptus oil in 1991 has been estimated at around 3000 tonnes, of which approximately 2000 tonnes were exported (COPPEN and HONE, 1992). Production and exports of E. citriodora oil, the main perfumery oil, for 1991 are estimated at about 1500 tonnes and 500 tonnes, respectively.

Globally, the European Community is the largest importer of eucalyptus oils and recorded imports for the period 1984-90 are shown in Table 7.

It should be noted that medicinal and perfumery oils are not distinguished in trade statistics.

Within Europe, France, Germany and the UK are the major markets for eucalyptus oil-based products. In 1990 their combined imports amounted to 1840 tonnes.

Imports into the United States, the largest single country market for eucalyptus oils (excluding the People's Republic of China and those countries which re-export much of their imports after further processing), are shown in Table 8.

Changes and disruptions in Chinese patterns of trade and domestic usage of eucalyptus oils since 1989 have caused a fall in domestic offtake and an expansion of exports, the latter driven by a desire to earn foreign exchange. Although increasing, the world market for eucalyptus oil is not growing rapidly, and with no major new uses for it which could absorb large volumes, opportunities for new producers are likely to rest mainly with meeting local or regional needs rather than trying to compete in the wider international market.

Supply sources

The main producers and suppliers of cineole-type (medicinal) eucalyptus oil to the world market are shown in Table 9, together with estimates of their production and exports in 1991.

Under intense price pressure from Chinese oil, primary production in Portugal and Spain has decreased in recent years although both countries remain significant exporters of eucalyptus oil products. The balance of the starting oil is imported, chiefly from the People's Republic of China.

Southern Africa is a major producing region for eucalyptus oil, most of it from South Africa but a significant proportion from Swaziland. In South America, Chile and Brazil are the major producers, with smaller amounts coming from Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Australia, the home of Eucalyptus and eucalyptus oil production, has declined in importance since its heyday in the 1940s. However, in the face of increasing production elsewhere in the world, the introduction of mechanized harvesting (see below) has enabled the Australian industry to become more efficient and it remains an important supplier of refined and finished eucalyptus oil products (based partly on its own production and partly on imports of crude or partially refined oil).

Production of E. citriodora oil is also dominated by the People's Republic of China. In 1991 it is estimated that she accounted for approximately two thirds, 1000 tonnes, of total production, of which, perhaps, 400 tonnes were exported. Brazil (500 tonnes) and India (50 tonnes) are the only other producers of this type of oil, with Brazil exporting about half of her production. Brazil is the only supplier to the world market of E. staigeriana oil; production is of the order of 60 tonnes pa.

Quality and prices

The value of eucalyptus oil for medicinal purposes lies in its cineole content, which largely determines, also, the price that it fetches. National and international standards exist which specify the minimum cineole content expected of such oils and this is normally 70 percent (m/m). The intrinsic composition of the oil is largely determined by the species of Eucalyptus that is distilled and for a few species (such as E. polybractea) the crude oil from the primary distillation of the leaves easily exceeds this minimum requirement. For most eucalypts which are exploited, however, the crude oil has to be rectified to increase its cineole content. These oils then enter international trade. Chinese oil, for example, is commonly traded as "eucalyptus oil 80 percent", referring to the fact that it contains at least 80 percent cineole.

Cineole-rich oils used strictly for medicinal purposes must satisfy national or international pharmacopoeia and this may introduce further requirements for compliance, although this will be a task for the rectifier of the oil rather than the primary producer. Crude E. smithii oil, for example, suffers from the disadvantage of containing a few percent of isovaleraldehyde and this adversely affects its odour. In order to meet pharmacopoeia standards the aldehyde content must be reduced by rectification.

For the perfumery oils, aroma characteristics are important but it is left to the subjective assessment of the prospective buyer to decide whether the oil is acceptable in this respect. Published standards exist for E. citriodora oil and these usually specify that the aldehyde content calculated as citrinellal should not be less than 70 percent.

Price trends of both cineole-rich and perfumery oils have been greatly influenced by the ample supplies of Chinese oils on the market in recent years and the price at which they have been offered. In early 1994 the price of standard grade Chinese 80 percent eucalyptus oil had fallen below US$3/kg from the US$6/kg level in 1989. Prices for cineole-rich oil of Portuguese/Spanish origin are US$2-3 higher than Chinese prices because of the preference by end-users for these traditional sources. A new producer of eucalyptus oil, however, would need to compete, at least in the first instance, with Chinese oil.

