Australians are hanging sprigs of eucalyptus in the shower in the hope they’ll reap a wide range of alleged health benefits.
But doctors claim this “harmless” alternative remedy is no replacement for proven treatments.
A eucalyptus shower is claimed to help treat anything from coughs to the common cold, the flu, stress, sinusitis and muscle aches.
What is a eucalyptus shower?
In a growing trend, eucalyptus leaves – which contain essential oils – are being hung from shower heads, away from the direct stream of water.
The steam from the hot shower then releases these essential oils in the eucalyptus which you breathe in as you shower – similar to a vaporiser.
Andrew Hamilton of the National Herbalists Association of Australia said his society stood by claims this remedy can assist colds, coughs, bronchitis and other common respiration problems.
But he said its ability to relieve stress, muscle aches, skin conditions or skin health is “unclear”.
“The steam from a warm or hot shower will help to release the essential oils from the plant and creates a vaporising effect,” he said.
“The use of eucalyptus can be traced back to our indigenous heritage.”
He added that as the leaves dry over time, the concentration of the essential oils will diminish, so they should be replaced with fresh leaves once dried out.
The science behind eucalyptus showers
Plant physiology expert Dr Carsten Kulheim, of Australian National University, said while there is some truth to these health claims, there are some things you should know before growing eucalyptus in the backyard and re-decorating the bathroom.
“Having steam in the shower would allow for the release of small amounts of the essential oil … [but] only a small proportion of the essential oil is likely to be released from the leaves during a shower,” he said.
“The main component of eucalyptus oil is called eucalyptol – typically 70 per cent of the total essential oil. But not every eucalyptus tree contains the kind of essential oils you want.
“The amount of essential oils in the leaf can vary from next to nothing, to about 20 per cent of the leaf’s weight.
“Even if you collect branches from the right species, you might be lucky – or not. You could pick a tree with almost no oils, or a different type of oil.”
Dr Abhi Verma, a Melbourne GP representing the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), said Australians should use alternative remedies cautiously.
He said it could be dangerous if it delays patients seeking medical advice from a doctor relating to a serious health condition.
“The RACGP encourages all patients to consult their GP before starting any new treatment, including alternative treatments like eucalyptus showers,” he said.
“Your GP will be able to assess your health and provide the most appropriate and effective treatment advice based on your individual needs and circumstances.
“While hanging eucalyptus in the shower for its health benefits probably won’t cause any harm, it is important patients do not delay seeking medical advice for what could be a serious health condition.
“Until there is considerable scientific evidence to support the health benefits of eucalyptus showers, this is not something we would recommend to treat coughs, colds and the flu, stress or muscle aches.”