Harvesting Eucalyptus Oil

24 Nov

Kangaroo Island is home to Emu Ridge Eucalyptus, the only distillery of narrow leaf mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia) in the world. The plant is so rich in oil you can see it bead in the leaves as you hold it up to the sun.

There are over 1000 species of eucalyptus trees but only about 10 of these varieties have enough oil to be of value. Every variety has its own unique fragrance. The narrow leaf eucalyptus found on Kangaroo Island is one of the best oil producers, it responds well to pruning and it smells great.

Pruned narrow leaf eucalyptus

At Emu Ridge distillery the young regrowth eucalyptus is harvested with a chain saw. The fast growing plant is cut off at ground level every two years. The plant regenerates quickly and can live up to 100 years meaning a high oil yield per planting.

One half ton of leaves are distilled in each batch. In the winter this yields about two liters of oil and in the summer, 10 liters.

The eucalyptus oil business began in the 1880s and moved to commercial cultivation in 1923.  But most oil was produced as a sideline by farmers who supplemented their income  with small stills. There was a very real market for eucalyptus oil as the advertisements from those times show. It was used for liniment, burn treatment, insect repellent and for sore throats. A doctor’s recommendation features prominently in the ads.

Capturing distilled oil.

Emu Ridge Eucalyptus oil distillery distills oil with the traditional method. The leaf is placed in a pot containing water beneath which a fire is lit.  Steam carrying the oil is passed through a system of cooling pipes.

When steam rises up through the eucalyptus leaves it ruptures the oil cells in the leaf. The steam and water rise up and are returned to liquid as it moves through the cooling pipes. The result is oil and water. The oil is lighter, rises to the top and can be filtered off and bottled.  Initially the raw oil is a yellow color but further distilling yields clear oil.

Today this 100% natural oil is used as a disinfectant for cleaning floors, a deodorizer and spot remover for stained clothing especially anything sticky like gum. On the human body, you can use it for cuts and burns. It is a natural antiseptic.  It soothes insect bites and acne, soothes muscular aches and pains and can be used for inhalation for colds and flu.  It can be used for cleaning pets and kills fleas. It even cleans paint brushes.

Caution: The word “poison” is prominently displayed on the bottle as required by health and safety standards. You should not drink eucalyptus oil.

We got the chance to talk with Larry Turner, owner of Emu Ridge. Larry and his wife Bev started their distillery about 20 years ago.

Larry is a strong believer in the integrity and ingenuity of the small farmer. His plan is to go back to farming the flora and fauna that is native to Kangaroo Island. He is an example of today’s farmer; interested in conservation and land management, aware of his impact on the natural environment, a producer of native products and a steward of the land for future generations.

3 Responses to “Harvesting Eucalyptus Oil”

  1. Neil Freer November 25, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    Larry seems like a really good man.

    • Jill November 25, 2012 at 4:14 am #

      He feels passionately about Kangaroo Island, his life-long home and his commitment to sustainable farming. The work is hard but very inspiring.

  2. Ursula Freer November 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    Eucalyptus trees are very hardy and graceful. They were introduced to Southern California years ago and grow in area which can’t grow anything else because of lack of rain. The campus of the University of San Diego was beautiful as a result.

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