It is possible that the next few years will see reduced Chinese exports and a slow recovery in demand and prices, though eucalyptus oil will remain one of the lower priced essential oils.

Until the recent fall in prices, Chinese E. citriodora oil was lower priced than cineole-rich oil of Chinese origin. The situation has now reversed and in early 1994 E. citriodora oil was being offered by London dealers at US$3.35/kg.


Several hundreds of species of Eucalyptus have been shown to contain volatile oil, though probably fewer than 20 of these have ever been exploited commercially for oil production. Today, fewer than a dozen species are utilized in different parts of the world, of which six account for the greater part of world production of eucalyptus oils.

Those species currently exploited, and the countries in which they are utilized, are listed below. (The use of parentheses indicates a minor producer.) Other species that have been used in the past include E. cinerea (medicinal), E. cneorifolia (medicinal) and E. macarthurii (perfumery).

Botanical/common names

Family Myrtaceae:

Eucalyptus globulus Labill.
(Tasmanian blue gum) 
People's Republic of China, 
Portugal, Spain, India, Brazil, Chile, 
(Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay) 
E. smithii R. Baker
(gully gum) 
South Africa, Swaziland, 
E. polybractea R. Baker(syn. E. fruticetorum F. Muell. ex Miq.) (blue mallee)  Australia 
E. exserta F. Muell.
(Queensland peppermint) 
People's Republic of China 
E. radiata Sieber ex DC.
(syn. E. australiana, E. radiata var. australiana) (narrow-leaved peppermint) 
(South Africa, Australia) 
E. dives Schauer (cineole variant)
(broad-leaved peppermint) 
E. camaldulensis Dehnh.
(syn. E. rostrata Schldl.) (river red gum) 
E. citriodora Hook.
(lemon-scented gum) 
People's Republic of China, Brazil, India 
E. staigeriana F. Muell.
ex Bailey (lemon-scented ironbark) 

Description and distribution

Eucalypts vary in form from low shrubs and multi-stemmed trees less than 10 m in height ("mallees") to large single-stemmed trees more than 60 m tall. The production of lignotubers is a characteristic of many species and this generally makes them respond to coppicing. On the death of the plant stem, either through fire or by cutting, dormant vegetative buds which have been present in a tuberous mass at the base of the tree develop and produce new stems. The ability to grow Eucalyptus under a coppice system of management is central to the economic production of oil.

The genus Eucalyptus is native to Australia and some islands to the north of it and consists of over 500 species of trees. These grow under a wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions in their natural habitat and is one reason for the successful introduction of Eucalyptus into so many other countries in the world. Together with Pinus, the two genera account for the larger part of exotic plantations in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Like pines, eucalypts are grown for timber or pulp but their fast-growing nature also makes them ideally suited as a fuelwood crop. In some cases the favoured species for wood production (such as E. saligna and E. grandis, or E. tereticornis in India) are not suitable for oil. In other instances they are, and leaf oil may be obtained as a secondary product from the plantings (as is the case for E. globulus planted for pulp in Portugal, E. citriodora grown for charcoal production in Brazil and E. smithii utilized for mining timber in South Africa).

Species selection for oil production

When leaf oil is to be a product of new eucalypt plantings the choice of species will depend on the particular environmental conditions that prevail at the intended site. Although most species of Eucalyptus provide an oil on distillation, its economic recovery requires the oil to be of good quality (at least 60-65 percent cineole in the case of a medicinal-type oil) and produced in high yields. In practical terms, therefore, the choice is likely to fall on one of the species already utilized (and listed above).

In Swaziland and South Africa, E. smithii has been found to grow particularly well under local conditions, producing large amounts of leaf biomass, and this has led to it being preferred for oil production over other species. In the same region E. radiata, although it yields less biomass, gives a similar recovery of oil on a per hectare basis as E. smithii. Its better aroma characteristics, however, make it a species with much potential and it may in the future be more widely planted than it is at present.

Effects of oil production on the natural resource

In Australia, the reduced level of oil production compared with 50 years ago is a result of the inevitable rise in labour costs associated with such production rather than a loss of the trees themselves. In any case, as has been indicated, most eucalypts respond to coppicing and cutting back of the natural stands is soon followed by the emergence of coppice regrowth.


Eucalyptus leaf destined for oil production is obtained commercially by one of three methods:

- recovery of "waste" leaf from felled trees which have been grown
primarily for their wood;
- short-rotation harvesting of plantations established specifically for
oil production. Under such a system of coppicing, plants are allowed
to grow for no more than about 20 months before cutting;
- regular harvesting of wild stands (peculiar to Australia).

