Although eucalyptus is used in the saunas of many spas, I was first encountered its unique odor when we moved to California in the 1970s. Eucalyptus trees were first planted in California in the mid-1850s for use in shipbuilding, similar to its use in Australia. However, the California blue gum eucalyptus split and curled when dried, unlike the old growth trees from Down Under. The eucalyptus was then planted to be used as fuel and windbreaks. But if you want to see rows and rows of them, find some railroad tracks in that state. They were planted alongside the tracks so that eucalyptus wood could be cut on site for replacement railroad ties. Alas, the wood proved too soft for ties, which split when spikes were hammered into them.
California’s love affair with the eucalyptus continued through the 20th century, with dozens of medicinal uses proposed, most of which were bogus. But eucalyptus oil is still used in conjunction with steam to open up the sinuses. Today the tree is considered an invasive species that kills native vegetation.
My introduction to the unique eucalyptus smell came on a hot day in southern California, tracking through the piles of leaves and bark sheddings from the trees, alongside some railroad tracks. The smell of the oil permeated my sinuses and left me with an indelible memory of my time in that the Golden State.