Utilization of "waste" leaf

In most cases, the branches trimmed from the stems of eucalypts that are felled for timber, pulp or fuelwood production are left in the field as waste or burnt; this also includes the shoots and side stems derived from pruning operations. Those countries which possess large areas of an oil-yielding species are able to make use of this "waste" resource to produce oil. This is the case for the People's Republic of China, Portugal and Spain which recover oil from E. globulus. The foliage should not be left on the ground too long before transportation to the distillery or there is a risk of losing volatile oil.

Although the raw material itself (the foliage) may have very little cost associated with it, any prospective producer of eucalyptus oil who is contemplating the utilization of "waste" leaf should ensure that the logistics of collection are adequately considered. Labour and transport costs are not insignificant.

Coppice management specifically for oil production

Those species of Eucalyptus which respond well to coppicing may be grown specifically for oil on a short-rotation cycle. In Swaziland, where oil is obtained from E. smithii, the first cut is made 20-24 months after planting. Subsequent cuts of the coppice regrowth are made at approximately 16-month intervals, at which time the plants are 5-6 m tall. Harvesting may continue for many years and in Swaziland some areas of E. smithii are still being harvested after 20 years or more.

In Brazil, one producer of oils from E. citriodora, E. globulus and E. staigeriana adopts a slightly different system of harvesting. Eighteen months after planting, the smaller branches are cut from the stem. This process is repeated every 6 months or so until the branches are too high to be reached (a period of about 3 years). The stem is then cut at about knee height and two or three stems are allowed to grow over a period of about 12 months, when the harvesting cycle is repeated.

The distillery is usually located within a reasonable distance of where the eucalypts are growing and foliage from the harvesting operation is distilled either the same day or the following day.

Mechanical harvesting of E. polybractea in Australia

The multi-stemmed, shrubby nature of coppiced E. polybractea offers an alternative means of leaf collection that is not labour intensive: mechanical harvesting. This system of harvesting was developed in Australia as a means of reducing labour costs and is used to harvest natural stands of E. polybractea. The frequency of harvesting is between 18 months and 24 months, at which time the shrubs are about 1 m high.

On a more limited scale in Australia, E. polybractea has been planted as a crop for oil production. The first harvest is usually made after 3 years with subsequent harvesting at 18-month intervals.

An additional advantage of the mechanical harvesting system is that the mobile "bin" into which the cut foliage is blown functions not only as a means of transporting it back to the distillery, but as a distillation vessel. By such means, double handling by way of unloading and reloading of the leaf into a separate vessel is avoided. A steam line is simply connected to the bottom of the bin, and a cover with a hole in the centre which allows exit of the oil/water vapours during distillation is placed over the top. The vapours are led away through a flexible hose and then condensed and separated in the normal manner.

Yields and quality variation

Yields of oil from leaf vary somewhat between species but on a commercial scale are of the order of 1 percent on a "fresh" basis. (Note that "leaf" in this context includes the woody material of the branches which contains little or no oil.) Of more relevance to the economics of production is the yield of oil per hectare and this is dependent on the biomass production as well as the oil yield from the leaf. Production from E. smithii in Swaziland yields approximately 15 tonnes/ha of leaf, corresponding to about 150 litres/ha of oil.

The dependence of oil quality on species has already been referred to. There may also be marked differences in oil yield and quality within a species according to the provenance origin of the seed. E. camaldulensis, for example, has a very wide distribution in Australia, but only certain northern Queensland provenances (Petford, in particular) yield an oil which makes the species attractive as a source of medicinal oil. In extreme cases in their natural habitat, even trees within the same provenance may produce oils which are quite different to each other. E. dives is a well-known example and it is possible to obtain seed from cineole and piperitone variants.

Further small yield and compositional differences may arise from the use of juvenile rather than adult leaf for distillation, though it is not generally practicable to attempt to separate different types of leaf in a commercial operation.


The enhancement of cineole content of the crude oil by a process of rectification entails carrying out a fractional distillation under reduced pressure. Small producers of eucalyptus oils, for whom it is not economic to invest in the equipment needed to do this, sell their crude oil to other, larger producers or to rectifiers who are not, themselves, producers of crude oil. An annual oil production of the order of 40-50 tonnes is the minimum scale of operation that would make rectification a viable option for a producer.

Essentially pure cineole, termed "eucalyptol", is traded and used by some end-users, and commands a higher price than the lower grades, but it is necessary to prepare this in a second step after rectification. The cineole-rich fraction is frozen at -300?C to -400?C for up to 24 hours and the recovered mixture, which contains unfrozen impurities (principally limonene), is centrifuged. The liquid portion is thus removed and the frozen part warmed to furnish eucalyptol.


Apart from any primary utilization of the stem wood if the oil is produced from "waste" leaf, it is still possible to make use of both spent leaf (that is, the material remaining after distillation of the oil) and secondary biomass, even from operations involving short-rotation coppicing, and this aspect should always be considered by a prospective new producer of eucalyptus oil.

Small coppice stems from which the foliage is trimmed for distillation can be used as fuel, either for the boiler providing steam at the distillery or for sale to others. Spent leaf can also be used as a boiler fuel although only a portion of the total available will probably be consumed in this way. The remainder may be returned to the fields to serve as a fertilizer (or a mulch if conditions require it) or it may be converted to compost and sold to provide an additional source of income.


Although present prices of eucalyptus oils are the lowest they have been in recent years, this is not atypical of the fluctuations that occur in the essential oil market and they may be expected, in due course, to recover. The advantage of Eucalyptus over most other essential oil-bearing tree crops is that it offers the possibility of genuine multipurpose utilization. Moreover, the trees can be grown on a large, plantation scale or on an individual or communal woodlot system. The rapid growth of the trees means that income can be derived from sales of the stems for poles, fuelwood or other purpose within a fairly short time (7-10 years) during which period leaf can also be harvested for oil production.

A number of socio-economic studies have been published describing the experiences of smallholder or cooperative groups who have included Eucalyptus species amongst the trees planted. In Africa, E. camaldulensis is often planted, either alone or with Acacia, Gmelina or some other species, usually as a source of poles and fuelwood, though they may also serve as shelterbelts and windbreaks. Utilization of waste leaf from Petford E. camaldulensis for simultaneous oil production is therefore an option but more research is needed to examine the likely economic returns to the farmer. In Kenya, and elsewhere, the supposed disadvantages of growing eucalypts (high water and nutrient consumption) have not been borne out in practice. Adverse effects of woodlots on neighbouring crops can be minimised by careful consideration of positioning.

Research needs

The intrinsic variability of Eucalyptus germplasm sources has already been discussed. The advantages to be gained from giving adequate attention to selection of seed for planting cannot be over-emphasized. Over-hasty planting of a species or provenance which is unsuited to local conditions, or does not produce an oil of acceptable quality or yield, will result in failure.

Despite the large store of knowledge that is available on the cultivation of eucalypts for wood and pulp, further research is needed to maximize the returns on eucalypts planted (solely or partly) for the production of oil:

- More extensive evaluation of the climatic and edaphic conditions under which the major oil-bearing species will grow in different parts of the world. As well as original research, collation of published (and unpublished) data which are presently scattered in the literature would be valuable. Armed with such information, more informed judgements could be made on which species are likely to be most suited to a particular site (though this would not eliminate the need to conduct field trials to verify this).

- Determination of biomass production. While information is often available on the yields of oil to be expected from the leaf of particular species of Eucalyptus, much less is known about the amount of leaf produced in the field, with which meaningful estimates can be made of productivity, i.e. oil yield per hectare per year. Specific areas requiring research include the effects of spacing, fertilizer application and frequency and height of coppicing on biomass/oil yields.

- Investigation of nutrient recycling. In cases where eucalypts are grown specifically for oil on a short rotation, the long-term effects of continued removal of biomass and possible nutrient depletion of the soil need to be studied.

- Socio-economic studies of the effects of including oil production in smallholder/cooperative ventures involving multipurpose eucalypts and woodlots. To date, most work has related to wood use only.

- Some species deserve particular attention. In Africa and Asia, E. camaldulensis has great potential as a source of fuelwood/poles and oil. In Africa, E. smithii and E. radiata are high oil yielders. In very dry areas E. polybractea may have potential although it would not be suitable for timber production.


BOLAND, D.J., BROPHY, J.J. and HOUSE, A.P.N. (eds) (1991) Eucalyptus Leaf Oils. Use, Chemistry, Distillation and Marketing. 252 pp. Melbourne/Sydney: Inkata Press.

BOOTH, T.H. (1992) Where in the world? New climatic analysis methods to assist species and provenance selection for trials. Unasylva, 42(165), 51-57.

BROOKER, M.I.H. and KLEINIG, D.A. (1990) Field Guide to Eucalypts, Vols. 1 and 2. Melbourne/Sydney: Inkata Press.

CALDER, I. (1990) Eucalyptus not the villain after all. Overseas, No. 4, p 6. Wallingford, UK: Institute of Hydrology.

CONROY, C. (1992) Can eucalypts be appropriate for poor farmers? Appropriate Technology, 19(1), 22-25.

COPPEN, J.J.W. and DYER, L.R. (1993) Eucalyptus and its Leaf Oils. An Indexed Bibliography. 205 pp. Chatham, UK: Natural Resources Institute.

COPPEN, J.J.W. and HONE, G.A. (1992) Eucalyptus Oils. A Review of Production and Markets. NRI Bulletin 56. 45 pp. Chatham, UK: Natural Resources Institute.

FAO (1979) Eucalypts for Planting. FAO Forestry Series No. 11. 677 pp. Rome: FAO.

FAO (1988) The Eucalypt Dilemma. 26 pp. Rome: FAO.

GUSTAVSSON, S. and KIMEU, P. (1992) Socio-economic Evaluation of Eucalyptus Growing on Small-scale Farms in Vihiga Division, Kakamega District, Kenya: a Minor Field Study. International Rural Development Centre Publication No. 210. 41 pp. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

HERGERT, H.J. and UIBRIG, H. (1991) Economics of a pole and fuelwood production project in the Hararghe highlands, eastern Ethiopia. In Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Horticultural Economics in Developing Countries, Alemaya, Ethiopia, 16-23 July, 1989. Acta Horticulturae (270), 373-379.

ISO (1974) Oil of Eucalyptus citriodora. International Standard ISO 3044-1974 (E). 2 pp. International Organization for Standardization.

ISO (1974) Oil of Australian Eucalyptus, 80 to 85 percent cineole content. International Standard ISO 3065-1974 (E). 2 pp. International Organization for Standardization.

ISO (1980) Oil of Eucalyptus globulus. International Standard ISO 770-1980 (E). 2 pp. International Organization for Standardization.

ISO (1983) Rectified oil of Eucalyptus globulus Labillardière, Portugal. International Standard ISO 4732-1983 (E). 2 pp. International Organization for Standardization.

NEIL, P.E. (1987) Notes on Potential Multipurpose and Community Forest Tree Species. Forest Research Report, Vanuatu, No. 11/87. 2 pp.

OSEMEOBO, G.J. (1989) An impact and performance evaluation of smallholder participation in tree planting, Nigeria. Agricultural Systems, 29(2), 117-135.

PENFOLD, A.R. and WILLIS, J.L. (1961) Essential oils. pp. 245-281. In The Eucalypts. 551 pp. London: Leonard Hill.

POORE, M.E.D. and FRIES, C. (1985) The Ecological Effects of Eucalyptus. FAO Forestry Paper No. 59. 87 pp. Rome: FAO.

TURNBULL, J.W. (1991) Future use of Eucalyptus: opportunities and problems. pp. 2-27. In Proceedings of IUFRO Symposium on Intensive Forestry: The Role of Eucalypts, Durban, 2-6 September, 1991. Vol. 1. 595 pp. Pretoria: Southern African Institute of Forestry.

WHITE, K.J. (1988) Eucalyptus on small farms. pp. 86-96. In Proceedings of an International Workshop on Multipurpose Tree Species for Small-farm Use, Pattaya, Thailand, 2-5 November, 1987.

N.6 : Eucalyptus leaves awaiting distillation. Eucalyptus globulus,showing juvenile
and adult leaves, Portugal [ J. Coppen, NRI ]

N 7 : Harvesting Eucalyptus smithii, Swaziland. First cut about 24 months [ J. Coppen, NRI ]

N 8 : Eucalyptus leaves being loaded into stills for distillation. Eucalyptus smithii,
Swaziland [ J. Coppen, NRI ]

N 9 : Regularly coppiced natural stands of Eucalyptus polybractea
awaiting harvesting, Australia [ J. Coppen, NRI ]


Table 7
Imports of eucalyptus oil into the European Community, and sources, 1984-90
Of which from: 
South Africa 

Source: NIMEXE Eurostat ( 1989 1990)

Table 8
Imports of eucalyptus oil into the United States, 1984-90

Source: Foreign Agricultural Circular, USDA

Table 9
World production and exports (excluding re-exports) of cineole-type
eucalyptus oil estimated for 1991
Of which: 
China, People's Rep. of 
150- 200 
150- 200 
South Africa 
150- 180 
120- 150 
80- 100 
80- 100 
50- 100 
Source: NRI and trade estimates

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